Story and photos by Richard Ehrenberg. Copyright
© 1999 Richard Ehrenberg and Harris Publications. Used by permission.
First printed in Mopar Action
They are just there, something you never give a thought to, until, one
rainy day, you’re caught with your Jockeys flailing in the wind.
Most Moparphiles just slam in another one and roll. Today, the
popular MP mini-starters, which usually bolt right in, are a popular
fix — they are light, powerful, compact, and draw
less juice. Why, then, would anyone want to mess with their original
starter, circa 1970 or so? Actually, there are several good reasons:
First, a little primer on Chrysler starter tech. Before the subject double-gear-reduction starter in 1962,
Chrysler outsourced starters, mainly to Auto-Lite. They were heavy,
crude, drew a ton of current, and were none too reliable. The 1962
Chrysler design broke new ground by being the first starter,
anywhere, using a cast-aluminum housing and double gear reduction. The
armature spun at much higher RPM than the norm; this feature, combined
with the extra helical gearset, served to create the now-famous
waaa-waaa-waaa sound that told you, from a block away, it was a Mopar
The solenoid shift assembly and contact setup were designed and
built right into the starter, no more bolt-on “piggyback” solenoid.
This starter was a giant techno-leap forward, and would be produced until the late 1980s. Applications included virtually all
Mopar cars and trucks, the only noteworthy exception being ’66-69
4-speed Hemi cars, whose giant flywheel would have reduced cranking RPM
below that needed for reliable starting.
For 1970, a significant redesign increased the reliability,
weather sealing, and serviceability of the solenoid assembly. For 1975,
a slightly larger, 1.8 HP unit (0.3 HP more than all earlier units) was
introduced for hard-to-crank applications. All of these starters were
of the same basic design, and service procedures are similar. For our
hands-on example, we’re dissecting a high-torque 1975-up unit, but, in
any case, our plan is to show your only the key elements and certain
tricks for quickly getting your unit functional again. A factory
service manual for the year, or at least the basic variation, of the
starter you are ripping into is highly recommended.
As with any good rebuild, it helps to know what you're dealing with,
and when it's time to pack up the tools and simply get a different
starter. Of course, if you need a date-coded starter for your
half-million-dollar 1971 HemiCuda ragtop, you might want to carry
things a bit farther than the rest of us.
There are three common failures that stop you - and your starter -
cold. #1 on the list has to be a clutch failure. Luckily, this usually
give you some warning - the starter will, occasionally at first,
intermittently not "catch"; i.e., the starter will spin but the engine
Second is a solenoid contact failure. This also typically gives some
warning - the starter will 'click" but nothing else will happen.
Third is a lubrication failure. This usually doesn't prevent the
starter from cranking the engine, but speeds will be down and noise
levels way up. Unattended, the bushings will be destroyed in short
Other failures include brush wear, which isn't too common due to
their beef, armature burnout or excessive commutator wear, solenoid
coil burnout, etc. With any of these, you may be better off finding a
different unit. Few parts are still available from Mopar, although the
aftermarket has a ready supply. But putting $50 worth of parts into one
of these would probably be a lesson in bad economics, said HemiCuda
being the exception.
It's also possible to detail your starter to impress show judges,
the important points to remember here are that the cast aluminum
housing is natural and unpainted (clean it by blasting with plastic
media or walnut shells, etc.), and the steel parts (the field shell and
end cap) are semi-gloss black.
The captions, as usual, will walk you through the service details. And waaa-waaa-waaa to ya!
1. 1970-up starters (shown) are a tad more reliable -
and definitely easier to service - than earlier models. The bolt-on,
gasket-sealed solenoid assembly is one reason.
2. Earlier models required that the solenoid housing be caulked after assembly.
3. Exploded, you can see the basic simplicity of the design.
The battery cable bolts directly to the contact stud (circled), and the
moving solenoid contact completes the circuit to the field and brushes.
10. Now you can pull the coil and contact assemble back. Don't pull
to hard, one small wire is still connected. It's soldered on the
opposite side, but if you're careful, it can remain in place. If the
contacts are burned or pitted, clean them up with coarse sandpaper. If
the moving ring is pitted (which is quite likely), simply rotate it so
fresh "meat" will be utilized. If the large contact stud (battery
terminal) is really in bad shape, a replacement can be had as Mopar p/n
3579123. Reassemble the solenoid setup.
More by Rick Ehrenberg
Chrysler Heritage • History by Year • Chrysler People and Bios • Corporate Facts and History
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