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  1. #1

    Default 1985 3.8 Mustang convertible ignition problems

    Dear forum members,

    I'm happy that I found this forum dedicated to the most unpraised Mustang with the most unwanted engine. It's all about the V8s, and very little about the 3.8 V6 so I'm happy there is at least one place on the internet that's dedicated to the Essex V6.

    I'm from the Netherlands and my father has an Oxford white 85 LX convertible, originally sold in Hollywood but somehow it found its way to the Netherlands. He owns it since 1997 and uses it only in summer time for cruising with the top down.

    It has proven to be quite reliable and we have managed to keep it going despite the complete lack of parts availability in the Netherlands. However, since a few years it seems to have developed a bad attitude that we haven't been able to fix yet.

    It would start and run but the engine would sometimes just cut out while driving. When this happened, the car wouldn't start immediately and we sometimes had to wait for hours before it would start again. We fixed this issue by relocating the TFI sensor to the side of the engine bay, using the kit developed by McCully Racing Motors. We also replaced this sensor by a new one. The big change this has made is that the engine would cut out less often and more importantly would restart directly even if it did. We also replaced the oxygen sensors, without any improvements.

    We took the car to a Mustang specialist who tried to read out any error codes, however without any clear result. The fuel supply and spark seem to be OK, we think there is something wrong with the ignition system, that shuts down the engine while driving. We have a wiring diagram and a basic understanding of the ignition system, but honestly speaking no idea what to do next. Hence, the reason for posting here. Hopefully you the enthusiasts on this forum, can help us with some advise, based on expertise, experience and failure of course.

    Any tips or ideas are really appreciated (but please don't just advice us to swap it for a V!

    Thanks in advance,
    Richard

  2. #2
    FEP Super Member webestang's Avatar
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    Had the same problem with my 85 2.3. I also used a relocate for the TFI. BUT.....and this is a big BUT I used an aftermarket TFI, it failed even on the remote unit with the heat absorbing grease. Went to a Ford Motocraft TFI and it has been fine ever since. Rockauto.com has them for around $80.
    And when my 88 5.0 TFI failed I went straight to the Motorcraft unit and it's been fine.
    Last edited by webestang; 12-27-2022 at 03:12 PM.

    Scotty
    1985 Fox Notch 4-banger Ranger tube header Eastwood Royal Blue
    1988 Fox LX 5.0 AOD Vert BBK 170mph speedo Candy Apple Red
    1999 Mustang Coupe V6 Auto Chrome Yellow -Daily Driver.
    Past Pony's.....
    68 Coupe Inline-6 3-Speed-Man. Primer
    78 II Hatch 302 3-Speed-Auto Sunroof Black
    81 4-Eye Coupe 4-Banger 4-Speed-Man. White

  3. #3

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    Sounds like the PIP sensor(inside the distributor) is going, particularly regarding the cooling down part. Failure usually shows the same symptoms as failing TFI module and doesnt always show codes when pulling them.
    A cheap part costwise but requires taking the distributor apart to replace so most just buy a remanned distributor. Not a daunting task to do yourself if you have a pin punch set for removing the distributor gear.

  4. #4
    FEP Super Member webestang's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1984GTTurboVert View Post
    Sounds like the PIP sensor(inside the distributor) is going, particularly regarding the cooling down part. Failure usually shows the same symptoms as failing TFI module and doesnt always show codes when pulling them.
    A cheap part costwise but requires taking the distributor apart to replace so most just buy a remanned distributor. Not a daunting task to do yourself if you have a pin punch set for removing the distributor gear.
    I forgot about that PIP. I did replace the dizzy with new on my 2.3 for that reason.

    Scotty
    1985 Fox Notch 4-banger Ranger tube header Eastwood Royal Blue
    1988 Fox LX 5.0 AOD Vert BBK 170mph speedo Candy Apple Red
    1999 Mustang Coupe V6 Auto Chrome Yellow -Daily Driver.
    Past Pony's.....
    68 Coupe Inline-6 3-Speed-Man. Primer
    78 II Hatch 302 3-Speed-Auto Sunroof Black
    81 4-Eye Coupe 4-Banger 4-Speed-Man. White

  5. #5

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    I just rebuilt and replaced the PIP on my 2.3 turbo but years ago i had to replace it on my 3.8 tbird since i couldnt afford a whole distributor at like 150+ vs 18 bucks for just the sensor.

  6. #6
    FEP Senior Member
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    I agree with the PIP diagnosis. I had a similar issue a few years ago where the car would just shut down after driving for a while. It would usually restart after 15-20 minutes. Being on the road I didn't have much to work with, but a new (aftermarket) TFI module and coil did not resolve it. I wound up replacing the distributor (new PIP) and it has been fine since.
    '89 XR-7 5 Speed
    '95 SC 5 Speed
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    '85 Ford LTD Squire

  7. #7
    FEP Power Member gmatt's Avatar
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    My LTD with the 3.8 had these symptoms. Junkyard distributor fixed it, but I got a new one also as a spare(Ford NOS). TFI is still on the distributor. Haven't had any issues at all since replacing it.

  8. #8

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    Thank you gentlemen, sorry for the late reply but your input is very much appreciated. We have gotten hold of an official FORD Code Reader so we will be trying to read out the car later today.

