Condenser, Points? Or Fuel? A Classic Boat Conundrum.

PArts AllToday we are headed to the “Trusty W” with a box of new parts from Van Ness engineering to try out what is the issue. By the way, Van Ness Engineering has parts, lots of parts, hard to find parts.

Van Ness Boat Parts 1

I love a box of parts

Our plan is to replace the condenser first since that seems to be what our readers think it is. Next Points, and then the fuel. The needle and then if that fails. Calling Dave, and that won’t fail. It never does, and if it isn’t railing like they say its supposed to be. Tomorrow we will be reporting live the results. So cast your vote in the comment section.

van ness Classic boat parts2

The condenser?


New Points?

Here are the symptoms. Note, 6 Volt System. Everything is new, rebuilt and ran fantastic.

  1. Ran great
  2. Started missing, and spontaneously running well
  3. Eventually even at full throttle was running very poorly
  4. Stalled and wouldn’t start
  5. With coil wire out had good spark on ground.
  6. No Fuel in the air bowl
  7. Used starter fluid with no results
  8. Tried starting when cold, No Luck.
  9. Talked to it nicely and even bought flowers. Nuthin.

I have been waiting all week for this Woohooo. We are Trouble Shooting Boating!

50 replies
  1. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    Just rehabbed a W. Used Napa after market points, condenser, rotor. Wouldn’t run. Weak spark. Cleaned up the old original stuff and it fired right up.

    If you have good spark it should fire on a shot of starting fluid. If it won’t stay running after the starting fluid burns off probably a fuel, fuel pump, or carb issue. Never hurts to check compression if all else fails.

    • Scott Robinson
      Scott Robinson says:

      I tried using NAPA parts that were made in China on my Suburban. The water pump had no impeller in it !!! and the thermostat did not work either. The Chevrolet dealer did the work, so we then out in genuine GM parts, everything works great. Be careful with parts made in China !!

      • Dave Nau
        Dave Nau says:

        Same thing with outboards. I’m about to rebuild the carb on my 33 Johnson. BRP carb kits use alcohol resistant rubber and include a new float. The Sierra kit from NAPA does not. It’s worth the extra $12 bucks.

  2. Reddog
    Reddog says:

    Distributor cap or fuel filter problem. Why no fuel at carb.? Don’t think its condenser . Cause it didn’t start when cold. it sounded like fuel problem until number 7

  3. Bill Hammond
    Bill Hammond says:

    I would do a couple of very basic problem solving sleuthing things before truly tearing into it.
    • Check to make sure the Distributor Cap is on tight & locked down.
    • Make sure the Distrubutor itself is completely tightened. (Don’t over tighten as that may crack it).

    I bought a 7 yr. old Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham (60 Special) once with that same problem from the Dealership. They had spent $300 on a brand new Carburator and hadn’t solved the problem. It sat on their used lot for 3 months. I had noticed that the Distributor was loose while examining it. I finally bought the car for $700. I walked over to it with a screw driver and tightened the cap. Got in and started it and drove away with a perfectly purring 472cid engine that I then put another 100,000 miles on.

    Not likely given it was Van Ness that did your work but maybe?? Worth the look!

  4. Fred
    Fred says:

    Do you have voltage to the points? Yes you have spark, but with the key on, open and close the points see if you have a spark at the points. If not your distributor has a ground some where. I had this problem with my K. The stud going thru the distributor was grounding out, no spark at the points, no start.

  5. John L
    John L says:

    Had the same issue a few years ago. Went with electronic ignition, but had an issue because 6 volt. Changed battery to 8 volt and WOW what a difference. Starts great everytime even in damp weather.

  6. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I am pretty sure the problem is a crack in the prop. Oh wait, that is my problem.

    The real problem is someone foolishly nick named his engine “Trusty” and got the attention of a guy named Murphey.

  7. Ken Mac
    Ken Mac says:

    Some time ago we struck bottom and crept back to port ll the way guessing what damage was done, prop, shaft , rudder etc. Some days later when the Capt was asked the problem, his response…. everyone was right!

  8. Mike W
    Mike W says:

    You should come up with another name other than “Trusty W”. There is nothing trusty about boats. Other than they are fun and you can count on them biting you in the ass. Bad Karma. You need to exorcise the demons now.

