View Full Version : Bulletbird won't turn over

03-04-2014, 03:16 PM
Hi all,

I went out the other day to fire up the 'Bird, but no joy. I've tried to follow the troubleshooting steps from the manual for the sections Engine will not crank and starter relay does not click and Engine will not crank but starter relay clicks. But, I'm confused. When I turn the key, the relay sometimes clicks a couple of times and sometimes just once, and then doesn't do anything at all. This is why I tried both sections, because at first it clicks, but then it doesn't.

The odd symptom I'm seeing is that after the initial click(s), the interior/courtesy lights go dead. If I then wait a while, they'll eventually be back and I can get the relay to click again. This initially seemed like a battery issue to me, so I took my battery to the parts store and had them test and they told me it was fine.

After reinstalling the battery and having the same issue, I jumped the 'Bird from my running Suburban, but it reacts the same. So it doesn't seem to be just a bad battery, but something else that is entirely killing power to the interior as well as the ignition switch for some short period of time.

Dave, I really want to follow "sound troubleshooting techniques", but at this point I'm not sure what they are, since what I'm seeing doesn't seem to fit into what would be expected according to the troubleshooting sections of the manual. Or maybe they do, but I'm not recognizing it. Either way I need some help.

Any thoughts?


03-04-2014, 03:31 PM
My guess is that the starter or starter relay has gone bad and is causing a slow-blo breaker to trip. That's probably why the lights go out and come back a few minutes later. I would try using a jumper cable and jump across the relay to the starter and see if the engine cranks. If it doesn't then you have a bad starter, if it does then the solenoid may have gone bad. Also make sure that the negative battery cable is still secure at the block. The fact that the relay clicks tells me that the neutral switch is functioning correctly.


03-04-2014, 04:38 PM
Thanks John.

Just to be sure I'm sure, do you mean jump from what I've labeled "Battery / Alternator" to "Starter"? If so, I tried that and nothing happened. So my starter is bad?


03-04-2014, 04:54 PM
Yes, I meant from the battery terminal of the relay to the starter terminal. You can also do it from the positive battery terminal directly to the starter terminal. If the motor doesn't turn over then your starter is bad or the starter wire isn't making good contact with the starter.


03-04-2014, 05:02 PM
Thanks again John.

The good news is that I had come to the conclusion that the starter must be bad, but wanted to check here with you folks who're smarter than I am on this stuff.

I'll pull the starter and let you know how it goes from there.

03-04-2014, 05:18 PM
Before you pull the starter take the starter cable off of the relay and put the jumper cable from the battery directly on the wire so that you eliminate the relay completely. Just a double check to make sure the relay isn't somehow grounding out the starter.


03-04-2014, 05:32 PM

Jumper cable from + battery terminal directly to starter wire (removed from starter relay) produced nothing but some sparks when the wires met.

03-04-2014, 05:42 PM
Then I agree that the starter is bad. It seems to happens quite a bit when they sit for awhile.


03-05-2014, 06:11 AM
Sorry I didn't see this sooner, Scott. Looks like John nailed it (as he usually does).

There are only three main components to the starting system; battery, solenoid and starter motor. Cold weather normally plays hell with older batteries but loose or corroded connections can happen at any time.

So, how do we determine the problem? Sound troubleshooting practices usually start at the end, and work forward. John did it right. If the starter motor fails to turn with a direct cable connection from the battery, everything in between doesn't matter as long as the battery is good (which you proved-out) and the ground wire is connected well (which also proved because of the sparks).

Sounds like the starter has a short to ground inside or it is frozen and cannot turn. Just to be sure, try using jumpers with the starter out of the car. If it turns, see if you can bump your engine by hand. - Dave

03-05-2014, 10:50 AM
Thanks much, John and Dave.

I'll get the starter pulled and then do as you suggest, Dave, and will let you know how it goes.

03-05-2014, 10:51 AM
Check both ends of the ground cables.

07-01-2014, 12:05 PM
Well, I finally found time last night to pull the starter. It spins free by hand so I tried jumping it and it does absolutely nothing. So I began disassembling it per the manual, and I think I've found a broken wire. I can see the end of a wire with no connector coming off one of the coils (shunt coil?), while at the same time finding a spade connector stuck on the nut that the ground brush screw goes into, but with no wire connected to it.

So, a couple of questions:

1. The manual says to use an arbor press to remove the pole shoe screws. Is this the only way to do this? The wire is too short for me to work with without removing these, so it's going to be necessary. Maybe apply the same principle in a vise?

2. Is there a better wiring diagram for the starter than just the pictures in the manual?

07-01-2014, 01:32 PM
Well, let's make that two broken wires. The leads from the shunt coil are both broken. At this point, I think I'm leaning towards just purchasing a rebuilt starter and being done with it.

07-01-2014, 01:45 PM
If you buy a new starter you'll have to reuse your old drive or buy a new one. They usually don't come with it.


07-01-2014, 02:01 PM
I've noticed that, John. And since you brought it up, can you explain to me what the drive does? I've never seen a starter like this before.

07-01-2014, 02:23 PM
It uses inertia to force the spring and gear in and out to mesh with the flexplate.


07-01-2014, 02:33 PM
That makes sense. Thanks for the explanation.

07-01-2014, 07:14 PM
Scott, I did a writeup regarding these inertia starters including four pages of pictures (look at the top of this site for pages 2-4): CLICK HERE (http://home.comcast.net/~Y-Block/Y-Block/StarterMotor/)

The field coils are screwed in, not pressed in. They are field coils connected in a split pair of SERIES windings with the associated split armature windings (making this a series-wound starter motor). That's why two brushes come from the field coils and two go to ground.

