OldPunk
OK all you shade-tree mechanics, I am being driven insane by my own stupidity in not seeing what is wrong with my '71 Standard Bug's 1600 engine. This is a request for your help in diagnosing a presistent hard-start problem, either in the engine, in my brain, or both.

The engine's got new spark plug wires, recently-replaced spark plugs, and a vaccum-advance distributor (not a 009). I had done work on several parts of the car as part of de-mobilizing it for several months. Included in the work was rebuilding the carb. It ran very very well until this problem showed up.

I started it up last week for the usual warmup before heading out, and a few seconds after it started it suddenly died. It cranked merrily, and all the lights are actuive, but not even a hint of starting was present. The cutout was very sudden so I suspected an electrical problem. I had had condensors go bad on me years ago when I last drove VWs so I suspected that. I had a Petronix solid-state points replacement unit which I installed in place of the stock points and condensor. As part of that project, I also disassembled, thoroughly cleaned (it was uh-glee), and pre-lubed the distributor guts. But removal of the condensor did not fix the non-start problem.

I decided to do the diagnosis by the book, and checked fuel delivery. The fuel pump spurted very healthily into a jar when I disconnected the fuel line and had someone crank it. I check the rest of the line to the carb and found no blockage (I have an in-line fuel filter there which had also been replaced in the work). I took off the carb and re-cleaned the float bowl, thinking some bit of crud had remained and floated into the main jet to shut it down (even though that would have probably resulted in a more sputtering shutdown than what I experienced). I found nothing and my work made no difference. Still no start.

I checked the coil, found an aging-yellow but strong spark, and likewise found a good spark at nos. 1 and 2 spark plugs as well. OK, that means everything from the coil to the spark plug tips (including the new Petronix doodad) works, right? That's how it seems to me.

Timing? Since I had removed the distributor entirely to clean it and install the Petronix thingie, I had blown the timing. I put it where I thought it should be, going by the position of the rotor pointing to the no. 1 wire, and it didn't start. I had my darling wife crank the bugger for a long time while I moved the distributor body around in a full 180-degree arc, and got bupkis. Oh, it gave a couple of good pops, suggesting SOMEthing was igniting in there, but nothing even close to starting. I decided to try a more disciplined approach to finding a rough point of timing, and set it back up by putting the pulley to 10 degrees, pulling the no. 1 plug, and turning the distributor until the spark showed. That is not a reliable method for timing, of course, but gets you in the ballpark so the engine will start. It didn't.

It didn't, it didn't, it didn't start. I've got fuel, spark and fuel/air mixture, but no start. It just doesn't add up. I've considered a major loss of rings and thus compression, but then I would think I would not get the occasional pop which I got when the wifey cranked and I spun the distributor, looking for some point of timing. I guess a compression test would be advisable, but the engine rocks with compression and release while it is being cranked (not the awful stillness of one just spinning without compression), so I tend to discount that possibility. But what can it be???

I've little enough hair left -- I can't afford to keep pulling it out over this troublesome problem. Anyone got any ideas?
OldPunk
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Keep yer hands on the road and yer eyes upon the wheel.
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olspeed
Hi there Oldpunk
 I don't know it sounds like everything is working... but are you sure you are setting it to #1 on the timing? I would pull the valve cover and make sure that you have it on top dead center for the compression stroke on #1 (you watched the exhaust valve close and then the intake valve open and close and then you roll the engine back up to TDC on #1 cylinder) I take it that you have a degree pulley also right? so set it up as I said to TDC on the pulley. Then see where the rotor is pointing, it should point the terminal for the #1 plug wire if not put the #1 wire to that terminal and then run the firing order for the rest of the wires (important)  if your firing order is not correct it will only pop, not run. If it was running and then died though I would also check to see if your Petronix doodad might not need a different coil as it could be overheating the stock unit as some of these aftermarket units need a special coil to make it live.(just a guess though) hope you can get it to run. Also if you do get it running you will need to reset the timing for your distributor, single or dual vacum advance.

