Driving old cars in summer rules... except for when your back and legs stick to the vinyl seats. Nothing ruins taking your classic for a run like getting all sweaty and stinky before you even get to the lunch stop.
Before you write in saying that these cars came with A/C, you need to realise they have the cooling powers of an ice block against the summer sun in the Sahara. Thankfully there are companies like Vintage Air who make kits to retrofit modern-style air conditioning into old tin.
It was driving back from Summernats 30 in my un-air-conditioned '68 Plymouth that convinced me to spend the money adding A/C to my '64 Pontiac that was sitting at United. Because it is such a big barge I had to go for Vintage Air's biggest system, the "Gen IV Magnum".
The list of components required will vary from job to job, and you'll need to budget at least $5000 to do this job - more if you are paying for someone else to install it. The parts required include -
- An evaporator. Due to my car's size I needed a Gen IV Magnum unit, but hot rods or pick-ups could get away with the smaller Gen II unit. Never under-size your evaporator or you'll be disappointed with the performance of your A/C.
- Condenser core. This runs out front of the car, in front of the radiator.
- Receiver drier, mounted next to the condenser.
- Bulkhead connector. This is a plate that mounts to your firewall so the air and heater lines can run into/out of the cabin.
- Binary switch. This is a pressure relief valve, you can also use a trinary switch.
- Compressor. I chose a traditional engine-driven, but Sanden compressor.
- Fittings. I went with new Air-O-Crimp fittings rather than the traditional fittings which have to be installed by a professional fitter. They come in three sizes, -6, -8 and -10.
- Air hose, as per the above. Every installation will be different so measure out the amount of hose you'll need before ordering it.
- Interior vents. I bought Vintage Air units for a full-size car, as my cabin is roughly the size of a mid-60s Impala or Galaxie.
- Fan controls. Again, I bought Vintage Air units. The round dials aren't as stylish (in my opinion) as my stock Pontiac ones but they sort-of look '60s spec so that is OK.
Due to freight quotes I bought the evaporator from Rocket Industries in Sydney for around $1200, while I sourced the other Vintage Air components from Summit Racing while the Aussie dollar was in much better shape than it is now. All the fittings, hose, condenser, compressor, drier and binary switch came from Speedy Air Spares in Queensland.
Below is Vintage Air's Gen IV evaporator unit - it is a complete system that includes heater, blower fan, heater tap, and air conditioning - all electronically controlled with a supplied wiring harness, which only requires simple power and ground connections to do. The heater tap we mounted near the bulkhead connector as it is spliced into the rubber hose going to the engine.
The stock heater box and fan is a huge unit compared to the Gen IV Magnum. But, and this is a big but, installing the Vintage Air unit has taken up pretty much all my under-dashboard space and leaves me without a glovebox. This isn't an issue for me as I don't own any gloves, but it also meant I had to move my stereo headunit under the front seat.
You can just make out the evaporator in this pic - not much space back there now!
Below are the controls, the bulkhead connector for the firewall, the compressor mount (hand welded - nice one Vintage Air!), a trinary switch (which I didn't use), and the vents I'll be using. As my car already had windscreen (demister) vents I didn't need to buy these, although they are available from Vintage AIr. You can also get a great selection of controls to set fan speed, and bulkhead connectors in a range of finishes. I went with black, like my heart.
The system is joined together using bolt-on fittings of 3 different sizes (-6, -8 and -10), suiting different sized rubber hose, and clamped using Speedy Air Service's awesome DIY Air-O-Crimp clamps.
Here you can see the receiver-drier (left) fitted to the radiator support panel. Ryan drew up a custom mount for the transmission cooler, condenser and a slimline Spal pusher fan. There is also a 16in Spal fan on the reverse side of the radiator for engine cooling.
Something to bear in mind, especially you fellow Pontiac weirdos, is that by adding all this hardware in front of your radiator you increase the risk of your engine running hot. I am planning to fit aluminium Edelbrock heads and EFI to my car down the track to hopefully fix those potential issues if they crop up.
Vintage Air actually make a compressor mount for the Pontiac V8, saving plenty of headaches. You can choose between traditional style compressors or the modern Sanden-style (which is what I went for). This was test-fitted to the engine before Ryan and the boys powder coated it black using Oxytech satin black.
Here is the firewall-side of the bulkhead connector, on the custom-designed block-off plate Ryan made and powder-coated. This plate sits over the hole where I had removed the stock heater and blower fan (see below).
The old heater core - the blower fan lived where the round hole is.
Ryan mounted the plate from the inside, then set the angle for the A/C lines (top) and the heater hoses (bottom).
The back of the bulkhead connector features four more of these exact same fittings, which connect to the Magnum evaporator. There is no easy way to say this, but connecting the fittings under the dash sucks and you are best off stripping the seats out and paying someone with tiny hands to get it all connected.
After test-fitting the evaporator to make its custom mounts we removed it to fit the fittings, as these run back to the bulkhead connector. There is unfortunately no easy way to do this, apart from maybe running one of Vintage Air's boot/trunk-mounted units.
Ryan spent a couple of hours checking the best way to run the A/C lines through the engine bay. Once they were in the neatest, optimal position he cut the hose to length and tightened the Air-O-Crimp fittings, which are very different to regular A/C fittings..
These are the innovative Air-O-Crimp DIY fittings that Speedy Air Supplies sells. Basically you just use a pair of their fancy pliers to squeeze the tangs of the crimp closed once you have positioned it on the hose. They have colour-coded tabs to tell you quickly what size fitting they're for - black, red or yellow.
The end of the coloured tab positions the crimp in the correct location by seating against the fitting. Once they lock closed the hose can still move, but don't worry as the lines haven't leaked in one of Ryan's installations yet!
We tucked the lines tightly together so it would be neater. The heater hoses use normal hose clamps, while the air conditioning fittings run the Air-O-Crimp fittings.
Lines crimped and tucked out of the way, we're almost ready to have a licenced refrigeration technician come and gas the system.
Vintage Air say one critical (as in, must do!) element to ensure your air conditioning works well is to put heat and sound-proofing down in the cabin, which Ryan did using Aussie Car Builders products before we got started.