Since pulling the distributor for cleaning and painting, it was time for reinstallation. Since bumping the motor over a few times in the past three years, I had to find TDC. Pulled the #1 spark plug, checked the piston position, had my fan mark at TDC and inserted the distributor. Already had the points set to .016, bolted everything up and all is good. I set the timing by memory of where it should be.
I go ahead and crank it and after a few cranks, it fires right up and is running. Tweak the distributor a little to smooth it out.
Turn the engine off for a few minutes and then go back to restart it. No start. Turns over but no cranking. Pull the distributor cap and find that the distributor shaft has totally disengaged from the engine gear.
I pull the distributor and try everything again. Same exact scenario. After posting on VWSamba and thinking about over night, pulled the distributor and saw the problem. I had tightened the timing hold down first and then bolted the distributor in. The problem with that is there was a very small gap(see below) of about 3 sheets of paper that were causing the distributor to not fully seat into the engine gear, even though the distributor hold down was totally flush with the engine block.
After loosening the timing bracket, inserting the distributor, tightening the hold down, THEN tightening the timing bracket, it started right up not once, not twice, but every time. Problem solved…at least for now.