Seeking a Ground: Horn, Ignition, Generator and Voltage Regulator Saga


In May 2010, we repaired the slop in the cooling fan with new "keys" in the crankshaft. After repairing the problem, the frustrating job of putting the "nose" (front apron) back on, securing the fenders, reattaching the bumper, grill and lights, and reattaching the wiring connections were completed. Everything worked including lights horn and engine. The fan slop was gone and I was back on the road again......Or so I thought.

After a quick shower and change of clothes, I decided to take the car for a test drive. When I switched on the ignition, one of the horns started blowing. I checked the horn button on the steering wheel, but that did not seem to be the problem. What was more surprising is that the horn did not stop blowing when I turned off the ignition switch. I had to disconnect the offending horn wire at the horn. The other horn had stopped working some time ago and I had earmarked it for replacement. While looking at the wiring connections I could smell something burnt. I traced it down to the nonworking horn and found the coil was burned and chared. I had tried to adjust this horn some months ago and at that time there was no evidence of any problem other than the fact the horn did not work.

All the wiring connections appeared to be correct and the 30 amp fused circuit for the horns was ok. I ordered a new Windsong horn and called my friend Bunny who came over the next day. He checked out the wiring and could find no problems. I then had an inspiration. What if the wiring going through the steering column was shorting to ground? Interpreting the wiring diagram, the horn could be activated without the ignition being on. We checked the wiring that could be seen as it passes from the lower end of the steering column and jiggled the wires with the horn connected. it was blaring work, but we found that indeed a wire was shorting to ground in the column. Unfortunately, the bare wire could not be repaired without taking the entire harness out of the column. We removed the control head from the steering wheel and disconnected all leads at the lower end (horns and signal lights). The harness easily came out of the stator tube and we repaired the exposed wire with electrical tape.

What came out easily however, did not work in reverse. Because of the extra thickness of the electrical tape, we ended up removing the entire stator tube from the column and by trial and error managed to get the harness back into the tube with a wire to pull at the lower end and the help of some WD40 to lubricate the tube. After everything was back together and rewired, the horn worked as it should. The new horn arrived the next day and I installed the new one without a problem. They both worked. Taking the advice of Guru Ed Woods of Pittsburgh, I put a smaller fuse (20 amp) in place of the 30 amp in case the same thing happened again. Hopefully the fuse would blow before a horn would fry. The question remained......What caused the horn to fry? I could understand the horn blowing with a short to ground, but why did one fry? The story does not end here.....


The next day I decided to go for a ride and turned on the ignition..... Nothing happened, no starter, no ignition light, no ammeter movement. I think I said something like "Oh Pshaw" and "Now What?" I had heard the British drink warm beer because they use Lucas refrigerators.

Again I checked all the wiring and found no obvious problem. I checked the battery connections and cleaned them but the ignition still did not work. I also checked the ignition switch for any open wires. I called Bunny again and he found no obvious problem. I checked with Ed Woods who told me to check the ground on the battery. My ignition system uses a positive ground so the positive side of the battery is gounded to the firewall with a braided ground strap.

I decided to remove the strap from the firewall and found paint under the bolt and washer. I sanded a small area to remove the paint, reattached the strap and Wa-Lah......I had power and ignition. This was another case of a circuit seeking ground. I may have had a "floating" ground that made contact only where the bolt touched the metal inside the firewall. Don't know if this is realted to the fried horn. But the story continues......


Now I have a tight cooling fan, ignition, a purring engine and horns. Life is good......Or so I thought until I noticed the ignition light did not go out when I revved the engine and the ammeter was not moving. This time I used a stronger word than Pshaw. I have heard that bad things happen in clusters, but this was ridiculous.... This was more of a cluster "F" ......Now, A bad generator or voltage regulator?

Both the generator and VR were original equipment on the car and had not been replaced as far as I knew. I put my money on the generator as the odometer had 72K when I bought the car. Again with directions from Ed Woods, I did a simple test of the generator output.

