MSD 6AL-2 Ignition System Review & Video

MSD has been making ignition boxes since the 1970’s, and the MSD 6AL has been the most popular ignition box in the world. Now MSD has released the new MSD 6AL-2 and we got our hands on one of the boxes to do a complete review and video.

There was nothing wrong with the MSD Ignition 6AL. It’s been a constant in hot rods and muscle cars for for close to 15 years, and still delivers a good multi-spark and reasonably priced ignition. However, MSD was looking to bring some newer technology and add new features to their every day ignition box that is used by hundreds of thousands of racers and enthusiasts alike. Watch the video below, but also scroll down for a complete installation article and review. As well, our complete photo gallery of the MSD 6AL-2 is online.

One of the local shops to us had a nice 1970 Nova which was fully restored and had a nicely built 350 Chevy small-block, so it was a good application for the MSD 6AL-2. Even though this MSD box is a universal ignition which works with almost any engine, an All-American V8 was our first choice. The Nova already had an MSD 6AL ignition, but it was over 8 years old, and the owners were looking to add a rev-limiter and 2-step anyways, so it was a good choice.

MSD’s 6AL-2 – what’s different

We’ll give you the basics. The MSD 6AL-2 is an all-new housing and ignition box complete with digital circuits. It also integrates a built-in rev limiter and 2-step, that means – NO MORE rpm pills! It is more powerful with higher output than the 6AL – up to 435 volts and 95mJ of spark. Also, it’s a little more flexible, accepting just about any type of trigger, including crank triggers, hall-effect, and mag pickups.

You still receive the 20° duration of multiple sparks, combined with higher output to ensure complete combustion,” explained MSD. “There is a 2-Step rev control built into the housing but there are no rpm modules. Adjustments are made via four rotary dials for 100 rpm increment control.” The all new capacitive discharge ignition will easily connect to nearly any 12-volt negative ground distributor system, even Hall-effect pickups.

Since the MSD 6-Al2 has higher output than previous 6AL units, and uses less power draw, it can support higher horsepower engines that perviously would have had to use MSD’s more race oriented ignition systems. MSD says this can also produce better fuel economy, a bonus with the cost of gas prices.

The Installation

Before installation, we decided to adjust the 6AL-2’s convenient built in rotary dials to program the box first. We could setup our 6AL-2 for different types of engines like 4, 6 or 8 cylinders like our small block Chevy…adjust spark advance & retard, and set the RPM’s for the two step rev limiter. We set the rev limiter at 3,000 RPM just for testing purposes, but obviously set the MSD to 8 cylinders.

The ignition box comes complete with shock mounts that can be installed anywhere. This 6AL2 will go on the Nova’s passenger side firewall. The shock mounts will limit engine vibration and provide a cushion to prevent any damage to the internal components. You can’t believe how many people eliminate installing these shock mounts. It’s happened more times that we can count – people throw them away and just screw their MSD box into their fender well or chassis. Bad mistake, the shock mounts are there for a purpose.

Wiring is simple. The wiring harness included has everything you need to hook the ignition up to your pre-existing components and is basically plug and play. Since we already had a MSD 6AL on the Nova, it was very easy to add the 6-A-L2.

There are some basic electrical sources you are going to need to find if you are installing your MSD 6AL-2 for the very first time. MSD has done something very creative and innovative – including the complete wiring diagram on the back of the MSD unit itself. Since the MSD now has the capability for the 2-step and rev limiter – it requires an additional hook up than the base 6AL Box. Specifically, you’ll need to provision a switch for the 2-step rev limiter.

We had no problems with the installation, and the last step after mounting the MSD box is to wire the two step rev limiter to a switch inside the car. This will give the driver easy access and allow the 2-step limiter to be activated on demand. We temporarily mounted our switch since we weren’t really sure where the owner would want it placed.

Our completed installation is seen below. We had one of the simplest and easiest configurations to install, but MSD has included a complete set of very detailed instructions with the 6AL-2. It really pays, with an ignition box, to read through these. Depending on what type of trigger you are using, coil, spark plugs, and spark plug wires, you can save yourself a ton of aggravation (i.e., misfires) if you actually break out your reading glasses.

We fired up our Nova in the shop and there was no hesitation – just cranked the engine over and it roared to life. We also tested the rev limiter in the shop by setting the RPM to 3,000 and hitting the throttle just to make sure everything worked OK. It did, and MSD’s soft-touch rev control gently limited the rpm by dropping cylinders randomly.

Once driving, we had no problems with the MSD 6AL-2 and we were looking forward to testing the rev limiter and 2-step functions. We don’t recommend you do this at home, but we found a deserted road in California and put the two step rev limiter to the test. We originally set the rev limiter at 3,000 RPM to take it easy on our first try.

Once activated by the switch we installed, you could put the petal to the metal and the engine stayed right at 3,000 RPM. Disengaging the switch and releasing the brakes gave us a nice and nasty rolling burn out. This wasn’t our Nova, so we made sure to make ONE more 2-step test at 4,000 rpm after adjusting the rev limiter! Naturally, no problems.

The MSD 6AL-2 was a natural next step for MSD in their digital evolution. It’s a very reasonably priced ignition box, has the quality you expect from MSD, and all of the basic functions and features you’d expect. It doesn’t do everything, and nor should it. MSD has plenty of ignition boxes for you if you’re a hardcore drag-only drag racer, but if you’re looking for a reliable ignition box for your Hot Rod or Muscle Car, you can’t go wrong with the 6AL-2.

Visit our complete photo gallery for the entire installation sequence.

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About the author

James Lawrence

James started working on a Nostalgia Top Fuel drag racing team in 1992, and the rest has been history. A life-long automotive enthusiast, James is in fierce competition to see whether he can collect more cars or cats. Right now, the cars are winning. James co-founded the NMRA and NMCA Drag Racing Series in 1998 and continues to be an avid and passionate fan on everything 1320. He also thinks he can drive. Thinks, is the key word.
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