(Doing my part to keep Corvair Summer alive) As readers of my three-part Cold Comfort series on factory air conditioning know, I have a preturnatural obsession with automotive air conditioning. The response to those posts were so positive, I’ve decided to turn Cold Comfort into a recurring series, featuring interesting early automotive A/C setups that I run across. This will allow me to dig a little deeper into the various units that I was only able to gloss over in my original series.
To kick things off on my (hopefully) long-running series, where better to start than with this Chevrolet Corvair I spotted at a recent car show. The Corvair has long been a source of fascination on this site, and Paul recently put together an interesting piece on the gas powered heater that was available on early Corvairs.
The Corvair had an interesting transformation from economy car to pony car progenitor with the introduction of the Monza in 1961. This shift upmarket necessitated the introduction of features expected in this vehicle class, including air conditioning. The factory air conditioning (“De Luxe Air Conditioning”) system was first offered in the spring of 1961, at cost of some $350, or about 16% of the cost of a new Monza coupe.
In addition to the factory system, a dealer-installed “hang on” unit was also available, but this feature car has the De Luxe system, although the compressor is clearly not an original.
Corvair Cognoscenti (ooh, I loved writing that) know that all 1962 Corvairs have their spare tire mounted in the engine compartment, to free up space in the front located trunk. However, if you opted for air conditioning, the compressor, receiver, and massive condenser coil took up most of the free space in the engine compartment, relegating the spare tire back to the front. Such is the price of comfort, I guess.
Other changes include a different drive pulley to accommodate the extra belt for the compressor. The engine fan (not visible under the condenser) would have done double duty, pulling air across the condenser and cooling the engine.
Inside, there is a surprisingly well integrated (but alas not color matched) panel which combines the controls, two “eyeball” vents and a “barrel” vent. The evaporator is mounted to the firewall above the passenger footwell, like most modern cars.
Chevrolet certainly didn’t go out of their way to promote air conditioning on the Corvair. The 1962 Corvair brochure has no photos of the option, and makes only a passing reference to it on the spec page. It was available on any two- or four-door model with a radio (necessary for mounting the interior panel).
Interest in the option was suitably low, with the take rate for A/C on the 1961 Corvair at a paltry 1%. In 1962, take rate increased to a whopping 2.5%. While this works out to roughly 5,000 cars, I’m sure that far fewer than that survive today. Air conditioning was not available with the turbocharged Spyder or Corsa engine.
For the heavily revised gen2 1965 Corvair, the system was fully integrated into the new dashboard. The condenser still rode on top of the fan for 1965, but for 1966 and 1967 (above), it was moved up against the rear firewall. Factory air was dropped in 1968, as the air pump for the emission system now occupied the space where the compressor had been. At least the two-belt pulley was able to be used for that.
Automotive History: Corvair Warm Comfort – Heating Optional (1960-1961); Your Choice of Gasoline or Engine Heat
$350 would equal $2853 in 2016 dollars!
I’ve had two LM (post 1965) Corvairs with A/C, one from the factory and one with a well done add-on system.
Given the Heat & Humidity that envelopes, permeates and engulfs New Orleans, LA for 8 months of the year; it would had been worth every penny for me!
Most cars have A/C as standard equipment, and even if it’s optional much of the ventilation system is built in, so what we pay for A/C is not clear, but my guess is that it is around $2000 or more.
$2000? In incremental cost? Probably closer to $200 than $2000.
Jeep has a model with A/C optional at about $1500 I think. Where rear A/C is optional, it costs a few hundred.
I’m talking about the actual incremental cost to the manufacturer. They buy these compressors, condensers and evaporators by the millions.
What you’re saying is that they are free. I am skeptical.
What you’re saying is that they are free.
I didn’t say that. I said Probably closer to $200 than $2000 Which means that if the manufacturer’s costs for the extra parts are $899 or less, I’m right. And I’m going to guess that’s still the case, especially so if the Jeep A/C is $1300 retail. Retail mark ups for options over manufacturer’s actual cost can easily exceed 100%.
What I was getting at was the retail price that the manufacturer is charging, even if the A/C is standard equipment, the customer is paying for it. I was not clear.
