Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

1961 fairlane won't start

I have a '61 fairlane with the 223 straight 6. I get spark on 5 of 6 cylinders, gets plenty of fuel, and has no restrictions to the air intake. THe starter cranks until you get a “pop” from the engine like it’s going to fire up and then just dies. The starter also kicks out when you hear this.

The car has sat since 1989 in a barn. All wiring is in place and passes a continuity test. I have the shop manuals for the car and I can’t figure out the issue. I even tried installing a petronix electronic ignition.

Can anyone help me here? I’m thinking maybe it’s compression, but I’m not positive.

Any help is appreciated!

Oh, and I put in “fairmont” b/c fairlane wasn’t listed.


The plug that isn’t firing may be due to a bad plugwire. Swap it and see what happens.

If the gas in the tank hasn’t been replaced then I would suggest you do that. If there still is a problem with start up then I would check the valve timing. If the compression is low then the timing chain may have slipped.

Somewhere on the motor block or manifold it should give the firing order for this motor. It sounds like you have the plug wires going to the wrong plugs. Check the wires again. The timing could be off for some reason. Perhaps the distributor is bad, or the spark advance system is stuck in the distributor.

Pull each plug and shot a bit of oil in each cylinder. Crank the motor with the plugs out. Squirt a bit more oil in each plug again then reinstall the plugs. This should give you enough compression to at least fire the beast up.

The carb could be all gunked up, or varnished up. There could be debris (mice nest) in the intake manifold. All kinds of stuff. Shot some gas directly in the carb, stand back and crank the engine and see if you get a couple of strong fires, or a backfire.

Starting a car after 20 years of improper storage is an adventure.

A car that got put in a barn 20 years ago may have been running poorly, or not at all, at the time. If it was in good running condition then why stick it in the barn? Unknown history of the car adds to your fun in trying to resurrect it.

If you haven’t done this already you need to drain out the old gas, and put some fresh gas in the tank. You’ll still have old gas in the fuel lines, so you need to find a way to purge the old gas out of the fuel line. Are you sure the fuel pump is getting fuel to the carb?

Here are a few things that I forgot to mention. This car was owned by my great aunt and it was very well kept. All maintenance was done on time and when it was parked, it was running perfectly. It sat b/c she died in '89.

Plug wires are new, and I’ve checked the firing order multiple times to see if it was correct. Also, we have the fuel line diverted into a gas can full of fresh gas so I know the gas is good.

I’ll check the timing. How would I know if the distributor is bad w/o replacing it? Is there some sort of test I can do?


For a car that has sat for 20 years, I’d be suspect of a bad distributor condenser. You say you have “spark”, but you don’t say if it’s a weak yellow spark or a strong blue spark. Unless you are sure you have a strong blue spark, you might want to just throw in a new set of points and condenser.

I’ve tried new points and condenser as well as a pertronix setup. Same results.

You’re feeding fresh gas from a separate tank, but has anyone looked at the condition of the carburetor? After all those years of sitting it’s almost guaranteed the carburetor is gummed up with varnish from the old gas.

Plenty of gas to the carburetor doesn’t mean the correct mixture is coming from the carburetor.

What happens if you give it a shot of starting fluid?

The thing should run on 5 cylinders … try a compression test.

First things first.

Lets figure out why it’s NOT getting spark to one of the cylinders.

How are you testing this??? Best method is to pull the plug…ground the out-side of plug and then turn engine over. If no spark then try a different plug…one that you know is good. If still no spark…then it’s NOT the plug…Switch the wire at the distributor…and test again. If it is now working then the problem is the cap…if it still doesn’t get spark…then it’s the wire.

I pulled the plug and tested the way you describe. I tried a plug that sparked on another cylinder. I then tried the other plug on the other cylinder and it worked, proving the plug was good. Same with the plug wires. It’s not the plug and it’s not the wire. I bought a new cap for it and even tried the petronix electronic ignition. None caused the plug to spark. Would that indicate a disty problem?

Starter fluid does same thing as the gas. Not a whole lot. As soon as it sounds like it’s gonna go, the starter kicks out, you get a “pop” from the engine and then it dies.

Remove the COIL wire from the distributor, hold the end about 1/2 inch away from any metal and have someone crank the engine. You should get a steady, fat, multiple sparks as the engine cranks. If you haven’t replaced the cap and rotor, do that.

Using fresh gas is smart, but the old gas has evaporated and perhaps plugged up the carburetor jets, making starting impossible. Try opening the choke and dribbling in 1/2 ounce of gasoline directly into the carburetor throat. The engine should start and run for a second or two. Try that and post back.

As for the non-firing plug it seems you have done all you can do to eliminate a possible problem between the plug and the disty. The only other thing I can think of that may be causing the trouble is the lobe on the shaft of the disty isn’t opening the points for that position or the points aren’t making contact before that firing position.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a problem with the carburator jets. Since you say starting fluid is acting the same then it may be time to check the compression and check for a possible timing chain problem.

Remove the distributor cap, and then try wiggling the rotor/shaft from side to side. If there’s a lot of play in the shaft, the distributor shaft bushing is worn and the gap between the rotor and cap is so great for that cylinder that it won’t fire.