Reproduced by kind permission of Classic Ford magazine

Words Simon Charlesworth
Photos Simon Dodd

Had we got lost? No, the café’s still there – so it’s not my terrible sense of direction. Had there been one of those diary cum schedule interface miscalculations (otherwise known as a cock-up)? Thankfully, a small note on the door revealed all, H&H Ignition Solutions had relocated just around the corner to new premises.
The last I personally visited H&H, it was around Christmas time for sister magazine Retro Cars, when the business was roughly eight months old and just out of its nappies. Yet despite this relative short time lapse, things have changed considerably for the partnership of Phil Hull and nephew Lee Hull. Thankfully, the highly knowledgeable yet down-to-earth duo still have their sense of humour and their ability to make you feel at ease – but the new premises are significantly larger and now, the telephone is ringing so much it’s in danger of suffering with nervous exhaustion...
Packing 20 years of dizzie experience between them, they formed H&H after their previous employer decided to ditch old stuff and move into bulk sales of late model equipment. Initially, they started out refurbishing distributors and dealing in spares but since then, they have moved onto modifying and even remanufacturing bespoke dizzies.
However, before we go any further, we must push the rewind button to that word ‘refurbishment’ because the chances are, like me, you’ve probably got a few misconceptions about it. Unlike some companies or individuals who take a tired old mechanical component, wire brush it, give it a quick blow over and do the bare minimum to the components, H&H’s approach is quite the opposite. The casting’s are acid dipped and shot blasted until minty, machined as necessary and new internals fitted. The end result is a product which looks new and if you’re still sceptical, well, did you notice that the Pinto dizzie in the photos was a refurb carried out by H&H? No, I thought not.
In fact, the Hulls find that it isn’t just the refurbishment side of the business, which is widely misunderstood – it can apply to the entire ignition business. “The problem is that a lot of people who tune cars these days don’t realise how important the distributor is. If it it doesn’t get the spark there at the right time, you can end up with holes in pistons and burnt-out valves,” says Phil. “One bloke even had a new engine which kept holing No.3 piston because of detonation problems.”
Lee adds: “Really we do anything from a standard recondition to a fully-modified Race or Rally-spec distributor. Also because we do dig out old new stock we can sometimes offer a brand-new distributor for some cars too. We deal with a lot of the performance and tuning companies in the UK and we’re gradually creeping into Europe. Actually, there’s only one other company I can think of which deals in distributors and it can’t recondition them.”
“Yeah, we’re at the back of many things,” says Phil. “There are many people who profess to recondition distributors but you’ll find that they do starters, alternators and steering racks too. They don’t specialise in anything, so if you were to send them something oddball they’d be scratching their heads. Whereas we can machine a new type distributor – hence the lathe – so that it will fit a classic.”
So whether it’s a matter of updating your classic Ford to an electronic distributor – more of which in a minute – or carrying out a collar repair to a 23D4 (a Twink’s dizzie) on the lathe, the Hulls can help. No wonder the company slogan says ‘The only solution to your ignition problems’.
Sitting on the bench is a new form of H&H electronic Bosch distributor for a Pinto. “The actual distributor itself and its components have been made before for different types of vehicle and it is a standard Pinto unit. However, what we’ve done is mounted the amplifier onto the side of the distributor – which has never been done before. In other words, this is a fully stand alone ignition system without any big boxes or heavy wiring, it’s just a small clip on a black plug with two wires that connect to the ignition and the HT coil – and away you go...”
“It’s a cheaper, simpler version of igniter kits which are already on the market. It uses all genuine OE parts which are freely available from motor factors as well as us, so all the components are replaceable. Also, when it is time to service it, it will only cost you around £25 in all,” says Lee. “We do these for all different makes and models of cars and different engine specs from mild road straight through to rally specs.”
