Climate Control for ’60s Chevys
By Ron Ceridono – Photography by Jason Scudellari
Today you’d be hard-pressed to find a new car without air conditioning, but in 1962 that wasn’t the case. That year a new Chevy Impala two-door hardtop sport coupe had a factory price of around $2,800, and adding DeLuxe air conditioning bumped the tab by over $360—that’s roughly 13 percent of the base price. As a result, lots of Chevy shoppers back then decided to tough it out and forgo the A/C and cope with hot days by rolling the windows down and turning the windwings out. Of course, all that did was funnel hot air into the passenger compartment, along with the occasional flying insect.
As far back as 1976, Vintage Air has been supplying universal aftermarket A/C systems to make it easy for enthusiasts to keep their early cars and trucks cool. Since then, Vintage Air has continued to incorporate the latest technology in their product line. As an example, at one time OEM and aftermarket climate-control systems used cables or vacuum motors to control the doors that directed airflow in the evaporator case—both systems had limitations due to the limited movement of those doors. Vintage Air’s Gen II and IV systems use fully electronic microprocessor-controlled servo motors to control the operation of those doors, which allows them to travel further. The results are dramatic gains in airflow, superior defrost performance, and true bi-level operation in both heat and A/C modes. Today that technology has been combined with Vintage Air’s SureFit vehicle specific kits that are complete, bolt-in climate-control systems that require no significant modifications to the car (some holes may have to be drilled).
Available for a wide variety of cars and trucks, the SureFit system shown here is for ’61-62 Chevrolet Impalas without factory air (PN 561062). For cars with factory air, Vintage Air offers systems (PN 964062) that use the factory A/C outlets. As with all SureFit systems full OEM-style operations include infinite air temperature blending, infinite blower fan speed adjustment, and high-volume dehumidified defrost mode.
While Vintage Air has made installing a contemporary climate-control system as simple as possible, there are a few additional considerations that will ensure it operates at peak efficiency:
In operation, an A/C system takes in air from a confined area, pushes it across a coil in the underdash evaporator where the heat is absorbed and the humidity converted to water droplets that drain to the outside. Cooled air is then pushed out through the vents onto the occupants while the heat is carried to the condenser in front of the radiator. It stands to reason that minimizing any additional heat source will make the A/C system more effective so it’s important to insulate the firewall, floor, doors, roof, and make sure all the weatherstrips are in good condition; tinted windows will also help.
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Electrical System Requirements
Our Vintage Air SureFit system requires a constant 12V source and a dash light feed. While that is simple to install, the sophisticated electronics require a stable power source and good grounds to eliminate the possibility of any electrical feedback that may cause erratic operation. An alternator is also a necessity as the original generator will not provide enough amperage to support the system.
The Receiver/Drier filters the refrigerant, separates vapor from liquid refrigerant, and removes moisture. It has an arrow indicating the direction of refrigerant flow and must be oriented within 30 degrees of vertical and mounted where it will be exposed to cool air, if possible.
Heater Control Valve Orientation
Installing the heater control valve incorrectly allows hot water to circulate through the heater core warming the air that the A/C is trying to cool. Most water pump heater hose outlets are on the low-pressure (suction) side of the pump. The intake manifold outlet is the high-pressure side of the system. As water pressure in the hose helps the valve seal, if they are installed backward, or in the wrong hose, they will not shut off completely and some hot water will continue to flow.
Always Install a Compressor Safety Switch
There are two types of safety switches: Binary switches protect the system from excessively high (406 psi) or low (30 psi) pressure; trinary switches provide the same high and low protection, plus an electric fan engagement signal at 254 psi (on high pressure side).
Proper Evacuating and Charging
Leaving air and water in the system will reduce the efficiency of an A/C system dramatically. Evacuating the system with a vacuum pump for 45 to 60 minutes removes air from the system while the vacuum lowers the boiling point of water, so any moisture in the system boils away. To accurately determine if an A/C system is charged properly, dedicated gauges that show low and high side pressures are required. A general rule of thumb is high side pressure is two times ambient temperature plus 15 to 20 percent. An overcharged system (too much refrigerant or oil) results in higher system operating pressures and poor performance. An undercharged system will show lower operating pressures and poor performance as well.
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Adding Oil to the Compressor
New Sanden Compressors from Vintage Air come with the proper amount of oil, so an additional amount isn’t necessary. Adding more oil can result in excessive system pressure, which results in poor system performance. If you are using an OEM compressor in your system, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on oil capacity.
Follow the Instructions
We’ve all heard this one: Before you begin installation, read all the instructions, warnings, labels, and any other printed material included. Then, familiarize yourself with all the components before you start. If you still have questions, get them answered before proceeding. The Vintage Air tech guys would rather prevent a problem than cure one.
Installing a Vintage Air SureFit system is a great way to get all the benefits of a contemporary climate-control system in your classic Chevy without making major modifications to the car. Think of it as a personal environmental impact statement.