The Chrysler Ignition Module Story
A true story involving surplus dealers located in Chicago
Throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, it was a heady time for all U.S. auto manufacturers. Automobiles were being produced in the United States in record numbers and they were being exported all over the world.
Consequently there was a very high demand for American made aftermarket replacement parts, and because of this, factories that were making these aftermarket replacement parts were opening up to meet the demand. This consequently created a glut of replacement parts and it also created a whole industry of entrepreneurs that looked to buy any kind of excess or overstock automotive items. These people were called “Automotive Surplus Dealers”, and the competition to buy excess material amongst the different surplus dealers was fierce, it was so fierce that many of the surplus dealers didn’t like, or wouldn’t talk to each other.
My company, which was Automotive Parts Industries was located in Miami Florida, and because Miami was one of the best shipping point to Latin America, a lot of our business was in exporting these surplus automotive parts overseas.
Because of our strong export market, we did business with all the different surplus dealers around the country and we were able to talk to all of them, even if some of them didn’t talk to each other, and that is what this unusual story is all about.
Back in the early 1970’s, the big three car manufacturers were changing over from contact point ignition systems to higher technology electronic Ignition systems. Each of the auto makers had designed their own proprietary systems and they all had lots of technical problems. In the 1970’s it wasn’t uncommon to have a car stop at a red light and not start again due to some defect in the ignition system.
Chrysler Corporation had developed what was called a magnetic pick up ignition system. It was a system where a rotor in the cars distributor turned and broke a magnetic beam, and this was controlled by an electronic ignition module.
All of this type of electronic stuff was pretty high tech for the 1970’s and special tools had to be invented just for a mechanic to diagnose what the cars ignition problem was. In the case of Chrysler it was usually the electronic Ignition module that was at fault. Their style module was a small half inch tall 4 x 6 inch sheet metal stamping that was a little bigger than the palm of your hand, on the bottom side it had some embedded electronic circuitry and the top had a tiny heat sink and diode mounted on it. The first production models were colored black and later Chrysler made improved models that were colored blue. Regardless of color, Chrysler’s electronic module failure rate was so great that some people actually carried a spare just in case.
Now just because just because Chrysler, Ford and GM had very high failure rates on their electronic
Ignition systems, it didn’t deter people that had pre 1970’s cars, from wanting to upgrade their old fashioned contact point ignition systems to electronic ignition systems. They did it because at the time, electronic ignition systems were considered cutting edge technology.
Once the aftermarket manufacturers realized there was a market for converting to electronic ignitions on the older cars, several of them started making electronic ignition kits to convert them over. However, all of these manufacturers ran into the exact same problems that the OEM manufacturers did, however their problem was greater, because not only did they have to make a kit to convert an older car to electronic ignition but they had to make it cheap.
Well, the aftermarket factory’s all misjudged the market, they didn’t realize most people with older cars didn’t understand high tech electronics, and didn’t want it, so one by one the factory’s discontinued manufacturing the kits or they went bankrupt.
Now enter into the picture, the surplus dealers, they are the guys that bought the inventories from bankrupt automotive manufacturers.
In Chicago there was a surplus dealer named Abe Greenstein, Abe would buy most anything that was automotive, providing it was cheap enough. So Abe bought 175,000 of the electronic ignition kits from a company that was going out of business.
The kit Abe bought, worked with a system called a L.E.D., it was a little light bulb and its beam was separated by a rotor in the distributor. It was electronically controlled and the system was a completely different design from the Ford, GM, or Chrysler system. It was just a totally different system invented by some obscure company, and that company had made it so cheaply that they found the stamping house that had made Chryslers electronic module and unknown to Chrysler they used Chrysler’s tooling to make their electronic module case. So even though the kit was a completely different system, the module looked like the Chrysler electronic ignition module.
One day, I was in Chicago and I stopped in to see Abe Greenstein, Abe showed me the 175,000 electronic Ignition kits he had bought months before. He said the purchase was a complete flop, no one wanted them.
I looked at the blue ignition module and I asked Abe if it would work on a Chrysler automobile as it looked the same, but Abe said no, the electronic systems were completely different. Abe said that he had only paid 1 cent for each kit, so he was going to send it all to the dump the next day and take a $1750.00 loss.
I wasn’t convinced that the module couldn’t be used for something else, so I told Abe to send me 75 modules by UPS to Miami, I wanted to study them.
Abe did as I asked, and the following week I had 75 of the electronic ignition modules in Florida.
As soon as I saw they had arrived, I called the Chrysler Corporation export representative, who came right over to my office.
The Chrysler representative sat in my office, and looked at the modules. He said that he already knew all about them as Chrysler was unhappy that the module housing looked like theirs. The Chrysler representative said to me that the Chrysler electronic module was for a magnetic system, and the module that Abe had sent, was for a L.E.D. system and they were incompatible and complete junk, so that afternoon I threw all 75 of them into the trash.
The following week I was back in Chicago, but this week I stopped to see another Surplus dealer first, called “Fleet Supply”. Fleet Supply was located right down the street from the surplus dealer Abe Greenstein, who had all the fake modules in his stock.
I sat down in front of the desk of one of the owners of Fleet Supply, his name was George Lustig. As I sat there, I noticed one of the blue, fake Chrysler modules, sitting on his desk. I couldn’t help but mention to George that I knew Abe, who was located just up the street, and I knew he had 175,000 of the modules.
George asked me if I was friendly with Abe because he didn’t talk to him. I said certainly I can talk to Abe, and I told him that Abe had sent me 75 modules to Florida and everyone including the Chrysler Representative said they were junk.
George then said, “Go to Abe’s place right now and buy all the modules for .50 cents each, I will put up all the money and make you a partner with me, I can sell all the fake modules for $1.50 each.”
What good are they, I asked, they are for a L.E.D. system not a Chrysler magnetic system. Even the Chrysler people told me they were for the wrong system.
Well George said, “My partner Bobby Keene just installed one on a Chrysler car and it never ran so good. He said everyone was so sure that it wouldn’t work that they never tried one on a car.
I was so excited, I left Fleet supply and ran up the block to Abe Greenstein’s place. I went into his office and I said Abe, thank you for sending me the sample modules to Florida, my advice to you not to throw the modules in the scrap was good advice, because I can offer you .50 Cents each.
Abe said, “Yes, thank you, your advice was good, I just sold them all to a Turk this morning for .75 cents each. That was the end of my story.
Abe had made $131,250.00 for what he was going to throw in the scrap, and had I not told him to hold them for me they would have been in the junk yard a week ago.
Just goes to show you, Abe didn’t even offer to buy me lunch.
I think the Turkish customer, bought all the modules, not knowing they were not original Chrysler. He thought he was buying a Chrysler item and Abe never told him it was a fake. Boy did that Turk luck out.