It’s Not The Condenser, Or Cut Off Switch, It’s The Soul Of Classic Boating!

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The joy of flaws

Over the past few weeks, we have been living out various issues, like rotten new condensers and a couple weekends ago, a rotten cut- off thingamajig. While talking to Dave VanNess, he pointed out that it’s not the Chinese condensers. One, its that the generator was over charging and thus once we started using the boat at a higher throttle, it started breaking parts. Dang! Makes perfect sense.

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But Dave also pointed out, it’s just the way it was when our fathers used to go boating, and for that matter drive a car. He was dead right. I am not all that old, and I do recall being on the side of the road in a 1969 Road Runner or my pal’s Mach 1 dealing with just this sort of crap. I was not a huge boater in my teens, but I bet the good old American stuff was spontaneous crap too, and rotten ignition parts were all part of the hell. We have become so accustomed to our machines never having these issues that when it happens its all that much more amplified. I do recall dealing with timing, points and carb adjusting all the time. Hell I knew my engines better than I did school work. I needed to, no one looked cool on the side of the road. This explains my spelling by the way….

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Thats all I know

Today, to be honest I am not even sure what engine is in my car. That’s a huge leap towards reliability. So to be fair, to the entire 100 bazillion Chinese out there, I am sorry for blaming you on my problems, all your doing is what was done a long time ago, and in a way, retained the soul of my boat, faults and all. In a classic boat all original specked parts you get to live history in all its ugliness. That’s amazing. You feel it, rather than have the appearance of it. The smells, the joy of a smooth running boat, and yes, the agony of dumb stuff breaking. History has a way of glossing over the little pains, and makes a romantic painting of things. But to live it! Priceless. Yes, it comes at a cost. But it’s still cool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I feel like an Amish Boater!

Stay tuned, we visited Dave’s shop yesterday and have some photos and a how to on how to adjust your Generator’s third brush!


Adjusting the third brush



23 replies
  1. Walt
    Walt says:

    How much did he charge to adjust the third brush? And after doing that did he check the fetzer valve and check the horn fluid?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love old engine. Old OMC outboards specifically. Those things are sh!t simple and nearly unbreakable.

    • Jack Schneiberg
      Jack Schneiberg says:

      Well…………….geeez! Now I know why the damned horn has failed on every single boat I’ve owned. Never checked the fluid. Boy – the small stuff you learn on this web site is just invaluable.

  2. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    I understand that points and such are always in need of adjustment, but that does not explain why people have gone 30 years changing very few condensers while having multiples fail in the last half decade.

    I disagree that this is just “the way it used to be”. Parts are being made cheaper no matter what country they are coming from.

  3. pat c.
    pat c. says:

    Easy way to solve the problem.
    Buy a boat with twin engines.
    One of them will usually get you home.

  4. Frank
    Frank says:

    i have finally found a good source for flux capacitors… my last two were bad. I did however have to travel back in time to get a few off the shelf . I do agree with Matt. I prefer the simplicity and quirks of old stuff. I expect to have to pop the distributor cap on the old ’67 Camaro when I havent driven it for a while…..and clean the points… or left the distributor on the old Porsche 912 (one of Matts favorite cars ever!..) a little loose so I could hop out a tweek it a little by hand…..
    I think back and remember having roadside problems, but COULD remedy them on teh side of the road, and not have to wait for a flatbed rollback to take it to the dealer for a new computerized module to get it running again. but I controlled my destiny….not the electrons that might be tired or weak by some connector…
    Matts take on the the “romance” of old and original is spot on and why I read this every morning! Thanks Matt!

  5. Fred
    Fred says:

    Old enough to remember when stuff made in Japan was called Japanese junk. China holds that distinction now and will until US manufacturers find a cheaper place to have stuff made elsewhere. Hell, I’m overjoyed to see a Made in USA label on anything I buy, even if it’s toothpicks. Happy to see a Made in Taiwan label, instead of the small print hard to find made in China. Chinese stuff is overpriced junk.

    • Matt
      Matt says:

      Something I also learned, since I have been getting emails regarding the generator adjustment. All these Chines parts failed because when we started to run the engine at higher RPMs, the generator was over charging. Something that is only going to happen when the engine is broken in. What I also NOW understand is that even if you change your battery on a perfectly adjusted generator, you may?? have to adjust it. So, since the boat was in FLa and being used at low RPMs it never had an issue and all worked fine. The generator is rebuilt as well BTW. To go back in time again, these are the sorts of small detail issues that your dealer would have adjusted and I am sure you were requested to return to the dealer after so many hrs to do all sorts of other adjustments. Since we dont live near our “Dealer” and I am an ignorant boater when it comes to this stuff, it’s trial and error. Thank god, Dave and others are so helpful, and help fill in my experience on this. It all makes so much sense. But certainly easy to blame the Chinese. But maybe not fair. BTW, Dave gave me two parts. One a replacement Cut Off and the other A redone AUTOLITE one. We can all vote on that later

      • Dave S.
        Dave S. says:

