Fire And Brimstone
Gaining power through improved control
Jefferson Bryant - August 23, 2012 10:00 AM
Running the Numbers
On the dyno, we saw some real gains, 11 hp and 12 lbs-ft of torque, plus the engine continues to pull past 5,000 rpm, unlike before. With more time for tuning, we could probably get even more out of the engine, but comparing baseline to baseline, these are good results.
1 You can mount the box just about anywhere; it is fully sealed. We chose to mount it up front since the distributor harness was too short to reach the firewall (the Buick uses a front-mount distributor and there is two feet of space from the firewall to the back of the engine block; it’s a big car) .The data cable plugs into the side of the box, so make sure you leave room to get the plug connected.
2 The auxiliary plugs for the sensors and input/outputs are weatherpacks, so they have to be assembled. You can weed out the wires you don’t need, which is nice.
3 This plug handles the fuel pump control, fan control, intake air temp, and coolant temp sensors. The wires are labeled, pre-terminated and easy to assemble into the molex plug.
4 For the underhood connections, we soldered these wires. Shown here are the sensor grounds, which share a common wire going into the box. Make sure you get full penetration of the solder like this. Once all of the wires had been soldered, they were covered in shrink tubing and bundled together.
5 These terminals are not like the typical insulated terminals you are used to having; you need a special tool to make it happen. The tool can be purchased for about $30 online.
6 Once everything is cut to length and bundled together for engine location, we covered the wire with Power Braid from Painless Performance. This loom looks good, is easy to install and protects the wire from chafing.
7 The FireStorm uses an intake air temp sensor to monitor the temperature of the air going into the engine. This really needs to be as close to the intake as possible between the turbo and the intake. We drilled a hole in one of the intake tubes feeding the carburetor using a uni-bit. A weld-in bung would have been ideal, but this works quite well and it didn’t mess up the powdercoat on the piping.
8 We used a Mallory smart coil, which was mounted on a fabricated bracket on the engine. The coil can go anywhere, but we kept it close to the distributor.
9 You have to have a MAP sensor for the automatic boost retard function to work. For boost levels up to 14 psi, a two-bar MAP is needed, one bar is one atmospheric pressure, two-bar is two atmospheres. Since atmospheric pressure at sea level is 14.65 psi, any boost added would go beyond what a one-bar MAP could measure. Since our engine is currently set at six psi with a max of 10 psi, a two-bar MAP is just fine. We mounted the sensor to the inner fender and ran a vacuum line to the top hat on the carb.
10 An option for the FireStorm is a wideband oxygen sensor and datalogger unit. This is plug-and-play, except for the sensor itself. The kit comes with a weld-on bung.
11 Since this is a non-intercooled turbo system, we used wrap from Summitracing.com to help cut down on underhood temperatures.
12 There are only a couple of wires that need to go inside the car: the ignition trigger wire and the tach wire. The ignition switch wire must have 12 volts in both the “run” and “start key” positions. Triple check this with a multi-meter.
13 The FireStorm battery leads (positive and ground) must be connected directly to the battery; distribution blocks WILL NOT WORK. Noise can get into the system causing erratic function.
14 Installing the Dual-Sync distributor is a little different than a typical unit. We started by rolling the engine TDC (top dead center) on the #1 piston and noted the original rotor location.The Mallory Dual-Sync was dropped in, aligned with the original rotor, and plugged into the ignition box.
15 Next, the engine was rotated to 22 degrees before TDC. We measured this out by rolling the balancer timing mark to 12 degrees, making a mark on the balancer at the zero on the tab, and then rolling the new mark another 10 degrees. The zero mark on the timing tab now notates 22 degrees BTDC. We marked the balancer at this point.
16 The distributor must be phased to match the cam and crank positions. With the key on, the LEDs on the distributor should be lit, red for the crank, blue for the cam. The housing is rotated in the same direction of the rotor when running until the blue LED shuts off. This is the falling edge of the cam trigger. Then you continue rotating the housing until the crank LED lights up and then shuts off, this is the crank trigger point. Once you hit that, the housing is clamped down.
17 The last step is phasing the rotor. The rotor should be pointing directly on a terminal on the cap (the #1). If it is not centered on the terminal, the rotor can be adjusted by loosening the two Torx-head screws under the rotor and twisting the rotor until it is centered on the terminal. That is it. You should not have to touch the distributor again. All the timing changes are now made on the computer.