If you need to remove the coil 'shoes', a common 3/8" socket drive will do it. Inside, the coil wires are crimped and soldered.

If you wire one field winding backward, the motor will not run (it will hum). If you wire both field windings backward it will run in the wrong rotation. This is how reverse-rotation marine engines do it because simply connecting your battery backward will not make the starter motor run in reverse. Why? Because reversing polarity is the same as reversing both the field windings AND the armature. We use a compass & a flashlight 'D cell' to determine and verify winding direction.

Parts for these simple motors are inexpensive and very available. I commend you for rebuilding your own starter motor. Around Detroit, we have 'auto electric' shops that rebuild starter motors. They love to help classic car owners and usually charge a very nominal fee (if any). If I can help at all, let me know. - Dave

07-01-2014, 08:00 PM
Dave, I had set out to rebuild my starter but wasn't sure about getting those pole shoe screws out. My first thought, since they're square, was a socket drive. But, for my screws, 3/8" drive is too big and 1/4" drive is too small.

All things considered the starter doesn't look too bad inside, it's just missing those leads off the shunt coil, as far as I can tell. Now that I've read your post and know that nothing is soldered, it seems all the easier to replace those leads, if I can get those screws out.

It must be nice living in Detroit, because I called a local starter shop and they quoted me $130 to rebuild it. Since I can buy an already remanufactured one for just under $100, including shipping and core charge, going that route doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

Also, I was on some of the vendor sites and found the main components listed, but is it possible to just buy a new shunt coil, for example? My brushes look pretty good, and I think the armature will be okay after a little cleanup. So just curious which parts you're talking about.

Thanks for the help and the link to the write-up. I'd love to do the rebuild myself, if I can just get past those pesky screws.

07-02-2014, 12:01 AM
Those screws are nothing special except they are flat head with a recessed square. You could use just about any flat head screw, perhaps socket head.

If you don't have the correct size tool or one that works, get a cheap 3/8" socket extension and grind the square down a little.

Check out http://www.rockauto.com/ for a better price on that starter motor.

08-07-2014, 07:14 PM
Just thought I'd give an update, so here's the nuts**** version.

I put the new starter in yesterday, but the car still wouldn't crank. After reading the section in the manual for "Engine will not crank but starter relay clicks", I decided my cables looked old and that I would just replace them, since I had already checked and re-checked the ground connections.

Today, I installed new cables, and the car immediately cranked better than it ever has since I bought it. She fired up after a couple of cranks and sounds great.

The starter was definitely bad, since when I hit it with power on the bench it wouldn't spin. But, even if it weren't, for the $40 I paid for a new one, along with $20 for new cables, I'm happy with how she acts now.

Thanks everyone for your help along the way. I wish these little projects didn't take me 4-1/2 months to complete, for all of a couple of hours of actual work. But, I'm sure happy when I get done. Now I'm just itching to go for a ride.

08-07-2014, 08:30 PM
I'm glad you got your starting issues worked out. New battery cables can work wonders. The factory cables were undersized in my opinion.


08-07-2014, 10:11 PM
They sure can, John. I've owned the car for about 17 months, and last year even when she was running she'd crank really slow. Now, she cranks hard and fast as soon as I turn the key. It's just a completely different experience. I'm sure the new starter is contributing to that as well, but I went from nothing but the relay clicking when I'd turn the key to really good cranking. And with nothing more than swapping the cables.

I'm still curious about why my interior lights would die when I'd turn the key before. Could that be due to a poor ground? It would take varying amounts of time before they'd come back on, which kept me from thinking it was a slow blow fuse of some sort. I'm wondering if something would happen when I'd turn the key and then it would take a while to get even a little bit of ground back again. That's pure speculation and electricity isn't my strong suit, but it just seemed weird.

I took her out and around town tonight and she did great. I'm so happy to have her running again. Thanks again.

08-07-2014, 11:08 PM
There are a number of slo-blo fuses. I suspect that they were being tripped either because of the bad starter or the starter cable shorting out.


08-08-2014, 02:51 AM
Duly noted. Thanks John.

08-08-2014, 05:43 AM
...I installed new cables, and the car immediately cranked better than it ever has since I bought it...
I can tell you why your lights are going on and off and I think you already know... you depend on rusty, spot welded sheet metal to carry important current back to the battery. To save a ton of money, all classic cars used the body for a ground. Not any more, modern cars have separate ground wires in every wire harness and in every lamp holder.

Power cables are only HALF of a circuit. If you found bad cables, change all the important ones, especially your ground cables.

The NEG battery cable needs to be firmly connected to the engine AND the body. I'm with John regarding cable sizes, they are too small from the factory. Now you have fifty years of vibration and a whole lot of current that went through that wire.

If cables look bad, they are bad. Buy some #6 copper stranded wire at Home Depot. They have black and red. Run your ground from the battery to your bell housing next to your starter motor. Never pull wires tight. For engine vibration, put an extra loop in your wire. Tie the ends down. In other words, do not let the lug bare the brunt of vibration. After attaching the lug, strap the wire to another bolt before sending it on its way.

Then run another smaller wire (like a #10 copper stranded wire) to your firewall. You can either crimp lugs on the ends or buy mechanical lugs (with screw-down clamps). Do not use solder. Most electricians have a good crimping tool and will gladly squeeze your lugs if you bring the parts to them. It only takes seconds to do.

I run a bare #6 copper wire from the battery to my trunk area. Then I tap smaller wires (like #12) off of the big one for things like; dashboard, fuel tank sending unit, rear light housings, trunk light, etc. If you have power windows, power seats, convertible top motor, etc, tap off for those as well. Make sure your connections are good and tight.

With good wiring, you will be amazed at how fast a convertible top cycles. - Dave