Cool Runnings: electric air conditioning allows A/C in any project car!
Fat-lapping old cars is great fun, but summer cruising in Australia can be a brutally hot, sweaty affair. While aftermarket air conditioning has been around for a fair while a lot of project cars don't have space on the engine for an A/C compressor - thankfully I've found a solution to that which means all project cars can now enjoy frosty cold A/C.
Electric compressors are used in EVs and things like truck sleeper cabs, and they replace traditional engine-driven compressors. The engine-mounted compressors run off a belt attached to the engine, which makes their placement critical, and often are the first things removed when space is at a premium.
Here is how I set up the A/C in my 1964 Pontiac Bonneville (which you may have seen HERE).
Here is how car air conditioning works - refrigerant gas is used in a pressurised system where a compressor pumps it through a system of cores with fans. As it is heated and cooled it changes between a gas and liquid, and the cold liquid has air blown across it, which becomes the lovely cold air blowing out the vents in your dashboard.
The shape of my Pontiac's crossmember and the extra idlers needed for the supercharger belt meant I couldn't fit an air conditioning compressor on the engine. Having A/C in my classic car is a must for me, as I want to drive my car year-round and do so in comfort. This meant i had to look to other options, and I soon found THIS REMOTE-MOUNT compressor
The screw-on MIOR fittings and Speedy's DIY hoses make it easy to put a whole A/C system together at home, which you can then simply get gassed by a professional later on. Still, I had a few other parts to buy, including a condenser, drier, and evaporator.
This is the heart of the system: the Vintage Air Gen4 Magnum evaporator. This unit houses the heater core, the blower fan, the ducting passages and direction flaps, and the servos used to control it all. This giant unit is mounted where my glovebox used to be, but that doesn't phase me as I don't wear gloves anyway.
Along with a large, powerful heater the Vintage Air evaporator also has outlets for a front demister. Having the ability to prevent the windscreen from fogging is a key safety item for anyone wanting to drive their project!
The GenIV is the full-size evaporator for large cars or trucks, and it takes up a huge amount of space under my dashboard. They also make a smaller Gen2 unit for smaller cars and hot rods.
When my car still had its Pontiac engine I had custom brackets made to mount the Spal A/C fan, the drier and the aftermarket condenser.
When I fitted the LS and upgraded to a VF-generation HSV GTS radiator I had to change to a larger condenser and custom mounts so all the cooling cores (radiator, water:air intercooler, A/C condenser) would all fit in the nose of the car.
The 21cc 12-volt electric air compressor sits neatly behind the right-hand headlight and doesn't require a belt to run. However, it is important to note it does draw a colossal 100 Amps on full tilt, so you need a huge alternator and some industrial-spec wiring to run it. Thankfully Dave from Haltech sorted all of this for me when he installed the Nexus R5 VCU and PD16 power-distribution module.
I used Speedy Air Spares' crimp fittings to make all my hoses, which push onto threaded MIOR fittings of different sizes. Many OE air con set-ups in cars use press-fit connections which seal on O-rings - these rubber O-rings need to be replaced as they dry out with age.
Once the hose has been routed and cut to length, a pair of snips is used to compress the crimp sections of the locking bands, securing the hose onto the barb.
Another key step in adding A/C to any old car is to go ham on the heat insulation. My entire car has two layers of the awesome Car Builders sound and heat insulation - the stage 1 peel 'n' stick seen here, with their foam stage 2 layer on top. Aftermarket A/C companies like Vintage Air say this is a critical step to having the A/C work properly as old cars need all the thermal and acoustic help they can get!
After I got the car running reliably I booked in to have a mobile A/C bloke come and gas the system. Justin had to suck all the old air and schmutz out of the system, before adding refrigerant gas to make the air blow cold.
These professional tools aren't something you can easily buy in Australia, though I do remember seeing DIY A/C recharge kits on sale in auto parts stores in California - land of the free, indeed!
While I could have hidden the compressor completely out of sight I didn't want it painful to gas or service later on. This way you can't see it looking quickly in the bay, but it was still easy to get to for Justin.
Once he'd cleaned the system out, Justin added the refrigerant gas which is pushed in under pressure until a certain amount is on board. This means the system is "charged", and ready for use. It is important to not run the compressor until the A/C system is charged as it will dry out and burn out, killing it.
The Vintage Air system uses three rotary dials to control heat; fan speed; and air direction. When the system is gassed up it was time to test it out, and it all worked perfectly! The car is now far more useable as it is a nice, comfortable place for my wife and I to spend time cruising around, no matter how hot or cold!