Retro Tech – Installing A Morris Magneto on a Shovelhead

An Easy-to-Install, Easy-to-Start, All-In-One Ignition System

By Chris MaidaRetroTech-MagnetoMention using a magneto ignition and many riders envision a hard-to-start 1960s Ironhead Sportster, the culprit behind many a bad right knee. Being a veteran of many long kickstarting sessions myself (I had a bike shop before the advent of the Evo), I know exactly what they’re thinking. The same image came to mind for me when Kip Watkins said he wanted a Morris Magneto on the boardtrack Shovel he was building for me. But the Morris magneto of the 21st century is not the same as the ones I remembered from four decades ago! These ignitions start easy!

Remember my Shovel build? We started that project a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Like many of my builds, it got sidetracked due to my travel and production schedules. Thankfully, I got the last parts to Kip a few months ago, so he was finally able to finish it. You’ll get to see the completed bike in an upcoming issue. But let’s get back to our magneto install: Morris started making magnetos back in the ’70s, after Harley stopped offering them on its bikes. I ran a Morris mag on my 1967 XLCH 80″ Ironhead stroker back in the 1970s and ’80s. Running a mag eliminates the entire ignition system and makes for a clean machine, wiring- and black box-wise, since it is a completely self-contained system. A magneto even generates its own power, so you don’t need a battery or charging system to keep the engine running.

The M5 magneto we’re going to show you how to install today has a full-field, rare-earth magnetic rotor with composite construction that’s clad in a stainless steel shell. This gives you a super-light, durable rotor to generate the power needed for a strong, hot ignition spark. The CNC-machined billet aluminum housing, which is available polished or machined, has all its corners contoured for exceptional styling. And that’s no surprise since the housing was designed by Dave Perewitz of Cycle Fabrication. The billet gearcase housing has been made to H-D Engineering Department specs, so the correct model M5 will bolt up to any H-D engine without modification. Another improvement is that there are no external coil mounting screws, so the housing is hermetically sealed against moisture. The M5 also boasts a breather system, which helps to separate air and oil, keeping the magneto’s internals clean.

As for those easy starts, modern Morris mags use Morris’ balanced impulse coupling system, which works with both kick and electric start setups on any size motor. When I used to be a piston-engine aircraft mechanic, the dual magneto ignition systems on those engines always ran impulse couplings to facilitate easy and dependable starts. When the starter, be it kicker or electric, turns the engine over, the magneto’s rotor also spins to generate the power needed to fire the spark plugs. The faster the magneto’s rotor is spun, the stronger the spark produced. However, the most critical time is just before the ignition system’s triggering device breaks the circuit, which is when the high-voltage from the ignition coil is sent to the spark plug. To increase the power of the spark, the Morris impulse coupling, which is spring loaded, winds up and then snaps forward just before this important point of the magneto’s rotation to quickly spin the magneto’s internal generator. The result is an intensely hot spark; one much more powerful than what you could get by just using your leg or even an electric starter.

The accompanying photos show Andrew Rosa of Rosa’s Cycle Shop installing a polished M5 Morris magneto onto my Shovel engine. Keep an eye out for my finished boardtracker! We hope to have it featured in the magazine very soon.

But then, you know how my projects usually go…..



Morris Magneto

103 Washington St.

Morristown, NJ 07960



Rosa’s Cycle Shop

540 New York Ave.

Huntington, NY 11743



This story originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine, and features step-by-step instructions with photos. To order a copy, visit