66 Ghia 76 std Beetle
It's not a car it's a VolksWagon
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OldPunk
Thanks, Olspeed. Part of the work I did on the Bug before included checking the valve clearances. As part of that, I had to verify that each cylinder was indeed at the end of its compression stroke by checking that the pushrods for the intake and exhaust valves both spun freely. I do have a degreed pulley, and confirmed when I did no. 1 that it was at TDC when the pulley was at TDC. As part of checking EVERY danged little thing I could think of, I also verified that I do have the plug wires hooked up correctly, firing in the right order (1, 4, 3, 2) even though the Bug was running just spiffy before the sudden expiration. Finally, the Petronix unit does not have any needs for a specific coil or other doodad to operate, according to its instructions, but in any case if I get a spark at the spark plug tip, I believe that means the electrical/ignition system IS working, correct?
Arrrrgh! It just doesn't make any sense.
Much longer and I'll have to submit it to a shop and actually pay someone good money to find out what I've been missing. In the world of working on cars, I hate that most of all. But maybe I should start thinking of it as paying for therapy.
Thanks for your attempt to help. Any further ideas absolutely welcomed and appreciated.
OldPunk
_______
Keep yer hands on the road and yer eyes upon the wheel.
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MY72BUG
You have one serious puzzle there. You have fuel to the carb but do you for sure have fuel from the carb to the intake manifold? One cheap old trick if you do it carefully is to dribble a bit of gas down the throat of the carb venturi while someone turns over the engine. If this produces more than a few pops, you may have identified the problem as some sort of blockage in the carburetor. How old is the carb? Is it due for a rebuild? Do you know someone who can swap one into your car for a test? Keep at it. You will overcome the problem. MY72BUG
I'd rather have a partial bottle in front of me than a partial frontal lobotomy.
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OldPunk
Thanks for the input, My72BBug. I rebuild the carb myself as part of the work done recently, and then re-examined all the journals and passges in the process of trying to eliminate variables with this problem. Tomorrow I will have someone crank it while I spray started fluid into the carb. Today its battery (and mine) is being recharged.

I did get a good tip from a friend who's a non-VW mechanic: He said hairline cracks can appear in the rotor, allowing the electrical impulse to go to ground in the distributor instead of going out the end of the rotor to the spark plug wires. When I told him I'd gotten spark, he said the condition is greatly affected by atmospherics, distributor-shaft speed, etc, and so may be intermittent. So I got a new rotor but it made no difference. Good to know, however.

When I figure this one out, I'll let you all know. In the meantime, don't be shy with your ideas.
OldPunk
_______
Keep yer hands on the road and yer eyes upon the wheel.
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olspeed
It still sounds like something electrical to me. (could be wrong though) I would have a set of points and condenser handy just in case the carb is getting fuel thru it. I know that new things are suppose to work but they don't all the time. when I got my Ghia back together, it had sat in my garage for about 10 years all new parts in the engine and all new electrical for the engine too. You know wires,plugs,cap,rotor and a new(at the time I bought it) Allison ignition system. When I started it,it ran but had a intermittent miss... I worked on it for over three weeks changing things back and forth. Distributors,  Coils, another new set of plug wires so on an so forth. It turned out that one of the Bosch Platinum plugs that I had bought new 10 years before was faulty,the center electrode had come loose and would slide in the porcelain insulator and make contact sometimes and sometimes not. Anyway keep trying and don't give up as they say it's not rocket science 
Olspeed 
     