Phil then adds: “We don’t charge extra either to curve the distributor to suit the spec of the engine (it’s included in the kit price). Plus – and it’s a big plus – if it’s our distributor and the customer bought it from us, we will service it free of charge because that’s the guarantee you get...” Despite not owning a salvageable Pinto, I have to ask about cash – and again the answer’s another pleasant surprise.
“It can either come as a distributor on its own or it can come with the loom and an HT coil, but the price for a stock distributor starts at around the £200 mark. What we supply just depends on the customer because they may have broken a car and salvaged all the gubbins, in which case they only just need the distributor. Alternatively, they could have built an engine from the block up and so need everything to get the ignition system working,” says Lee.
So if you’ve just bolted in a carb-fed Cossie into your MkII Escort and can’t be bothered with wrestling with that huge pile of electrical spaghetti that is a standard YB ignition system – now you know who to talk to.
“Another feature of our special Pinto Bosch distributors is that because it is fully electronic and it’s been developed by the factory, it’s got what’s called a variable dwell. Now the dwell angle on points distributors, igniter kits and aftermarket electronic kits, are set at a pre determined value – say 40º. (This is the amount of time the contacts are closed and which gives the coil time to re-energise between sparks.) Whereas our variable dwell dizzies have a maximum dwell angle and this translates into more re-energising time and ultimately, a fatter spark,” says Phil.
“In fact we had some feedback this morning from Ross Irvine (an engine rebuild specialist),” says Phil. “We built him one of these distributors last year for a customer Pro Stock engine. Anyway that engine has secured the customer his fourth successive title and it also gave him his most powerful engine yet... So he was very pleased with that and he has just sent in a V8 for us to work on.
Oh and in case Crossflow owners are feeling a little left out – don’t – H&H can supply you with a similarly trick dizzie. “Again, it’s got an amplifier mounted on the side, the curve can be set to whatever spec, all the parts are widely available and we can supply these for the 1700cc and the 1300cc,” says Lee.
“Due to the high revs the Pintos and Crossflows can reach, we’ve been offering rev-limiting rotor arms which can be preset at any rev limit – from 1000 rpm right up to 9-10,000 rpm. So it will safe guard your distributor and engine for as little as £15 for a cap and rotor arm.”
“Basically, if it’s Ford we do it – RS Turbo distributors are getting popular and we’ve got genuine brand new Lucas dizzies for Escort CVHs too. Really though, our specialist niche is modifying advance curves from standard spec to mild road, fast road or race. That’s for any Ford distributor providing it’s mechanical advance (of course the later types RS Turbo and RS Cosworth are signal controlled without any mechanical advance). We’ve got spec sheets for all sorts of Ford engine fitted with all sorts of cams and carbs, we’ve logged literally hundreds of advanced curves in our files.
Plans for the future of H&H? Currently, they’re looking into HT leads and have just started dealing in high torque competition starter motors which can cope with turning over high compression engines. “We’ve got them in stock now for the Pinto, Crossflow and Essex. They come in nine tooth and 10 tooth variants and we’ve started getting some good feedback from the rally people now,” says Lee. As for the HT leads, H&H will have a catalogue compiled as soon as time allows.
“People who come here, are surprised that we just deal with distributors because they don’t think there’s the demand for them. The thing is though, we’re turning around at least 200 per week for all different makes and models. When you came and saw us last year, we were working a normal nine to five day but since Christmas that’s gone from 7.30 - 8am to 7.30 - 8pm. It’s because more people are hearing about us, demand has snowballed and more people are liking our products.
Phil adds: “In fact, we’ve been told many a time that we really do need a website now because we are missing out on trade...”
“Thank God!” says Lee laughing. “Otherwise we’d be here until midnight...”

