" why do I need the ballast resistor with a 12 volt coil? "
To keep from melting it. (see tip # 30)
Technology & materials being what they were in the 30's, that square coil would melt if it ran on much more than 4 amps for any length of time. (see tip # 38 for an example). In order to get a hot spark at the same time the starter was drawing max current from the battery, a ballast resistor was added in the ignition circuit. What that did was add about .3 ohms of resistance in the circuit, added to the 1.5 ohms of the coil. That got you 3.5 amps or so at start up. As the voltage increased when the engine was running to about 7.5 volts, the resistor heated up, adding more resistance in the circuit. 1.0 ohms hot, plus 1.5 ohms of the coil got you down to 3 amps or so to keep from melting the coil. The same rule (actually, Ohm's Law) applies to a 12v circuit. I= E/R. Current equals voltage divided by resistance.
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