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scottf3334 08-26-2009 06:25 PM

Are you feeling like Sherlock? Strange ignition issue, need advice
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We had a great time. Went from Florida to Mt Rushmore, to West Virginia and all points in between, took 3 weeks. My 74 Argosy didn't miss a beat, even towing the VW up the hills in West Virginia. Went almost 4000 miles. Everything was great until the last fill up in St. Augustine.

We were talking about the great trip and how this was our last fill up. We'd be home in 2 hrs. The gas pump was going really slow, it took about 10 mins to put in 25 gallon, put in a quart of oil. When going to start the Argosy, he sputtered and missed, I figured bad gas, (since the pump was moving so slow) we'd run a little out, then put in a gas treatment a few exits down.

As I stepped on it to get on the hwy, the Argosy had no power. It would miss, studder and just barely make it to 45mph. Got off the next exit and as soon as I let off the gas he stalled. Never to start back up.

The next morning I went to autozone got new fuel pump and filter, didn't help. A mechanic in a nearby garage said the timming chain slipped. He took out the distributor, put in a new modual and coil, but couldn't get it going either. So $500 later and Argosy is sitting in my yard with me trying to figure all this out.

I think the fuel thing is a coinsidense. The carb is getting fuel, plus the mechanic had starting fluid, should at least fire over. My brother (in Iowa) told me on the phone that someone droped the doghouse after putting in oil and cracked something on the distibutor. Yes, it was dropped by my son after he put the oil in (I normally put in the oil, but didn't this time).

Here is what I have done. I replaced the cap/rotor. Then I took off the valve cover and watched no 1 cyl till both valves were up. I couldn't get the timming mark exactly on TDC because I can't figure out how to get a wrench on the pully. Put the distributor back in with the rotor pointing towards No 1 then made sure the firing order was correct. The red wire going to the coil is getting power. There is spark getting to the plugs, I can see the arc when one is pulled off.

I feel like I should get at least a little spitting and sputtering, but nothing. The whole thing is really weird, drove fine 4000 miles, turned off to put in gas and oil, then done. No warning or anything. Thats what makes me think the dropped doghouse.

Anyone have any ideas? Would a jumped timming chain have the same symptoms? The valve train moves, so the chain is not broke. I haven't worked on many 454s. BTW it has aprox 70,000 miles, uses a qt of oil every 700 miles. Good oil pressure, doesn't get hot. Ideas?

overlander63 08-26-2009 06:38 PM

If an engine jumps time, all the ignition modules and coils in the world won't help it start back up. Usually, the chains doesn't break, it just jumps teeth on the cam gear, and either will have no power, or won't start. it may appear to have the ignition timing over-advanced (tries to run backwards against the starter) or have little or no compression (spins over really fast, or just sounds really weird when cranking).
In a gasoline-fueled engine, you need three things to make it run. Fuel, compression, and spark. You've verified you have spark and fuel, you can try a compression test. If it's low or nonexistent on all cylinders, the engine probably did jump time. You can have a helper watch the rotor inside the distributor (with the cap off) while you turn the crankshaft slowly back and forth with a socket. If there's a lot of "slop" between you turning the crankshaft and the rotor starting to turn, the chain has probably loosened to the point of being able to jump a few teeth on the cam gear.
One last thing to check is to pull out the plugs, and check to make sure they are really firing, and aren't fouled with whatever you put in it at the gas station (diesel fuel comes to mind).

Ag&Au 08-26-2009 06:46 PM

The very same thing happened to me while traveling away from home . The car was a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I stopped to fill up. The gas pumped very slowly. After that the car would miss and sputter every time we tried to accelerate. The problem was a considerable amount of water in the gasoline. The water had apparently been at the bottom of the station's tank just waiting for the tank to get that empty. I managed to struggle along by added water remover to the gas tank and then filling the tank when it reached the halfway point and adding more water remover. After a couple of refills , it finally straighted out.
Don't know if that is your problem, but it sure sounds the same.
Good luck,

bkahler 08-26-2009 07:50 PM

We have a very similar problem with our Triumph Spitfire. The cars tank was almost empty so we filled up for gas at a small country store, big mistake. We didn't get more than about 1 mile down the road before it sputtered and coughed and then died. Fortunately on a Spitfire its easy to remove the float bowl covers and I was able to see that both fuel bowls had filled up with water. I used paper towels to soak up all the water and reassembled everything. Car started up, sounded bad but ran. Got another couple of miles and the same thing happened. Ended up repeating the water removal proccedure about 6 times to make it back home.

In your situation it sounds like you probably had something similar happen where the carburetor fuel bowl filled up with water and wouldn't run anymore. Then the mechanic removed the distributor and you haven't had it running since. That tells me he possibly got it back in wrong and you're now fighting that issue.

One question, did the mechanic use the starting fluid before or after pulling the distributor?