  9. Tim Robinson
    Tim Robinson says:

    Make sure the fuel pump glass bowl gasket is good, if cork replace it, if rubber turn it over. Make sure you have a good seal tighten bowl strap well. You may be pulling a vacuume there and are not pumping fuel. Good luck

  10. Kent B
    Kent B says:

    Check your point gap? I have seen situations where the point adjustment moved, closing the gap. Engine would run great cold, then once warm would lose power or stall.

  11. Fred B
    Fred B says:

    My dad always said if you eliminate all the obvious mechanical issues and it still won’t work, check the nut that holds the steering wheel.

  12. Gary
    Gary says:

    Air bowl? Is that a bowl for holding air?
    Coil wire out? How about cranking the engine with one of the spark plug wires off a plug and and see if a spark will happen. I had a bad set of spark plug wires once. Your trouble shooting here doesn’t seem logical from the brevity of the test because it doesn’t test the spark path from coil thru distributor to the plugs.
    I vote for the tester.

  13. Warren
    Warren says:

    Not familiar with those engines / distributors. Do they have mechanical advance?

    If so, I’ve heard the ground wire going from the body to the plate the points,condenser mount on can go bad

    Also the other wire going to the points from the coil

  14. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    Does this boat have a kill switch ? My outboard recently quit. After checking fuel, spark, etc. My grandson picked up the lanyard off the floor and asked what’s this for? We plugged it back in and guess what…Engine ran.WWWW

  15. Matt
    Matt says:

    Maybe I made up the name Air bow, vs duel bowl. On the down draft carb the air intake can and has filled up with fuel. After cranking bunch. Which I did and that filled it before. Now it was dry and starter fluid did not help. There is a spark from the coil to the head when that wire is placed there. As to spark in the points. I did not see that. Not sure if its tester error though. IF the rain ever stops or even slows down I am ready to start replacing parts. But dear god. Its raining like a monsoon!

  16. Jack
    Jack says:

    Matt, leave Dave alone while he is working on my water pump!! I always learned to check the spark always start by taking a wire off a plug and check the wire against the plug or head and see if there is an arc. If yes then everything is fine electrically. If not then work backwards. Since starter fluid doesn’t do it, must be spark.

  17. Tom F.
    Tom F. says:

    Check the screw that goes thru the distributor housing and make sure you’ve got the fiber sleeve that goes over the screw. With out, you will ground out the distributor…but if you have spark this isn’t the issue. A hard miss or stumble is usually electrical in nature. A soft miss or dying out is usually fuel related. I’ve got an ML and a K engine…both have Pertronix. The ML has the original Pertronix for the last 15 years. Never had an issue. A buddy of mine says I am cheating without points, but he always comments on how smooth it runs and how easy it starts. My procedure for starting a Hercules engine is….pump up the fuel bowl, to the point the lever won’t move. If your not getting any throw in the lever…bump the motor a little to move the position of the fuel pump lever on the cam. Next crack the throttle open. It’s funny to watch people starting a Hercules and before hitting the starter button they’re moving the throttle lever up and down like they are priming the engine, it does nothing until the motor is turning over. I crack the throttle open a little past idle, pretty much never choke it and wait for the first fire before grabbing the throttle and giving it gas slowly. Just my two cents, not trying to preach.

  18. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    I agree with the first part of the post just above…there is some little insulating dojeggie missing in the dist…..grounding you out.

    But, you numbered symptoms: 2 and 3 sound exactly like ethanol problems.

    John in Va.

  19. Tom H
    Tom H says:

    Starting fluid usually brings them to life if it is a fuel related problem unless the plugs are fouled which can happen fairly quickly sometimes. It does not appear you have checked for spark at the spark plug. I have seen problems with a large gap between the cap and rotor.
    Take your laptop computer out and give us a play by play on the engine tests and parts replacement.

