The ’62 Skylark I spied in Maine is interesting for a variety of reasons, its generous specification being among of the more notable of these. A compact car with power windows and air conditioning wasn’t common in 1962, and we go out of our way to point out similar compacts and ponycars so-equipped through the early ’80s. As JP Cavanaugh noted in the comments this morning, it wasn’t until 1972 that he saw an A/C unit outside of a high-end sedan, and it’s only over the past ten years that virtually every car features it as standard (though there are still a handful of holdouts). I remember plenty of strippers through my youth which left drivers steamy behind the wheel, but I suspect this will be a much more interesting question for our more seasoned readers: what’s the first “modest” car you remember seeing with air conditioning?
As many recall, it wasn’t until 1968 when AMC offered standard air conditioning on the Ambassador, at a time Cadillac charged extra for the feature. While Japanese carmakers made a name for themselves by offering a lot of value for the money, it’d be a while until their HVAC systems matched those from American manufacturers, and mainstream European carmakers often lagged even further behind.
Some air conditioners even remained separate from the rest of the ventilation system through the ’70s, sometimes requiring expensive dealer installation. In such a context, we must consider the add-on unit found in today’s 52-year-old Buick to be very thoughtfully designed and even decorative.
Compare that to this unit found on a ’69 Volvo 1800S. It’s easy to overlook what a large device air conditioning actually is if one didn’t live through the era.
Fast forward five to ten years, and powerful, fully integrated units began (finally) flowing out of European manufacturers. The degree to which some manufacturers used to highlight these systems is a bit strange outside a historical context. After all, we’ve been living with systems like these for about thirty years, and these days, any physical link to heat blending and air distribution has been tossed aside.
This lowly Fiesta is a good representation of what HVAC controls look like in 2014, banished beneath infotainment, with everything operated electrically. Many of us forget just how much we take this most fundamental provision for our comfort (and even safety) for granted, let alone all the engineering involved in making it both effective and unobtrusive. Along with steering and braking assists, it’s possibly the convenience closest to being considered a necessity, even though so many of us went without not long ago (I’d even rank power steering below A/C). For those who can remember such times, when did you finally come to expect air conditioning readily available in your ride?