I find it hard to difficult to believe that the timing chain slipped, it was running fine before the fill up and crappy right after wards so if it slipped it had to do it as you were trying to start it . I think if you do a proper job of resetting the distributor and ignition timing AND drain the fuel tank you will probably be good to go.

Definitely keep us posted as to how it turns out.

Good luck!


markdoane 08-26-2009 08:20 PM

I had a problem like that back in 1979. Water in the fuel tank.
Haven't had a similar problem since Minnesota mandated 10% ethanol in all gasoline.

ROBERTSUNRUS 08-26-2009 09:00 PM

:) Hi, seems like all the bases are covered, but I will add one more thing; If the engine backfired or kicked back while trying to start it, it could cause the timing chain to jump. [worn chain, plastic cam gear] I would start with the fuel first. Diesel fuel and water in the gas are pretty common for your symtems. Good Luck.

scottf3334 08-26-2009 09:33 PM

I wanted to add that the next morning before replacing the fuel pump I put a quart of rubbing alcohol into the tank (the parts store guy said it would take the water out). Also, the old generator ran the AC all night without so much as a sputter. It may run on substandard fuel easier than the vehicle engine. Would water sink to the bottom of the tank? I know the generator will stop when the tank reaches 1/4.

I just got to figure out what to do with 25 gallons of possibly bad gas. Could try some in the VW, see if it does anything.

I'm also going to try a compression test. Any idea what normal compression for a 454 should be? Did GM really put plastic pulleys in such vital parts of the engine? Is it common to jump a tooth?

Keep the ideas coming.

ROBERTSUNRUS 08-26-2009 09:45 PM


Originally Posted by scottf3334 (Post 740280)
I wanted to add that the next morning before replacing the fuel pump I put a quart of rubbing alcohol into the tank (the parts store guy said it would take the water out). Also, the old generator ran the AC all night without so much as a sputter. It may run on substandard fuel easier than the vehicle engine. Would water sink to the bottom of the tank? I know the generator will stop when the tank reaches 1/4.

I just got to figure out what to do with 25 gallons of possibly bad gas. Could try some in the VW, see if it does anything.

I'm also going to try a compression test. Any idea what normal compression for a 454 should be? Did GM really put plastic pulleys in such vital parts of the engine? Is it common to jump a tooth?

Keep the ideas coming.

:) Hi, water does go to the bottom of the tank so your generator would work fine. In the old days gas tanks had drain plugs and we would put a bucket under the drain plug and let some fuel out. On newer vehicles we would have to remove the gas tank and drain it all into 55 gallon drums. Let it sit for a few days and them pump from the top, leaving the junk at the bottom of the drum. [the rest will evaporate] In the dealership we had to drain the contaminated fuel and pay big bucks $$$$$ to have it removed by companies that deal with hazardous chemicals.

:) Not pulleys, but gears, and yes many engines had plastic timing gears and sprockets to eliminate noise.

Kevin245 08-27-2009 03:41 AM

Yes plastic timing chain gears are not uncommon. I remember changing them in a 65 Ford Pickup years ago.

I'm in on the water in your fuel suspicion. If you have a drain plug you may try draining a gallon or two and see what you get. I would change fuel filters again also.

Best of luck,


Beginner 08-27-2009 06:05 AM

Strainge Ign Issue
1. With a good battery to crank the engine, if you have a separate coil and an ignition wire running to the distributor cap, pull the coil ignition wire from the distributor cap and hold it app 1/2 inch from the manifold. Have your helper crank the engine. It should jump and be blue white. HEI should jump about 3/4 to 1 inch. If it jumps this gap the IGN is good.
2. Remove the fuel line from the tank to the fuel pump at the fuel pump.
3. Drain about a quart of gasoline into a glass mayonnaise jar. This may require putting a long piece of rubber fuel hose over the tubing to get the gas out to the jar.
4. Cap the jar and let it set for about 10 to 20 minutes.
5. The contents of the jar should be all one color and density. If there appears to be a separation of fluids in the jar, the fluid on the bottom is water. The slow running gas pump was the tip off. Usually when the pump runs slow the storage tank is low and you are getting the bottom sludge, water and all. If there is water in the gas you may have to remove the carburetor and dump the bad gas out. You will also have to completely drain the fuel tank. Worse case is a carburetor overhaul. If you remove the tank to drain it replace the strainer sock on the tank fuel pickup inside. Donít forget to blow all the bad gas out of the fuel line. On the first fill up put gas dry in (double charge) first then the gas to get you to the gas station to get the water you might have missed.
6. If there is no separation check compression. 125 PSI or better is normal. 70 PSI or so is a slipped timing chain. How many miles does the engine have on it. Those plastic cam sprockets start failing around 90,000 miles all the way up to 200,000. Itís the luck of the draw.


scottf3334 08-27-2009 08:25 PM

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It got dark too quick this afternoon so the compression check didn't get done. I did drain about 10 gallons of gas, luckly there is a drain on the tank.