66 Ghia 76 std Beetle
It's not a car it's a VolksWagon
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MY72BUG
Wouldn't you know that I ran into a similar problem today.  Actually, the other night after a car show I got caught in some traffic so I shut her off for a rest.  Afterwards it would crank and sputter once in while but would not start.  After a prolonged rest it started and I drove home.  Today ( Canada Day - hip, hip hooray for us ) I wanted to go for a spin and right back to square one - nearly starting with the odd sputter and stillness.  I found:  1. The attachment that holds the throttle cable had come loose, not off, just loose enough that most of foot effort on the pedal served to straighten the cable, not to work the accelerator.  AH HA! fixed.  Off I went, did some errands and as I rounded the turn coming home - stillness!  damn it!  Before I came to a full stop, I jiggled the ignition switch- LIFE again.  You could be experiencing the same thing with sometimes power and sometimes not.  Of course when I put the 12 volt tester on it, it behaved like a saint  but one little errant jiggle and no power at the coil.  I actually fixed that switch once but this time I am springing for a new one.   Dan (MY72BUG) in Goderich
I'd rather have a partial bottle in front of me than a partial frontal lobotomy.
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OldPunk
Dan:  Thanks for the info. The throttle cable is secure, I know, because I've been through the carb too many times in the last month AND (not trusting myself) I checked it. I've thought about the ignition switch and did John Muir's test to bypass it from the voltage regulator straight to the coil, but it made no difference -- still no start. So OK or intermittent, my starter switch is not what's keeping the old thing from starting.
  I have made some progress, though. I finally gave up on the petronix and reinstalled a new set of points and condensor, and the car actually started to sputter with some show of life. But then I found the distributor rotor was apt to work itself off the shaft and stop spinning (or not spinning with the roattion of the shaft). In looking for a new cap and rotor, I discovered my distributor was made for a '68 automatic, so its parts are hard to find. I happen to have an old 009 distributor that I was NOT planning on using on this city-driven Bug, but in the name of ending the madness I plan to put itin service and so began last night to disassemble and clean it. That's when I lost one of the springs holding the advance weights in place internally. Arrrrgh! Today I get to see if I can find a replacement somewhere.
  Man, it just goes on and on with this car. Unfortunately, by the time I'm done and have things running again, I'm not sure I'll be able to point to any one thing (or even accurately identify which set of failkures) caused the original problem. But I'll let you know how I end up, or if I get stuck. Thanks again for thinking of me when you had your problem. I'm glad its resolution is relatively clear for you.
OldPunk
_______
Keep yer hands on the road and yer eyes upon the wheel.
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olspeed
Just a note there Oldpunk it should still run with one spring missing on the advance. Thats an old trick we use to do when I was autocrossing my Ghia back in the 80's it just makes the thing go to full advance quicker. Just make sure that you don't give it over 28 degrees total advance,(hope you have a timming light) and you should be fine.
Olspeed
66 Ghia 76 std Beetle
It's not a car it's a VolksWagon
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OldPunk
All right, it finally works! 

As near as I can tell, the mystery non-start happened because 1) the condensor went out, and 2) the distributor picked that same time to develop BOTH a loose rotor and a loose shaft, so that the teeth at the end of the distributor shaft would pop out from the female part in the engine case as soon as things started turning.

The condensor was my very first suspect, and I feel somewhat smug that I had that right. But the looseness in the rotor and shaft I only discovered as I went along in the later stages of hunting down this problem. I was trying to get a rotor and cap to fit my 056 distributor when I discovered an 056 is meant for a 69 or so Automatic and parts are rare (squatty rotor and cap). So I decided to R&R an old 009 distributor I had lying around. The spring problem came up, as I've already mentioned, and I decided to try using the springs from the 056 distributor to see how it functions. It was during that more-thorough teardown of the 056 that I discovered how loose the shaft was and put 2+2 together.

So the 009 worked. Yippee!! And now I know to also suspect things mechanical in the distributor if all else fuel and spark-wise appears to be cooperating. What a rooling clusterfook of a problem.

The 009 still isn't quite right. I do have a timing light and the 056 springs only allow the 009 to advance 5 degrees (I timed it to 10 at idle and it maxes out at 15 degrees at full throttle), and while the engine actually runs smoothly all throughout the throttle, it gets hot pretty fast at freeway speeds. I'm limiting myself to only putzing around town with it until I get an old 009 from Interstate VW, a local VW junk yard. I'll put the 009 springs from that donor in mine, and confirm that it's behaving about as expected at that point. I may try the Petronix again afterward. I may or may not mess with a quicker open later, Olspeed.

Thanks for all the ideas and moral support, guys. I hope I can return the favor sometime.

Endre in North San Diego County
OldPunk
_______
Keep yer hands on the road and yer eyes upon the wheel.
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olspeed
One question Old Punk I thought you said that you had a Petronix unit installed that replaced the points and condenser... well if the condenser went out what was it doing in there in the first place? I'm confused I am using an OLD Allison 700 unit and have never had a problem with it.(wish they still made them) Anyway I'm glad you got it running!
Olspeed
66 Ghia 76 std Beetle
It's not a car it's a VolksWagon
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OldPunk
I originally had points-and-condensor in the 056 distributor, and when I thought it was the condensor I decided to replace the whole thing with a Petronix unit, but that did not produce a start either. To get back to what I knew would work, in the midst of all the work I re-installed a new set of points and condensor. That's what's working in my resurrected 009 distributor now. That's why I'll try the Petronix again later.

