This would be a great place to make an Optispark joke and then tiptoe around GM's failure to build a solid ignition system in the '90s, but at this point we don't even care to make the effort. I mean, sure, we could probably go on to say that it "works every time, 60-percent of the time" or that it operates flawlessly except for when it doesn't, but really, we're friends, let's not mince words here. The Optispark sucks and if it hasn't left your LT1-powered ride on the side of the road or racetrack yet...it will. Like some sort of cruel villain, the Opti waits in the shadows until you really need it to work and then strikes, either with terrible misfires or no spark at all. Sure, it has one good quality in the high-resolution optical pickup, but seriously, for anyone rodding on a budget or trying to get by with a simple bolt-on LT1 for fun, the Opti can be one of the worst and most frustrating part of the experience.
What really makes the Opti issue worse, if you can believe that is possible, is that it is stuck underneath the factory water pump and behind the crank pulley, which makes swapping it for a new unit even more frustrating and time consuming than usual. Add to that the cost of a new unit (about $400 on the cheap) and you have a recipe that could keep any project car stuck in the yard for any number of months while you wait to save up the cash and motivation to get out and fix the thing. As you can probably tell by now, this is an article about fixing the Opti in our 1995 Firebird project which we call the Dirty Bird and, as you have probably also gathered, we're a little aggravated to be dealing with this issue again, as it seems like we have to do this to every LT1 project we take on.
Luckily, for all of the Opti's faults, in this day and age, there are certainly solutions. Racecars can use a crank trigger, streetcars can use an aftermarket billet Opti or some sort of LSx coil conversion, and those without an overhanging cowl can even use a distributor with a carb-style intake manifold (yikes!). For our budget Dirty Bird project, it made the most sense to pick up a used Bailey Engineering LTCC conversion system, which made fixing the Opti issue as simple as laying a new ignition harness in place, hooking up a couple of wires, mounting some used coils and turning the key. Yep, you don't even have to touch the stupid thing (except to pull the stock plug wires off) and you can move on with your build plan knowing it won't ever give you issues again. The LTCC conversion uses a slick module to convert the Opti's high and low resolution signals into commands for a set of LS-style coils, which still utilizes the factory PCM to decrease cost and increase simplicity. Best of all it cost us less then a new Optispark, and installed in just a couple of hours.
So, follow along with us as Greg Lovell of AntiVenom EFI takes to fixing the Dirty Bird's Opti problems for good and make sure you check out the results. We picked up 20-plus horsepower, an equal helping of torque and four-tenths of a second with our new LTCC coil conversion system and the Dirty Bird is running better than ever!