Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Robbinsdale, MN
First, you need the #1 cylinder near Top Dead Center on the compression stroke (both valves fully seated after intake has just closed a half rev or so ago; if the exhaust is just closing and the intake is just opening, you're 360 degrees off - at the crank - 180 degrees for the distributor - turn the crank around once more to TDC). Turn it just a few degrees so the timing marks indicate about 12 degrees before TDC. This is where the number one cylinder should be firing.
Orient the distributor body so the vaccuum can is pointing toward the #8 or #6 cylinders, and the connectors are pointed off toward or slightly behind the #7 cylinder. Locate it so there is a plug wire tower just about at 12 o'clock (dead center front of engine). This is going to be your #1 plug tower. Now rotate the rotor back about 45 degrees (about 10 o'clock, or just past it). This is the position you want the distributor body and rotor in when you stab it in. Make sure the oil pump shaft is lined up in about the 11 o'clock position, as the rotor will be rotating as it engages the distributor drive gear before the drive tang drops into the slot in the oil pump shaft.
Once the distributor is in place properly with the rotor pointing toward 12 o'clock, adjust the distributor just enough so the leading edge of the rotor contact is just reaching the contact in the cap for the # 1 plug - this is when it's going to fire, so if you're engine's at 12 degrees BTDC, it should be timed just about right to get you fired up o.k.
A picture says a thousand words. SA Books has a book on rebuilding small block chevy's that is pretty comprehensive, and for $10-20 at Borders or Barnes and Noble it could save you a lot of headache. But ignore the instruction to line up the oil pump shaft slot at 10 o'clock, and adjust it as needed. It needs to be rotated further to about 11 o'clock - start there and you shouldn't have to fiddle with it over and over.
Again, though...I don't think your distributor should be sitting up an inch. If it's sitting that high, and the rotor has turned from engagement with the cam gear, something's not right (beyond just the oil pump shaft alignment - this should only hold it out about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch). If it's sitting this high and the rotors not turning (engaging) then something else isn't fitting right, or dropping in quite right.
Are you sure what distributor you've got? All GM HEI's are not the same. The top end's basically the same, and they basically look the same, but the shaft length, boss diameters, etc., could be different. Your distributor is not out of a '71 Nova - not a stock one anyway. HEI's didn't come out 'til '74. If you know for a fact that it came out of a Chevy V-8 you should be o.k., though.