Building or working on your old “Detroit iron” hot rod requires the acquisition of a few basic diagnostic tools, and the first tool you should shell out some green for is a timing light — like the 3551 from Equus. You’ll never get it running smooth without one.
The 3551 works with most ignition systems: DIS, conventional, electronic, and computer controlled systems. It requires no batteries because it connects directly to the car’s battery, and it and clamps on to the number one piston wire for a timing signal.
When the vehicle turns over, the light will flash once every time the number one plug fires. Point the light down at the timing gauge located above the flywheel and you can adjust from there. It’s a simple procedure that every DIY mechanic can perform with the right tools.
We have this unit in the shop and it works well. It’s rugged and fairly inexpensive as timing lights go. We picked ours up at the local auto parts store for around $45.
There are more expensive units out there but you might want to start with this one if your knowledge doesn’t warrant one of the more robust models.