How to Time the Engine on a Small Block Chevy

Written by robert bayly
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How to Time the Engine on a Small Block Chevy
Timing the small-block Chevrolet. (engine in orange image by John Sfondilias from

The small-block Chevrolet V8 engine first appeared in 1955 with a displacement of 265 cubic inches. Over the years, small-block Chevy engines grew to 283, 327, 350, and 400 cubic inches. Other small-block displacements are the rare 302 engine of Z-28 fame, the lesser-known 307 and the 1980s emissions-oriented 305. Many parts are interchangeable between the small-block engines, with the exception of the 400 version. The similarity of small-block Chevy engines extends to the timing method. It is the same for all small-block Chevy engines.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Carburettor cleaner
  • Shop rag
  • White-out
  • Ratchet and socket set
  • Inductive timing light
  • Wrench set

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  1. 1

    Find the timing mark on the driver's side of the timing. It sticks out over the harmonic balancer. The harmonic balancer is the round metal part that the crankshaft fan belt pulley attaches to. If it is dirty, spray some carburettor cleaner on it and wipe with a shop rag. The mark has numbers on it that read "Before-12-8-4-0-4-8-12-After." Some markers may have slightly different numbers like "10-6-2-0-2-6-10," but they will all read "Before and After." Paint the numbers with some White-Out to make them easier to read.

  2. 2

    Turn the crankshaft with a ratchet and socket in a clockwise direction until you see the timing notch in the harmonic balancer. Clean it if necessary and paint with White-Out.

  3. 3

    Attach an inductive timing light to the engine by clipping the spark plug lead to the No. 1 spark plug wire. The No. 1 spark plug wire is the first one on the driver's side of the engine. Clip the red lead to the positive battery terminal. Clip the black lead to the negative battery terminal.

  4. 4

    Disconnect the rubber hose from the vacuum advance on the distributor and plug it with a small screw.

  5. 5

    Loosen the distributor hold-down bolt with a wrench. Loosen it just enough so that you can turn the distributor, but it takes some effort to do so.

  6. 6

    Start the engine and shine the timing light at the timing mark. Be careful of the fan. The flashing timing light will make It will look like it is not moving. It will also make the notch in the harmonic balancer appear to be stationary under the timing mark. If it is in the area of six degrees "Before," you should be in good shape. If not, turn the distributor until the notch is on six before. This is six degrees "Before Top-Dead-Center."

  7. 7

    Tighten the distributor hold-down bolt, reattach the vacuum hose to the distributor and remove the timing light.

Tips and warnings

  • The setting of six degrees before top-dead-centre is a general setting common to small-block Chevy engines. Your engine may use a slightly different setting. If you are not sure of what setting to use, follow this rule of thumb for ignition timing; it will take a few adjustments to get it just right. Test-drive the car. Keep bumping the timing up by two degrees "Before" until it clatters when you accelerate, then adjust it back down by two degrees. Your car should accelerate well and not clatter. You must drive the car after every adjustment.
  • Be careful of the fan and moving belts and pulleys.

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