You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers. We work with the Summit Racing tech department to tackle your automotive-related conundrums. This week, we’re troubleshooting timing issues on a 400 c.i.d. engine swapped into a 1980 Firebird.

pontiac 400 engine timing

(Image/Hot Rod)

Q: I have a 1980 Pontiac Firebird with a 400-cubic-inch engine out of a 1978 Trans Am. The engine was built with parts from two different 400s, and the timing has never been right. The timing marks on the harmonic damper don’t line up properly with the pointer, and I’ve reset the distributor several times but it never lines up either.

The distributor is from the Firebird’s original 301 engine and the damper is from one of the 400s. Do I need to get a new distributor and damper?

A: We don’t think you need a new distributor. The distributor from the 301 should fit the 400 with no problem. We think your timing troubles could be caused by one of the following:

  • The outer ring of the harmonic damper may have slipped, causing the timing marks to move around. Not only does this make timing the engine nearly impossible, it can also be dangerous. A damper with this problem can fly apart at any time. If this is the case with your damper, you should replace it immediately.
  • On most V8 engines, timing is checked on the #1 cylinder because it is the first in the firing order. On Pontiacs, the #1 cylinder is on the driver’s side, which is furthest from the timing marks on the damper. A common mistake is to use the #2 cylinder on the passenger side because it is on the same side as the timing marks. Make sure you are using the #1 cylinder to time your 400.