There's a sequence in the 1991 movie Slacker in which a couple of Texas gearheads score a GM electronic-ignition distributor in the junkyard.

At the time, HEI distributors were pretty rare in the self-service yards; inventory in high-turnover wrecking yards tends to be comprised mostly of cars in the 15- to 20-year-old age range, so the mid-70s machines with electronic ignitions were still uncommon. I had just put an HEI in my Chevy's 350 when I saw Slacker for the first, so I was still bathed in the warm glow that comes with the knowledge that I would never have to deal with ignition points again. These days, vehicles from the 1985-1995 period make up a good 75% of junked cars (you see a distressing number of 21st-century GM and Ford vehicles as well, I'm sorry to report), which means that most engines from the modern era have some sort of bolt-in electronic-ignition option available. Chrysler small-blocks, Toyota Rs, whatever, you've probably got a cheap junkyard ignition option available, and you can get aftermarket electronic conversion kits for damn near everything else. In spite of that, you'll still find plenty of otherwise sane individuals who not only think points are better, they believe that points are morally superior.


For those of you too young to remember when points ignitions ruled the roads, just imagine broken-down cars with their hoods up every few hundred yards on the highway. Imagine parking lots echoing with the sound of engines farting, sputtering, and ultimately failing to start, and the associated screamfests among the stressed-out victims. Imagine getting 4 MPG a few thousand miles after your last tuneup; in fact, imagine having to do tuneups every few months. For all these nightmares and more, what was the culprit damn near every time? Ignition points!
We're talking about a simple little device here, basically just a spring-loaded switch inside the distributor that opens and closes to fire the spark plugs, via a little cam on the distributor shaft. It's a low-grade pain in the ass to get a new set adjusted right, involving feeler gauges and a bit of back pain, but anyone can learn how to install and adjust ignition points… and therein lies the deadly allure of the cursed things: when a car with a points ignition system is running like crap, most of the time you know right where to look for the problem, and you can fix it for cheap with a couple of hand tools and 15 minutes. You are a hero! A problem solver!

Meanwhile, electronic ignitions, which generally operate on a magnetic-sensor principle, just keep working forever (yeah, yeah, all you points lovers have harrowing tales of electronic ignitions that failed, and such stories always end up with the victims being dismembered and eaten by Sendoro Luminoso guerillas in Philadelphia, their final cries for mercy mixed with self-recriminations over their foolish spurning of good ol' ignition points in favor of them newfangledy eee-lectronic whatsits).

Basically, the logic of the points lovers boils down to this: electronic ignition systems are mysterious black boxes, fit only for the foolish and the weak, while a real man can always coax some more life out of garbooned points. Not only that, mechanical points are invulnerable to the the EMP from an airburst nuclear weapon. What if the North Koreans start raining Taepodong-2s down on your subdivision, and you've gathered up the family into the Econoline (along with a crate of SKS rifles, a sack of Krugerrands, and some not-very-expired MREs)? Do you want to trust the lives of your family to a black box? Actually, chances are good that your ignition coil will be fried by the EMP anyway, but you'll have a spare stashed in a Faraday-shielded box buried in the back yard… right?


For those of you driving vehicles made in the last decade or so (or much earlier, if you've got a high-end German or Japanese car), this is all moot; you've got some flavor of crank-sensor-triggered ignition and don't even have a points option, and thus the Trilateral Commission will simply haul you off to a labor camp in the Utah desert when The Clampdown happens. For those of us that do our shopping in the junkyard, a choice must be made!