18 Next, the computer is connected to the FireStorm and you can load your software. The tunes are easy to load and the help center at Mallory can help create an initial tune for your application. The dashboard (shown) has all the inputs displayed in a clean, easy-to-read interface.
19 The timing map has quite a few cells, each one dictating the timing for that parameter. If you are a pro, then this is pretty simple, but even a novice can pick it up pretty quick.
In a nutshell, the Mallory FireStorm is the most advanced CD (capacitive discharge) type ignition on the market.
The Street version is an extremely accurate (down to 1/10th of a degree at 10,000 rpm) and powerful (150 mJ spark energy with 550v primary and 55,000v secondary voltage) ignition box with cool features like two- and three-step rev limiters, MAP (manifold absolute pressure) input for timing and boost referencing, launch mode and diagnostics. The Street system is perfect for carbureted or EFI systems where you don’t need advanced controls.
Step up to the FireStorm Pro and the world of advanced ignition tuning is opened. The Pro essentially bridges the gap between EFI and carbureted induction in terms of ignition tuning. You get all kinds of cool controls, from cooling fan and fuel pump outputs to 3D ignition mapping and data logging; you even get individual cylinder timing control. The Pro system literally has everything you could want in an ignition system, all ready for use on your carbureted engine.
When you have full control of every aspect of the spark, such as you get with the advanced EFI systems, you can tune the engine to the nth degree, and that can mean the difference between not only winning and losing, but also fuel economy and efficiency. Not everyone wants EFI on their car, so adding a control device like the FireStorm to your carbureted engine gives you similar control over the ignition system, and that is a good thing.
When we had the chance to install one of these systems on our twin-turbo Buick wagon, we jumped at it. It’s a 1971 Buick 350 with two 54mm turbos strapped on top, pushing six psi through a blow-through Quick Fuel 650 cfm carburetor. We’d been using an MSD Digital 6AL-2 with an MSD Pro-Billet distributor. The 6AL-2 is capable of retarding the timing with a boost reference signal from a one-bar MAP sensor. We were losing some timing in the upper range and were having some trouble getting it tuned back in with the MSD box.
The FireStorm ignition remedied that situation with the advanced controls and 3D ignition mapping, plus we now had control over when the fans turned on, fuel pump prime control (which turns off the pump after a few seconds instead of it just running while the key is on), and timing from the computer just like an EFI system.
We used a Mallory Dual-Sync distributor, which is phased to the cam and crankshaft. Once set, you don’t have to touch the distributor again. All of your timing changes are made with a laptop. This gives you real-time tuning ability from the driver’s seat.
The installation takes some time, and many of the connections are made through weatherpack terminals, which require a special crimping tool. The tool can be found online and some local parts stores carry them for around $30. Most of the components are plug and play, but there are some connections that you have to decipher and make yourself, such as the distributor trigger when not using a Dual-Sync distributor. The FireStorm is capable of connecting with seven types of ignition signals, but the easiest by far is using a Mallory Dual-Sync distributor. We spent about four days installing our system, mostly because we took the time to solder each connection and we also added the optional oxygen sensor system, but a typical install can be done in about two days.
Setting up the software
If this is your first time with computer tuning, then you will want to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the program. The basic settings are simple enough, but getting into the fine tuning, the beginner may want to some help. The Mallory techs can walk you through tweaking your tune to get the most out of your engine. For the initial tune, you can fill out a form, e-mail it to the tech center and they will create a base tune for your specific engine and vehicle, giving you a solid start. Once you are familiar with the program, tuning changes are simple. You don’t even have to pop the hood.
Our test mule twin-turbo Buick 350 was set up and tweaked to take advantage of the new ignition tuning and the results have been impressive. The biggest difference is on the top end; there is a little more power because we got the timing where it needed to be. Before the FireStorm, the engine would only pull to about 5,000 rpm, and then the power would start to fall, quite noticeably.
With the FireStorm, we can run the engine up past 5,000 rpm without losing power. The engine picked up 11 hp and 12 lbs-ft of torque with just the addition of the FireStorm Pro. Additionally, the cooling fans and fuel pump are controlled by the FireStorm, so the fan only comes on once the engine hits 165 degrees. The end result is a carbureted engine that takes advantage of the spark much better than before. The wagon has better drivability, better fuel economy and the ability for real time tuning from the driver’s seat. FireStorm indeed.