My generator produced only 2-4 volts output in a slow manner and did not increase with RPM. We declared the generator dead so I contorted myself in the confined space and removed the three bolts holding the generator in its bracket. The brushes were seated and looked ok. So now I had a choice to take it to a local generator shop for a rebuild which could take weeks or find a new rebuilt. I decided to do both as a 50 something year old Triumph cannot have too many spare parts. I found the name and number of a fellow (James Gill) who rebuilds and sells Lucas Generators and ordered a heavy duty model with front and rear bearings for $95 plus shipping (Information Below).

The generator arrived a week later. The original is still in the shop a month later. I contorted myself again and installed the new generator. With high hopes and expectations, I fired up the engine to a brightly shinning ignition light and no ammeter reading. This time I used an even stronger word. Could the voltage regulator ALSO be bad? Did my original horn ignition system problem fry the VR as well?

I assumed the new generator could not be bad and the only other component that controls charging is the VR.....And yes, I polarized the new generator. But, now I am way out of my league of expertise. The testing and adjusting procedure covered in the service manual made what hair I have left stand on end. I looked on line and found that a new VR at Moss Motors and The Roadster Factory cost about $45 bucks. I also discovered that Moss will not guarantee their new regulators and stress that adjustment should be made to insure proper function (See Moss Page)

Moss and the Service Manual did recommend cleaning the contact points with emery or glass cloth and then alcohol. I did that but the outcome was the same.....No charging..... Again, now what? I did some searching on line and found several articles about a company (Wilton Auto Electric) that makes a solid state VR and installs it in your original VR box. Their Web Page gives this information:

Here's how we do it:

  1. You remove your regulator from your car and send it to us.
  2. We do a custom conversion by removing the guts from your regulator and replacing them with our printed circuit board. Then we test, adjust, and ship the converted regulator back to you.
  3. You install the converted regulator back into your car.

In most cases these are stealth conversions, and will not appear any different than stock regulators.

I contacted the owner, Robert Jeffers in Wilton, NH and he said he would be happy to convert my VR. All he needed was my VR, the make of generator and rated output in amps and whether I had a positive or negative grounded system at what voltage (6/12 volts). I packed up my regulator with the appropriate information and a check for $85. Less than a week later I had the converted VR and installed it in my car with the instructions sent by Robert.

Voltage Regulator With Cover
Cover Removed Showing Solid State VR

At this time, you are probably waiting to read "IT WORKS!" or "SHAZAM!" Unfortunately, the saga is not yet over. I got the bright shinning ignition light and a meter showing no Amps..... Another "Now What?"

Can a new generator be bad? I guess I should never expect or assume anything but death and taxes. I ran an output test on the generator and got ZERO volts with my analog meter. Just to be safe I used a digital multimeter and got readings that varied from zero to 14 volts with the readings "jumping" up and down. Could the brushes have not seated? I did a test from the armateur connection to ground and read zero ohms. Unseated brushes would have shown some resistance.

Out of desperation and frustration, I contorted the new generator out of the car and took it to the generator repair shop where my original Lucas still sits. The owner put the generator on his bench tester and it produced amps like a champ. So what is the moral to this long saga? I told the fellow about my plight and he thought for a minute and said "You know, there is a lot of paint on this new generator. I in fact had to scrape off some to make a good ground." Then it hit me......This is yet another case of seeking ground. I rushed the generator home, sanded off the paint where the bolts connect to the generator bracket and as a for sure backup, ran a ground wire from the generator to the chassis after I contorted Lucas back into the car.

This time I can say it.......IT WORKED! All the damn frustration, time and money and the answer was a "simple" ground. I now realize a ground is not simple at all, but a very necessary part of any electrical system. I still don't know whether the "floating" ground from my battery caused the horn to fry. I would have thought the fuse would have blown first, but then maybe the original 30 amp fuse was overkill. I did replace it with a 20 amp fuse. I am frustrated and somewhat embarrased over this saga, but perhaps someone else can learn from my trials and errors. From now on if something does not work, even if it is not electrical, I am going to ground it.

I am now happily driving my car again with a charging engine and a workable overdrive.


Rebuilt Generator: James Gill; Am'For Auto Electric; Souderton PA; 215-723-4877

Solid State VR: Robert Jeffers; Wilton Auto Electric; Wilton NH

Ed Woods: TR3 Guru and Builder; Pittsburgh PA; 412-486-4294