    • R daley
      R daley says:

      R Daley
      No one has brought up fuel filter
      Had similar problem with my mastercraft tried everything there was to try even replaced the fuel filter that was in the engine bay. Was about ready to burn it down when I found the second fuel filter at the tank. Replaced that and everything was fine.
      Another thing could be fuel lines depending on what they are made of. Ethanol in fuel will literally eat fuel lines. This is a huge problem with outboards and jet skis that use a plastic style fuel line.
      Just couple more things to look at.
      What’s the prize for however gets the right diagnosis

  20. jim g
    jim g says:

    Make sure you put some grease on the points lobe. If you don’t the tang on the points that runs against it will wear out very quickly.

    If you want to run 6 volts and use pertronix ignition. Then get the Optima 6 volt battery and the 6 volt battery tender. I have several customers that still run 6 volts and this is the set up I’ve put in their boats. There still going after 13 years.

    One thing I will point out. If you use the 6 volt pertronix you will need the later bigger distributor. The 6 volt kit for whatever reason does not work well in the small distributor.

    One last thing. Make sure that the rotor is not hitting the contacts in the cap. I think there is one supplier for all that parts houses and the caps are machined off center. So the rotor will slightly scrub 3 of the distributor contacts. A little filing on the end of the rotor will take care of this.

  21. clay t.
    clay t. says:

    hope your cam is not flat, unlikely with so little spring pressure in these engines, but still a real real problem nowadays with flat tappet cams. did you use a zink additive for break in? otherwise i would say fuel trouble, not spark.

  22. Old Salt
    Old Salt says:

    I said fuel issue when you first wrote about it and i’m sticking with that issue. Something is clogging the fuel getting to the carb and cylinders… Check the needle valve it might be clogged up with something.

  23. Randy
    Randy says:

    I had a similar problem with (3) cars over a 40-year period. Turns out there was rust in the tank. When running down the road the motion would allow the small particles of rust to be sucked toward the tank screen, eventually blocking fuel flow. Sometimes, after sitting for awhile, the particles would ‘flitter’ away from the screen and allow the car to run for awhile before repeating the symptoms. On one car a mechanic and I went through the entire Lucas electric system — to no avail after leaving his shop. It would run long enough to warm up the engine which really fooled everyone. Found a good race car mechanic that I knew who discovered the issue.

    The following (2) cars that exhibited the same problem were easy to correct!!!!!

  24. Dan.T
    Dan.T says:

    So, before you start throwing parts over the side, check all the obvious like connections, both electrical and fuel. Then check your point setting. Work backwards with the trouble shooting. Pull a plug wire and check for spark at the plug end. Be careful. Don’t get zapped. If she fires on a squirt of starting juice but won’t stay running crank for a while and pull a plug to see if it’s wet with gas. If that old W’s got spark and gas is getting to the cylinders it should run. If not call Dave.

  25. Denis D
    Denis D says:

    A loose distributor will cause the symptoms you describe. Eventually the timing will be far off enough the engine won’t run. Another possibility is the rotor key sheared allowing the rotor to turn out of time.

    It doesn’t sound like fuel if the ether didn’t at least cause a burp.

    Denis D

  26. Bruce
    Bruce says:

    Check all the obvious things related to spark and fuel delivery as others suggest, then go looking for the less than obvious.
    I once had a very similar issue which eluded me for way too long before finally noticing that on one of the coil terminal wires, most of the strands in the wire had been severed at the brass terminal. Maybe only two or three little strands were hanging on, giving the appearance of a complete connection. A quick snip, strip, and solder did the trick.

  27. Kentucky Wonder
    Kentucky Wonder says:

    I am going with a timing issue – somehow you got out of tune. The early 60s V8 Crusader in our boat never did run well at low idle, but then got to where it would not start, or ran only at higher RPMs. Hauled it out of Hessel harbor, gave the Mertaughs about ten minutes to adjust timing, and the thing runs WAY better than we could have imagined. Remember, good timing is everything!

  28. Matt
    Matt says:

    WE HAVE LIFT OFF! TUNE IN TOMORROW! What? You think I am not going to milk this for another day. have you seen the weather? Good god, I am ready to go boating. There sure is enough water now!

  29. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Made our first trip to The Trevett Country Store tonight for pizza. Ate the pizza on the way home while cruising up the Back River.
    I think it may have been warmer here in Maine today than there in Reedville.

    (Photo borrowed from vacationrentalpics)

Comments are closed.