They don't just only pull timing though.... they adjust accordingly. They add timing till the point of knock. If it detects knock, it pulls some out. If working correctly, you should be running on borderline detonation all the time for max power and efficiency. I don't know if they had that kind of technology at that point in time, so I doubt that would be the case. If it was distributorless ignition, then yes. but the old coil, and distributor method, no.
Also the sensors are calibrated to detect the specific frequency at which detonation resonates. I don't think you can recreate what that sound like while hitting the block, or intake mani.
Modern knock sensors are like that, perhaps, but not this one.
It keeps timing set at whatever you set it to, and if it detects knock, or any similar sound (Which can be recreated by hitting the intake manifold with a wrench.) it pulls timing.
It may be a high tech 87 Ford, but it's still an 87 Ford.
I used to drive a 79 Z28 Camaro with about a 375 horse 350. I tried all kinds of things to get power and economy out of the car for all round driving. What I found, Stock setting for the original engine for that car was 8 degrees advance with the stock weights and vacuum advance on the distributor. With the upgraded engine I would have to set it at 6 degrees advance to get through emissions. What I ended up with is 18 degrees initial advance adding and aftermarket mechanical re-curve kit that brought it to 38 degrees total advance by 3000 RPM. This gave me instant performance and very little throttle to get up to or maintain speed. As for economy, it didn’t make a difference between 12-18 degrease advance, which doesn’t make sense because I was applying less throttle at 18 than I was at 12.
One thing that may help an older car is a MSD 6A box, that provides multiple spark discharge to ensure complete light-off of the fuel. The one I installed made the engine run smoother from the 5000-7000 rpm range and made a huge difference on cold starting and low-end torque. Surprisingly it did not increase my highway mileage or make my car faster at the track. I never checked my around town economy because I was young, gas was cheap and I couldn’t keep my foot out of it. (Burnouts for the girls!) In my truck this box gives me better economy in the winter.
This car was fast and actually got more 2 mpg with the 375 horse engine than it did with the original 195 horse stock engine.
One thing you can try is hooking up a vacuum gauge to a manifold source and find a level area where you can do some tests. Drive a predetermined speed and read your vacuum gauge at that speed and throttle setting. Then adjust your timing a couple degrees and do it again. If your vacuum goes down you lost efficiency, if it goes up you gained. Keep doing this until you get the highest point.
One thing I want to caution you about. My car had aluminum heads and a large cam with a lot of overlap which relieves cylinder pressure. I pulled this engine out of my car and installed it in my truck along with a smaller cam with less overlap and a smaller exhaust. I can only run 13 degrees initial advance with this cam before it will detonate. Your stock engine will probably detonate if you try to run 18 degrees of initial timing.
I've a question, my engine is suppose to be at 16 BTC from the factory, its a turbo car so it has a vacuum advance on the distributor, I adjusted the timing to 18 BTC as I was told I could run more turbo boost, now I don't care about performance, would having my engine at 18 BTC hurt FE?
If I set my timing to 14 BTC would this help FE?
Water is fuel, I just don't know how to make it work yet.