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Re: 12 volt conversion of '51 8n

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Bruce (VA)

08-12-2013 05:48:56

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The 12 volt conversion debate comes up here w/ such frequency that you would benefit from doing an archives search on the topic. Generally speaking, you will find a few facts, a lot of opinion, & unfortunately, a little BS. And sometimes you will find factual information that isnít the least bit relevant to a 12v conversion on a 23 hp, 60 year old tractor. ("the auto industry did it 40 years ago")

Generally speaking, the opinions can be grouped in three broad categories:

1. 12v conversions are the greatest invention since sliced bread.

2. If it's not broke, don't fix it.

3. Spend whatever it takes to keep it 6v.

From my experience, I've only found two reasons to convert an N to 12v: If you need to run 12v equipment (sprayers, pumps, lights, etc) or your N has poor compression (like less than 90 lbs) and you do not want to rebuild it, then a 12v conversion makes sense. If an N is hard to start in cold weather (or any weather) find out why & fix it! These tractors have low compression, low HP engines and will start just fine on 6v.

There is nothing inherently 'wrong' w/ a 12v conversion. The problem is that there are about 6 different ways to convert the tractor to 12v, all of them work, and an infinite number of ways to do it wrong. If you have a basic understanding of tractor mechanics, you can buy a quality kit & do it correctly. Or, you can buy an alternator & fabricate brackets if you are skilled at that sort of stuff. Of course, if you have a basic understanding of tractor mechanics, you could just as easily fix the problem that you are trying to cure with the 12v conversion. Most problems we read about w/ 12v conversions are as a result of folks getting in over their heads trying to fabricate a conversion, using inferior kits or using kits w/ directions written in Chinese, or buying tractors w/ "Bubba" conversions and now the new owner is stuck with trying to figure it out. I can tell you that a wage earning mechanic known to many of us on this board summed up every conversion kit he was familiar with by saying that all are bad & some are worse. He makes his own for that very reason.

Now before the 12v advocates give me a spanking, let me add that lots of folks around here have 12v conversions & are perfectly happy w/ them because the conversions were done correctly. 12v is also more forgiving of poor grounds/weak cables, etc than 6v, so keeping everything "clean, bright & tight" in the system is not as critical. 12v gives you twice as much current & a faster spinning starter. And, because 6v headlights are 35w & 12v are 55w, the headlights are brighter.

You will spend probably $160 for a kit. If you install it correctly you will have an easy starting tractor for a long time. And, the 12 conversion will have just about nothing to do w/ the good performance. What will make the real difference is the new wiring, cables, clean grounds & new battery.

All four of my N's are 6v & they all four start the first time, every time, no matter what the weather. You will find that to be the case with folks who live in a lot of places much colder than VA. Plenty of 6v tractors start just fine in MI, NY, WI.....and have been doing so for years. Because they have the correct size cables, good batteries, & clean, bright & tight grounds & connections. And, the correct gaskets in the distributor.

If you do decide that a 12v conversion is the way to go, plenty of folks on this board have done them and they work well, so you have come to the right place for help!

As everyone is telling you, a 12v conversion will not prevent points failure.

Usually burned points will have pits on one side & raised areas on the others. Sometimes they just wear unevenly. They will most always discolor as they have a coating on the surface. The usual causes of burned points are absence of cam/wearing block lubricant, condenser failure, a decreasing gap caused by wear on the rubbing block, mis-alignment, sanding w/ a point file, excessive current, setting an incorrect gap, leaving the ignition key on w/ the points closed, use of incorrect cam lubricant & poor quality metal. I've heard of points being welded shut, but I've never seen it happen.

My last set of points in my 1950 frontmount lasted 1 month short of 4 years, and that is by no means a record. I've got 3 N's, all 6v & all w/ points. I've never had a reason to convert any to 12v or install EI. So, I figure Iím probably doing something right & thought Iíd share my observations.

You can change points everyday & it will not fix bad bushings. If you are having trouble w/ points failure, check the shaft. If you detect movement, chances are it needs new bushings. Just because Iíve never experienced a worn out distributor cam doesnít mean it canít happen.
Specs for the frontmount are:
Across flats = .789/.791
Over lobes = .869/.871 dia.

Sidemount measurements are:
Across flats = .72
Over lobes = .78 dia.

The next trick to points lasting a long, long time is annual maintenance. (tip # 40) No matter how well it's running, pull the distributor (or cap for a sidemount), check the gap & put a dab of points lube on the cam. Not bearing grease or Vaseline; use the correct lube.

Quality parts are critical to longevity. Having learned the hard way, I most always use Blue Streak brand points. They are made by Standard parts & available at many auto parts stores. (frontmount points also fit a 48 Ford as I recall) Beware of sticker shock: $16-18 a set. My next choices are Wells or Echlin. Look for a brown rubbing block. Unfortunately, many folks have experienced problems w/ points made by Tisco, Sparex, A&I Products and any TSC ignition parts..

Correct points installation & gap is also important. Make sure the blade is at a perfect right angle to the points & you want to feel just the slightest bit of drag when you pull the blade through the points. Make sure the blade is clean & that you dress the new points by running some card stock or a piece of brown paper bag through them. Gap is .015 on the frontmount, .025 on the sidemount on all four lobes of the cam.

Make sure the points align correctly. Proper alignment is also critical to longevity. Look at the points when they are closed; both sides should mate evenly.

Even as tight as I am, I always change the condenser when I change the pointsÖÖ.and then I toss the condenser in the ďusedĒ parts box. A bad condenser is rare; you can tell if the points are pitted/burned w/ metal transfer.

Good hold-down screws are important. (tip # 37) If the heads are wallowed out, what do you think the threads look like? You can use machine screws as temporary replacements, but you should use the OEM Fillister head screws. The larger head is there for a reason. If you do use standard machine screws, make sure they arenít too long & interfere w/ the advance weights. Always use star washers under the screws.

Timing is important to engine performance. Make sure you set the point gap before you set the timing. Timing a sidemount is pretty straight forward; it has marks on the flywheel. Itís a bit different for a frontmount but itís a necessary part of a tune-up nonetheless. And, contrary to what some folks think, timing a frontmount is not accomplished by getting #1 to TDC & putting the distributor back on the engine!

When I was 16 years old making $1.25 an hour & a set of points cost $1, I filed points. I must have been good at it because I recall it was almost a weekly exercise. If you ever file a set of points, you will remove the metallic coating on them & reduce the life span considerably. Unless you plan to keep on filing them, plan on replacing them pretty soon!

And lastlyÖÖÖit does not matter if itís 6 volt or 12 volt, you must use the OEM ballast resistor on a frontmount. Too much current to the points will burn them up in short order (leave the key on with the points closed & you will experience this ďlearning pointĒ in about 3 minutes, tip # 38) For a 12v conversion on a frontmount, you probably need another resistor in the circuit as well but unless you measure the coil resistance, you will not know for sure. On a 12v sidemount, it will need a resistor if itís a 6v coil (and even some 12v round coils need one) or you can just get a true 12v coil from NAPA & not worry about it. (tip # 30).

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