Reproduced by kind permission of ‘Retro Cars’ November 2004 issue

Spark Up

With a passion for classics, H&H Ignition Solutions will custom build an ignition system for your retro ride.

“A lot of people forget the ignition system,” says Phil Hull, one half of the partnership which is H&H Ignition Solutions. “They totally forget and ignore it because they think it’s just a part which you fit and that it’s going to work.”
This is the voice of experience, which you may very well end up talking to in your rebuild’s fluffing, farting and coughing time of need. “The problem is a lot of people who tune cars these days don’t realise how important the distributor is,” says Phil. “If it doesn’t get the spark there at the right time, you can end up with holes in pistons and burnt-out valves.”
Phil’s nephew, Lee, then tells me how H&H came about. They both started working with ignition systems in 1988 with another company but found their interests lay in the classic and vintage market. So instead of letting all that experience wither away, they left and set up H&H about eight months ago.
“Since then we’ve moved into modifying distributors and now we make our own electronic ignition kits, which are a step beyond the other kits,” says Lee. “It’s just a case of refitting the distributor and away you go. We do anything from a standard recondition to a fully-modified race or rally-spec distributor. Also, because we dig out old-new stock we can offer a brand-new distributor for some cars instead of reconditioning.”
On cue, Phil then points to the shiny dizzies, which are lined up on the work benches. “They’re for Minis, Minors, Midgets, Sprites — all the A and B-Series engines — but we can change the drive so that they can fit either the 1300 or 1600 Crossflow,” says Phil.
“Put it like this,” says Lee, “we deal with a lot of the performance and tuning companies in the UK and we’re gradually creeping into Europe. We get a lot of good feedback from the internet because distributors aren’t widely available.”
“Yeah, we’re at the back of many things,” says Phil. “People who recondition distributors are rare, but you’ll find the ones that do also offer starters, alternators and steering racks too. They don’t specialise in anything. Whereas we can machine a new type distributor to make it fit into something old.”
Lee adds: “It’s a way out for people who have distributors or engines that are rare and the stuff’s not available anymore, or even for distributors beyond reconditioning,” adds Lee. “What we do is take a late type distributor, machine the casting, put their drive on to it and away you go. They’ve got an electronic ignition kit and a new distributor.”
“I’ve done a Lamborghini and the owner was quite chuffed because he couldn’t find a distributor for it,” says Phil. “So we reconditioned the old one. Yes, he was chuffed because you get a guarantee and you get a nearly-new distributor.
“We also modify the distributor from the Rover V8, which is rare now and will cost £400 if you can find one. What we do is take the drive off, strip the distributor down because the car manufacturer we supply can’t locate them anymore and it supplies them for its older cars.”
Lee adds: “We’ve a rolling road nearby and they’ve got access to all sorts of makes and types of cars, so they’re able to provide us with a spec if we need it. Having said that we have filing cabinets full of them, so we are more than likely going to have the spec we need.
“When it comes to reconditioning we’ve found that there’s this stigma attached. A lot of people think of a reconditioned product as someone in their shed wire-brushing something down and then crudely painting it to make it look new,” Lee continues. “What we do is strip the distributor to its minimum parts, put it in an acid dip to get rid of all the crap, oil and rust, use a shot-blaster, which we bead the castings in to bring out a new finish. The bolt-on parts, we send away for plating so they come back like new. So when you get the distributor, it looks new and not like it’s been cleaned up.
“Everything inside is new: bushes, seals, caps, rotors, contacts, condensers, etc. Apart from the casting and the shaft, nothing’s reclaimed.”
Phil adds: “Seriously though, as far as we know, we are the only people in Europe who specialise in this area. Yes, there are people who dabble, but nobody does what we do and we’ve got a combined knowledge of about 20 years, from messing about with cars and being in the business.”
Is there a specific market which has proved a nice earner for H&H? “We’ve had quite a good response from rally people,” says Phil. “People who have put the Vauxhall XE engine into a MkII Escort and who aren’t getting the power out of it and it’s not behaving as it should. So they send it in, we map them a new curve, they do a new rally and they are really pleased with it.”
“To be honest, it’s something which a lot of people don’t think about until they get to it,” says Lee. “Especially people who do kit cars or who put an engine in a car which isn’t supposed to be there. So when they get to the distributor they find it isn’t going to be as easy as they thought.”
“Yeah,” says Phil. “Especially when they go from an engine which was ECU-managed — like the Vauxhall XE — so we’ve developed a bolt-in ignition kit for it.
“We’ve had a lot of people ringing up with engine management problems, wanting to know how to wire it up, and when we tell them that they’re going to need all the engine management system the phone goes quiet. Of course there is an alternative — we offer them one of our custom-made distributors.
“You won’t believe how much people spend on engines. They’ll spend thousands on mods only be disappointed,” Phil goes on. “Often the spark is so far away, it’s not getting there on time. A mapped, modified distributor is important, it can give a lot of benefit. If it’s not right, it isn’t going to run the engine right and you’ll lose power and performance.
“Plus,” says Phil, “some engines might feel like they’re on steroids because of the distributor. What they don’t realise is the spark is getting there too soon, because of the way the cam has altered the engine — it’ll quite often run at a higher tickover. Instead of running at 750/850 rpm, a good cammed-up engine will end up running around at 1000 rpm because if it ticks over any slower it’ll shear the lobes off the cam.
“If you put a standard distributor in there it’s already half-advanced because that’s what the original engine wanted — but it’s not the original engine anymore. So they end up having to muck about with the distributor and the timing. Ask a rolling road guy. They would praise the ground we walk on because it makes their job easier if a car’s got a proper advance curve distributor in it.
“There’s also the safety factor to consider if you’re running a highly modified engine,” says Phil. “They don’t need as much advance on the spark as the standard engine — say its output has gone from 80 hp to 160 bhp — that’s quite a difference and it could badly damage it. People often buy things to make things go faster, but it is a matter of safety — after all, brakes don’t make a car go faster but they do make it safer.”

Typical Prices
A and A+ Series (all specs) £129
Crossflow (all specs) £129
Pinto electronic kits (all specs) £165
Vauxhall electronic kits (all specs) £165
Reconditioning service from £50

Retro Cars November 2004