Ron Francis iStart System: Going Keyless On A Classic Musclecar

istart-leadartAfter driving a car like the Dodge Challenger Hellcat last fall, we fell in love with some of the accoutrements found in this modern musclecar. With just the key fob in our pocket, we were able to lock and unlock the doors at a touch of the button, and the push button start system recognized the key fob, and allowed us to start the car.


There are a couple of options for the iStart, but the basic kit consists of a few wires to connect.

We were a bit smitten by the sheer coolness of this modern technology; unfortunately, older cars tend to require a lot of rewiring to enjoy similar features. However, after visiting the Ron Francis Wiring website, we found their iStart keyless touch sensitive starter system for classic cars and decided to investigate further. We wanted to see if we could add just a little bit of that technology to our classic musclecar, and how simple it would be to install.

Last month, we brought you our complete rewiring story using a Ron Francis Express wiring kit. While it does help that we completely rewired the car, it’s not mandatory in order to install the iStart system. The iStart can be added to an existing wiring circuit, or for those who have rewired their car with a Ron Francis kit, you can purchase a prewired kit.


Adding the iStart meant a little more wiring had to be done, but the process was simple.

Touch-Sensitive Starting

The iStart system is a complete, self-contained vehicle starting system that takes the place of the factory-keyed ignition cylinder. Instead of using a push button for the starter, a touch-sensitive switch controls the various modes of a typical ignition cylinder such as accessory, ignition, and cranking output. The switch will glow one of several different colors, depending on the mode that the system is in.


The front side of our fabricated console gave us a spot to mount the iStart module, and kept it out of the way.

The iStart module is compact and can be mounted nearly anywhere, and the wiring is very basic and simple to complete. Two components, the touch-sensitive switch and the system antenna, include their own harnesses that plug directly into the module. For the rest of the wiring, there are just seven wires that required a connection.

Four wires are the basic ignition switch wires: power, accessory, ignition, and starter wires; while the remaining three include chassis ground, brake input lead, and an optional door/courtesy light trigger switch.

The iStart uses two antennas: the main antenna identifies the key fob to activate/deactivate the unit, and the second antenna accepts the input from the key fob for locking/unlocking doors or activating other accessories that can be added.

Just being in close proximity of the vehicle with the key fob will put the iStart in active mode, otherwise the vehicle cannot be started without the key fob within range. The closer the system antenna is to glass, the longer the range will be, so if you keep your keys just inside the door at home, you might want to keep the antenna lower in the vehicle.

Top: A short harness was made to connect to the brake input.
Bottom: We de-pinned the factory ignition switch and used the provided plug to connect to the iStart.

The brake input wire is mandatory for the start mode to activate, cycling through the modes without the brake pressed will provide accessory, ignition, then off. With a foot on the brake, one touch of the switch will enable cranking mode, and when the iStart senses an engine run condition, the starter switch disengages. To turn the system off, three brief touches on the switch will shut down the engine. This provides additional security so that an accidental touch of the switch won’t shut you down while driving.

As an added feature, the accessory output will continue to operate up to 10 minutes once the vehicle is turned off. When the white wire is connected to a grounded door/courtesy light switch, the accessory mode shuts off as soon as a door is opened. To leave the accessory mode off at shut down, simply leave the white wire disconnected.

Top: The touch sensitive button can be mounted on the dash or in the console, we liked the idea of putting it behind the shifter.
Bottom: After re-connecting the battery, those colors indicated that we installed the iStart properly.

Pick And Choose Which Colors You Like

The touch-sensitive switch has multiple modes of operation and will either flash or glow a different color for each function, whether it’s accessory mode, ignition, crank, or run. Each mode can be custom tailored to a different color as well as a different intensity. On the main control module is a four-position dip switch, and switching position two to “on” allows you to change the color, while pressing the brake pedal will allow changing the intensity. The switch can be custom tailored to match existing interior lighting if so desired.


We only changed a couple of modes to a different color. Fortunately, the intensity can also be adjusted as this touch-sensitive switch is bright enough to be seen in broad daylight.

Red, blue, teal, violet, and green are the default colors; additional colors for the switch include: white, yellow, and orange. The factory settings are as follows:

  • Red – security active: a quick flash with one-second delay means security is active and the key fob is out of range, the car cannot be started.
  • Red – security deactivated: a slow fading light means that the system is enabled and the correct key fob is present, the switch will respond to input.
  • Blue – accessory mode: the first touch will bring the system to accessory mode and all accessories, such as the radio, will be switched on.
  • Teal – ignition mode: the second touch will bring the system to the ignition active state, this includes fuel pumps, ignition, etc.
  • Violet – crank position: with a foot on the brake, touching the switch will activate the starter output and supply power for three seconds, or until engine run is determined.
  • Green – engine run position: when the engine has started the switch turns to green to signal engine run condition and the starter is deactivated automatically.

The iStart installation took roughly an hour for the initial connections, and a bit longer to mount the system and route all of the wires. We are in the process of building a center console for the car, so this gave us a mounting location on the front side of the console for the module. The system will work with most vehicles that did not have immobilizers or chips to operate, typically 1980s and newer vehicles.


Keeping our wiring schematics and instructions from the Express wiring kit was a good thing. Though the installation is simple, it’s nice to have something to refer to when wiring up the iStart.

Once the system was connected, we got the signal from the unit that it was installed correctly with the alternating red/white flash of the switch. With the key fob in range the switch began a slow, red pulse. A single touch to the button changed it to blue, signaling that our system was in accessory mode, and a second touch turned on our ignition circuit.

The system also allows for the installation of power door lock solenoids, and the built-in relays will provide the power for standard, floating ground lock solenoids. Adding this feature with an optional harness included in the kit will lock and unlock the doors automatically when the proper key fob is in or out of range. The door lock buttons on the remote will also activate the door locks, which are completely optional. The iStart module contains the relays necessary for this option, so the separate wire harness and door lock solenoids are the only parts needed to add this feature.



The optional valet/override switch will get you home should your key fob battery die while you’re out and about. The touch-sensitive switch is prewired with a long harness allowing you to mount it almost anywhere you desire.

We’ll be adding automatic door locks in our next installment, but in the meantime if you’re looking to add some modern technology to your classic car, take a look at the iStart system from Ron Francis Wiring, as well as the many other wiring kits and accessories it provides. We’ve been out a couple of times to cruise nights with our new iStart and it is definitely a conversation starter, pun intended. It is hard to remember that we don’t need to take our keys out to start the car.

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About the author

Michael Harding

Michael is a Power Automedia contributor and automotive enthusiast who doesn’t discriminate. Although Mopar is in his blood, he loves any car that looks great and drives even faster.
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