MSD is a name that’s synonymous with high-quality ignition components. With products ranging from coils to rev limiters, the company is probably best known for its array of ignition control boxes that fire each spark plug multiple times per revolution to maximize combustion efficiency. It also produces a complete line of distributors that offer the reliability and accuracy that high-performance engines require.
The Pro-Billet distributor line debuted in the late-’80s. It generally consists of a housing that’s CNC-machined from billet aluminum, a coated main shaft that rides on upper and lower roller bearings, and a fully adjustable centrifugal advance mechanism that can also be locked out for specific applications. Requiring an ignition control box for normal operation and external canister-type coil, the Pro-Billet is an excellent choice for street and strip engines, and an example for most any make is available.
MSD's Ready-To-Run distributor for Pontiac (PN 8528) is a self-contained unit, which featu
MSD added a Pontiac specific Pro-Billet distributor (PN 8563) to its lineup in the mid-’90s. While quite popular with Pontiac performance enthusiasts, it lacks vacuum advance, and that can limit its total effectiveness in street applications where additional advance is commonly used to improve idle quality, slightly reduce normal operating coolant temperature, and/or increase fuel economy in light load conditions. MSD responded in the late-’90s introducing a second Pontiac distributor, but this time as part of its Ready-To-Run line.
The Ready-To-Run distributor series contains many of the same design features as the Pro-Billet, but uses a simple three-wire connection and an internal ignition module that eliminates the need for a separate control box (though using one is certainly acceptable). It also includes a built-in rev limiter and a vacuum-advance canister to improve engine reliability and efficiency, respectively. The compact Ready-To-Run unit is an excellent option when seeking to replace any Pontiac original, especially in instances where space constraints prevent the use of a traditional large-cap HEI, like with a Tri-Power intake manifold.
The heart of the Ready-To-Run distributor is its electronic ignition control module that a
When the HEI in our ’76 Firebird started operating erratically, we started looking at distributor options for its 455 and found the MSD Ready-To-Run unit an easy fit for us. Unlike the existing HEI, which uses an in-cap coil, the Ready-To-Run distributor requires an external coil, which we planned to mount on the driver’s side cylinder head, just as Pontiac did over the years. We also found in MSD’s catalog a black distributor cap to use in place of the standard red cap. The black cap would keep others from quickly detecting the Ready-To-Run distributor in our Firebird’s otherwise unmodified under hood.
We contacted MSD and within a few days a PN 8528 distributor, PN 8222 coil, and PN 84333 cap arrived on our step. With the components in hand, we had the install complete in an afternoon. We recorded the initial timing setting before removing the existing HEI, and reset it after installing the MSD unit. Setting the built-in rev limiter is as easy as revving the engine to half of the desired rpm limit, and having a helper ground the gray tach wire for one second. If the distributor recognized the input, the tach displays the newly set limit for a couple of seconds.
The Ready-To-Run distributor includes a vacuum advance unit that allows owners to take adv
Back on the road with the MSD Ready-To-Run distributor in place, our Firebird runs and drives as well as it ever did with the HEI, and when considering how few HEIs are functioning as intended these days, a performance improvement isn’t uncommon.
Having a modern distributor with high-quality internals and an internal rev-limiter quells reliability concerns, while the fully adjustable centrifugal advance makes tuning for maximum performance a breeze. But best of all, with its black cap and coil mounted in a stock-like manner, you may be the only one who knows it’s there!
MSD recommends its PN 8202
Blaster 2 coil for the Ready-To-
Run distributor, but when we e
We rotated the engine by hand
so that the No. 1 piston was
at top dead center on the compr
After removing the hold-down
clamp using a 9
the HEI simply lifts up and
The Ready-To-Run distributor includes various springs
and limiting bushings that allow eas
MSD's instructions contain several charts that plot
advance curves with all potential spri
The Ready-To-Run distributor simply
drops into place and the hold-down
clamp is snugged up
We had plans
the canister coil on
the intake flange
like that found on
we removed the coil
and connected the lead
wires from the har
The distributor requires a
keyed 12-volt source for
proper operation and we found our
We created a second jumper wire
to connect the Ready-To-Runs
gray tach wire and our Firebi
To keep prying eyes from immediately recognizing the signature MSD red cap
under our Fireb
While reusing existing plug wires
is certainly possible, MSD
recommends its own 8mm wires
With the black cap installed, it's difficult to tell exactly what distributor we're