I took a picture of the gas jars. The short one is the first gallon of gas out, the tall one is when I decided to leave the rest in the tank.

Think the gas is the problem? Tomorrow I'll do the compression check to see if the timing chain slipped.

On a side note, glass jars are hard to find. Mayo, jelly, ect... are plastic now.

LJH 08-27-2009 09:26 PM

Sounds like timing chain to me. When they go bad it's almost always instantly, running fine, shut it down and it will not restart. Good Luck! LJH

StingrayL82 08-27-2009 09:48 PM


If your MoHo had a Mopar 360 in it, I'd say the timing chain broke the teeth off of the cheapo plastic timing gear (ask me how I know :blush:). Given that you have a 454, which is damn-near indestructible, I'd say you can safely rule out the timing gear missing teeth, but I do agree that you might have a stretched timing chain. If the chain was completely off, you'd get instant silence, not sputtering. My experience tells me that, if you're getting fuel and spark, then something in your timing is off. Make sure your harmonic balancer is on TDC and your #1 cylinder valves are in the correct position.

While you have the valve covers off, you might want to make sure the valves are properly adjusted. A lot of people forget that valve adjustments were part of engine maintenance. IIRC, you want to have the valves in the correct position, then tighten the rocker, until you just feel the ever so slightest drag, then turn the nut 1/4 turn clockwise. Someone correct me, if I'm's been about 7 years since I've done it.

Good luck.

Beginner 08-28-2009 04:41 AM

If you could place the jars in front of a single color background and sitting on the same color base (two pieces of white typing paper). The short jar looks awful clowdy. I thought todays gasoline was supposed to be water clear. Did you ever get seperation? How about the spark?
Every other GM engine since I have been chainging timing chain sets (late 60s) has had a cam sprocket with nylon (plastic) teeth. Never chainged a 454 but have changed a lot of 350 four bolt main engines in 3/4 or heaver truck's timing chain sets and they were all plastic cam sprockets.
Compression check should tell the tale.

Additional notes:
1. If you can't see the timing mark on the Harmonic balancer then first hit the starter to verify which direction the engine normally rotates.
2. Remove #1 spark plug.
3. Put a socket on the big bolt head in the end of the crank shaft that holds the harmonic balancer in place.
4. Place your finger, or thumb, over the spark plug hole or screw in the compression guage.
5. Have your helper turn the engine with the wrench.
6. When the pressure starts to build you are comming up on the compression stroke. When the pressure stops building you are very close.
7. Insert a piece of straw (organic or plastic) in the spark plug hole and see if you can feel the piston move while your helper turns the crank shaft. Have him stop when the piston is at max up position. This will be Top Dead Center on # 1 cylinder.
8. Get a piece of chalk. Mark on the distributor body (not the cap) exactly where the #1 spark plug wire plugs in. Remove the distributer cap. Is the rotor pointing at the chalk mark. It should be.

Timing chain slop:
1. Again if you cannot see the timing mark and degree plate, place a chalk mark on the harmonic balancer and a corresponding mark on the oil pan or something close to the mark on the balancer so that youcan tell the two lines are aligned.
2. Rotate the engine with the wrench in the direction it normally rotates one full revolution until the two chalk marks are perfectly aligned (judgment call).
3. With the distributor cap removed and watching the distributor rotor have your helper rotate the engine in the opposite direction very very slowly.
4. When you percieve the rotor start to move very quickly yell for the helper to stop turning the engine.
5. Notice the displacment between the two chalk lines. They should be no more than 1/4 of an inck apart (app 4 degrees rotation or so). If it more than 1/4 of an inch displacment (misalignment) you have timing chain slop (wear).
6. If its more than 1/4 inch misalignment a timing chain set is in order.
7. On the plastic cam gears I have seen as much as 1" misalignment (timing had jumped or slipped and gear had started to come apart).

Could I see another picture of the fuel in front of and sitting on white please and let me know how the compression check turns out.
How many miles are on the engine?

scottf3334 08-28-2009 08:31 PM

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The compression test today didn't go so well. Cyl 1 = 70lbs, 2=75lbs, 6=65, 8=70lbs. So I guess it is safe to say that the timing chain jumped.

It's really strange that it was working fine when we pulled into the gas station and turned it off. As was mentioned, the bad gas probably caused a miss fire which jerked the chain.

Now for the fun part. I can see I'll have to remove the grill, then the radiator. While I'm at it, I suppose all the belts and hoses should be replaced and the radiator cleaned out.

My main concern is not so much doing the work, but keeping my families faith in the Argosy. We have had so much fun, he is like a part of the family. (Somehow the picture just fits the situation)

IPM 08-28-2009 08:45 PM

Radiator is easier to drop out of the bottom if u first get the front high off the ground. I drove up on a set of auto ramps.

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