Clear as mud, I know, but that's how this process has run, despite my efforts to keep it somewhat rational.
OldPunk
_______
Keep yer hands on the road and yer eyes upon the wheel.
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MY72BUG
One last chance to further muddy your waters:  I pulled my 009 and gave it the heave-ho BUT before I did I did an autopsy and found that it had only one spring.  AHA! problem solved, right - well wrong.  I posted this finding and Ryan, someone who really knows this stuff, informed me that the 009 only had one spring even though it sure looks like it would use two.  Couldn't have been more surprised if I woke up with my head stapled to the carpet.  Glad to hear that you have conquered your problem.  My new ignition switch arrived today and tomorrow I hope to put the last nail in my spontaneous conking-out problem.  Believe it or not, one thing which helped overcome the issue in the mean time was to remove all other keys from my key ring!  The pendulum swinging back and forth on Canada's fine road system as MY72BUG absorbed the abuses of our road-like surfaces, was enough to affect the switch!  No pendulum - no movement of the switch - no problem. I'm still putting the new switch in.  Dan (MY72BUG) in Goderich
I'd rather have a partial bottle in front of me than a partial frontal lobotomy.
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OldPunk
  My problem's finally fixed. I should have posted a new statement earlier, but I ran out of time. I've been gone with my boy at Boy Scout summer camp, and right before I left I managed to fix the Bug. It appears the problem was a combination of the condensor going out (my first thought, way back when) and the distributor shaft getting goofy (nothing I've encountered before).
  I think I mentioned eartlier that as part of chasing down this problem I disassembled, cleaned and reassembled the 056 distributor I had on the car. I recall noticing there seemed to be a bit of play in the up-and-down motion of the shaft in the distributor body, but it didn't seem to be excessive. As part of eliminating the possibility of hairline cracks in the rotor or cap allowing the spark to ground on the way to the spark plugs, I went in search of new parts for that 056. I could not readily find them, but found that the squatty distributor was actually for an automatic. I took it out and as part of doing that discovered that the shaft had so much play in it that while it seated well in the drive gear when installed, it would usually work its way up as soon as more serious rotation started and then the rotor would of course no longer rotate. Heehaw! Fuel, air & spark (checked statically or with but a few rotations of the engine), but no start! It makes sense -- now.
  I installed a R&R'd 009 distribuor I had lying around, lodged a few prayers with the Almighty Mechanic, held my breath, and the Beetle finally started. It did run somewhat poorly (real hot at freeway speeds) because of the advance-spring problem described earlier. I bought a used 009 carcass and snagged the springs out of it and now the advance begins at about 1500-2000 (my tach is not behaving, but that's a different problem) and goes right on advancing all the way to about 33 degrees (10 degrees to start, plus 23 degrees of advance, like it should do). So it appears wholly fixed now. But what I was told in this saga about the history of 009s is that they did indeed start with 2 springs, then in the 60s and 70s people started taking out 1 of the springs to get the advance to start sooner. Soon after that, the 009s (including the ones now coming from Brazil and Mexico) starting coming from the factory with just one spring on them. Mine works with 2, so for now I am done fussing with it.
  As for your problem, Dan -- Wow, a swinging key fob did it, huh? There's another "go figure" resolution (one which I hope to recall the next time I have ignition gremlins). Don'tcha just love these aging machines? Now that I'm back on the road again with the Bug, I can smile about your unusual resolution to your problem as well as my own.
  Thanks for all the good ideas and help. Enjoy the rest of the summer!
OldPunk
_______
Keep yer hands on the road and yer eyes upon the wheel.
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MY72BUG
I ousted the old switch and in the process discovered that it was all but coming apart.  The new switch works with very distinct positions and all of the key wiggling in the world will not kill the power to the coil.  It was not just the key fob swinging but was a clump of about 8 other keys working their magic to affect my poor ignition switch.  All is now peace and contentment until the next VW mystery.  Still;  a $15 fix.  Try seeing what that kind of coin will fix in a 2008 (name a brand here)  I know someone who was out $ 145 for an ignition key because it has a programmable computer chip in it which still didn't prevent that car from being stolen a week later !!  Sheeesh.
I'd rather have a partial bottle in front of me than a partial frontal lobotomy.
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