    Regarding the distributor, it could very well be the root of all evil. We have a new PIP sensor but after watching this video it does seem so to be quite a hustle to replace it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMpw_Ag2_rM

    So we are considering replacing it completely by a new one, if there are any? US Ford parts are as good as impossible to find in EU so all we can do is search the internet from here, which usually takes us to Rockauto where they offer Cardone remanufactured distributors. Do you have any experiences with those parts, are they any good or should we go for OEM?

    Or are there any aftermarket distributors available for the 3.8 that are better than the OEM? I read about MSD distributors, but they seem to be only available for the 5.0.

    Your thoughts are appreciated, thanks in advance!

  9. #9

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    I think the Cardone unit will work for you guys.
    They are one of the biggest re-manufacturers in the US.
    They also might be your only option ,
    Think of it this way, buy the one from Rock Auto and enjoy the summer, and then rebuild your stock distributor later on.
    That way you will have a spare one.
    Just my 2 cents.
    Enjoy your Stang !
    84 GT 5.0L, T5, 8.8T-Lock, 5lug with 93 Cobra Brakes,
    MM RCL's,CC plates, Koni Reds, 17" Tri-Stars...CoilOvers next.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Richard K View Post
    We have gotten hold of an official FORD Code Reader so we will be trying to read out the car later today.
    This is also available for reading OBD1 codes....

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...KIKX0DER&psc=1
    1985 Mustang GT (Mothballed...Desired restomod parts acquired...Top of my project list for my 2024 retirement!)

  11. #11

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    That video of the replacement was so excessive, its not like that at all.
    You literally just need a deep socket, a small pin punch or drill bit, some wd-40 and a vice to hold it in while working on it.

  12. #12

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    Thanks for the swift replies! We found a NOS distributor on Ebay that is on its way to NL. We figured OEM would always be best...

    We also found that the current distributor is a Motorcraft E4ZE-12131-AA, according to the internet this is a V8 part number. So probably its internals have been modified to work on the 3.8

    We will replace it as soon as it arrives and I will post our findings.

    Regarding the distributor rebuild; don't we need to remove the cog from the shaft in order to remove the PIP sensor? That's what the guys in the video are spending most time on and what makes it daunting?

  13. #13

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    The distributor for the 3.8 v6 was constructed mostly from a v8 body and straight six everything else if i remember correctly.

    Yes you have to remove the gear to replace the PIP, but you dont need to use a press or anything crazy like that to do it.
    Clamp the distributor body in a bench vice, spray the gear with some penetrant and let it soak for a bit and just lightly tap down on the shaft to force the gear to come off. Just light taps you arent trying to drive a nail into a board.
    Make sure you put everything back in that you took off facing the direction it came off in, like that black plastic thing and such.
    To put it back on just sit the distributor upside down on the table, line the pin holes up and drive the gear back down the shaft with a deep socket or a small piece of pipe. You may have to do it a few times to get it right but as long as you arent a caveman doing this you wont damage anything.

  14. #14

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    Thanks for this more decent explanation, we might as well give it a go once the NOS dizzy has arrived. Can't wait for it to arrive, we have high hopes it might finally fix the problem!

  15. #15

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    May I suggest while your at it to inspect your battery cables and any grounding points?
    Remove your battery cables, clean and reinstall. Not just on the battery, but where they attach to also..
    Does the V6 use the same starter solenoid as the V8's? Check the attachment points and clean them too....
    Also inspect your battery cables... If they are original I would recommend replacing them as they can corrode UNDER the insulation... There was just an instance of this this on another web site that was creating alot of headaches for the owner.....
    If you want to have your original Distributor rebuilt, you might give DUI, Davis Unified Ignition, a call or email to see if they can do this to your distributor... They are in Memphis, Tennessee in the United States......
    hope this helps..

  16. #16

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    Yes you may, very much appreciated. We'll give it a good look and replace if suspicious. I have no idea where to buy them in the Netherlands, but I suppose they might be universal?

    Thanks for the distributor rebuild tip, but since we're in the Netherlands it might become just a little but too expensive. Meanwhile the NOS distributor has arriveved in mint condition, so we'll exchange it soon. We have a Haynes manual that is quite precise in pointing the distributor towards cilinder #1. It's my experience with European cars that the rotor position isn't that important as long as you mark the position it was in and make sure to put the new one back in the same position. Any hands on experience on exchanging the distributor on the 3.8 is very much appreciated!

    Thanks for now, to be continued!

  17. #17

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    Rotate the engine by the crankshaft untill its TDC and the rotor faces the #1 spark plug position on the old distributor body, #1 plug wire should be on the righthand side near the screw and runs to the first cylinder on the passenger side of the motor, put a mark on the distributor where the rotor is pointing at and at the base of the distributor somewhere before you remove it.
    I "believe" the distributor hold down bolt is 13mm, its hard to remember its been awhile.
    Then when you take it out you can mark the new one in those spots and put the new one in. They are just to get you in the zone of where you should be, you need to time it properly.
    Before you put the new one in make sure you put the TFI module on it and with the correct paste on the back, because its easier to do it now than when its installed.
    Put some oil onto the gear of the new one and put it in and try to align it with the marks you made.
    Finger tighten the distributor hold down bolt, reinstall the cap, wires and plug in the TFI harness, unplug the SPOUT connector(with yellow wire) and grab a timing gun.
    The emissions sticker should tell you what to set the timing at, i would only go by that and not whatever the haynes manual says.
    Once you get it timed you can tighten the hold down up and plug the SPOUT connector back in and you should be good to go.

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