        Matt can you or Dave tell me if my generator is adjustable? Mom’s Mink 1947 GarWood runabout has a Chrysler M-7, 6 volt system. The generator is gear driven on the back of the motor.
        My problem is at low idle speed the generator does not make enough power to charge the battery. This is a real problem at night on long cruises with lights on. (Lucky for me I have good friends on the lake that will save me at all hours of the night)
        The AMP meter shows a positive charge after 1000 or 1100 RPM. At night this could be a little fast & loud for people on shore. My temp fix last year was a second battery. This year I have added a battery switch to make it simple.
        It would be nice to not have to charge batteries after a night cruise. Let me know who I need to talk to about this. Thanks,

        • Matt
          Matt says:

          DISCLAMER! Until seeing what you have its hard to answer. BUT, according to what you have, you have a regulated generator, not an ajustable, Yours is working as its supposed to. 800-1000 RPM is when its starts to charge. These are perfect candidates for alternators BTW. Yes not original. But its one of the charms of your system. This is from a 3 minute call with Dave. i am sure the peanut gallery will have other opinions. HA.. All part of the fun.

  6. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    nope….don’t buy it….yes overcharging scenario is spot on…but parts failures are obviously related to being poorly made these days….just too many of them for the case to be otherwise….I am with Hersom and Staib (sounds like a law firm?)…..thank god NOT.
    John in Va.

  7. Garry
    Garry says:

    Ahh Fred, we must be close to the same age!
    Overcharging a condenser or a capacitor? This device consists of two metal plates, foil in this case, separated by a dielectric. The dielectric material has to be proportional in thickness and makeup to the voltage difference applied to the two plates. If the dielectric is too thin or poor material with respect to the voltage applied it will cause a failure. Similarly if the plates are poor quality, like recycled aluminum foil, same problem.
    Capacitors or condensers have a working breakdown voltage based on materials used and normal values are quite high with respect to these old generator systems. Saying they failed because of over charging has got to be whole new mystery. In fact if that were true then coils and batteries will start failling.
    I am sorry but this overcharging sounds like a corner of the dimly lit beer hall after midnight.

    • Tom H
      Tom H says:

      I’m with garry. Although I haven’t seen a dimly lit beer hall since I finally through away my fake ID.
      Adjusting the voltage output is indeed important but should not affect the condenser. Too much voltage will effect pitting of the points over time. I have seen it happen in 12 volt systems that are suppose to run a resistor to cut the coil voltage down to around 8 volts. Even with the 12 volt coil voltage there was no condenser failures.

  8. Greg Wallace
    Greg Wallace says:

    Can’t comment from experience on “imported” ignition components. All I can say is that in my “lengthy” exposure to standard ignition systems through the years, points were changed frequently while condensers were not. They were used over and over. Condenser failure was rare.

  9. Garry
    Garry says:

    BTW to check a condenser or capacitor instead of trying to read the bubbles in that glass of beer disconnect it and connect an Ohmmeter from the lead to the case. If the resistance is not increasing from initial connection or reads zero or is infinite it is bad.
    The same could be said for the beer in that beer hall if there are not enough bubbles!

  10. Matt
    Matt says:

    I love these comments. The human brain likes to connect things, and my brain is small, so this was my theory, and seemed to make sense, and so it made me happy. Random failure of parts gives me no piece of mind, nor an excuse to my wife, so she will trust the boat. Shhhhh! telling her, lets go out and I am not sure if a Cut Off is going to fail because it was made over seas is not comforting. HA. I do think there is some truth is all of this. The good news is that I have two of everything now.

  11. Jim Godlewski
    Jim Godlewski says:

    Third brush?? What the heck is that? Maybe that’s why I smoked my last generator….
    I’m going back to drinking beer.

  12. mike s
    mike s says:

    Having difficulty believing overcharging burned the condenser up. Matt, your engine is still 6 volts, correct? In a 12 volt conversion, points and condensers are not changed, only the generator and coil, right? The Chris Craft Parts List only shows one part number for both 6 and 12 volt factory set-ups. The condenser has two jobs, it stores electricity to prevent arcing and burning the points and this stored electricity causes the magnetic field generated in the ignition coil to collapse more rapidly when the points opened, thereby creating a more powerful spark to the plugs. Generator should have been tuned for the operating rpm by the rebuilder. According to the Autolite Service Manual, the GEO 4801 generator will put out 8 volts and a maximum of 19 Amps and is controlled by a cut-out. Cut-out # CB4014 should close between 6.5 and 7.25 volts at about 800 rpm and opens when voltage produced drops to .5 volts or 2.5 Amps. 19 Amps is too much for the application and should have been dialed back to about 10 at operating rpms but Chris Craft makes no mention of that in the specifications table, only a max of 19 Amps. Moving the third brush in the direction of armature rotation increases output and moving it opposite of rotation decreases output.
    Ebay always has these manuals for cheap. Very interesting bathroom reading.

  13. Fred B
    Fred B says:

    My uncle is very old school with his 32 Ford flathead v8. He did find out you can put a small Mitsubishi alternator inside those big generator housings. Still retains “the look”.

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