You’re making an assumption that is not accurate. When a piece of automotive technology becomes so common and is standard equipment, the manufacturer has every incentive to lower its cost, for competitive reasons. If you were to add the once-upon-a-time retail cost of options such as ABS, ESC, fuel injection, automatic transmissions, power windows, radios, etc.etc.etc. and air conditioning, cars would be madly more expensive now. They aren’t though; they cost about the same, inflation adjusted, never mind all the other goodies in them and lots more power and….
My point is that a/c has been fully absorbed into the base cost of a car, and we are NOT paying $2000 more for new cars because they have it. And the incremental cost to the manufacturer is in the hundreds of dollars, and not very many, at that.
You’re trying to compare apples to oranges.
Can you show me where the base price of a car jumped $2000 from one year to the next when a/c became standard on it?
In 1967 (I have a price guide) A/C for chevy was about $350. By 1990 it was standard on the B-body, which then cost about $15000. My 1985 price guide shows A/C for the B-body at about $750 with the base price at $10,000. Inflation would have the 1985 A/C price around $1100, so there has been less inflation in the A/C than the full basket of consumer goods.
What I know now is that Jeep is charging $1300 retail to add A/C to a couple of their base models. Inflation from 1984 to now is about 2.4x. So you are right that basic A/C has gone up less than the full basket of consumer goods.
If I get where you’re coming from, Paul, the best example is the AMC Ambassador in 1969 or ’70 as I remember. In a heavily-publicized marketing effort to put the Amby head-to-head with its Ford, Plymouth and Chevy competition AMC announced ALL new Ambassadors came standard with A/C (their wonderful WeatherEye fully-integrated system) along with automatic transmission and I believe even power steering was added to the goodies list. (Correct me if I’m wrong on the P/S) I do not remember any appreciable increase in price of the Ambassador over the previous year, on models not so equipped. Granted…AMC needed to come up with something to set its cars apart, but nevertheless aside from inflation-induced price increases the Amby did not considerably rise in price due to the new, standard equipment.
1968 Ambo was the 1st with standard a/c – cleaver ad campaign pointed out the only other car with standard was Rolls Royce! You could (and many did) get an option to “delete” a/c for a credit on the price. Anyone know the amount of that credit?
Jeep charges $1300 on the jeep models which offer A/C as an option. This is basic air conditioning. I think this price is comparable to the $350 perhaps. However, automatic climate control would be more, and then dual zone is another step up….
What the price tag on a new car is, and what the incremental cost to build it is are different things.
The OP says that $350 in 2016 dollars is $2853. If accurate, the $1295 that Jeep wants to put factory A/C in a Wrangler is less than half what it would have cost to get factory A/C in a 1961 Corvair.
And, as Paul pointed out, that’s almost certainly not FCA’s actual cost. In fact, considering the low take rate and what’s involved to manipulate the manufacturing process, I rather suspect that it costs more than $1295 to leave the A/C out of a Wrangler.
That $350 price was retail, not the actual cost of putting it on the Corvair.
My top post was getting at the retail cost, which is what the consumer is paying for the A/C on new cars even if it is standard equipment. If basic A/C is 1300, then automatic climate control is certainly more, dual zone still more and Cadillac charges $600 for tri zone on the XT5.
Been to NOLA, in April… it was HELL.
Was there there once in late July-it was 100X that!
Thanks Tom for this chilling look at the Corvair’s a/c system, something I knew essentially nothing about. When I first looked the second picture , with that condenser sitting on top of the fan, I had a moment’s doubt about whether this wasn’t someone’s home brew job. The non-stock modern compressor added to that. But of course it is the rear thing, although the version for ’66-’67 makes a bit more sense.
Needless to say, during use the Corvair was getting even warmer air into its fan. I wonder if there were ever any challenges keeping the engine adequately cool in really hot weather. Maybe they used a higher capacity fan?
I suspect Chevrolet had similar concerns about the affect of the extra thermal load on the engine, and the overall longevity of the system.
My hunch is that they purposely limited advertising and production numbers the first several years to minimize potential warranty exposure (at least until the the setup was proven).
I don’t think any of the other makers were actively pushing/advertising a/c on their compacts. The systems were very expensive in relation to the car price, and there just wasn’t much demand at the lower end of the market yet. The take rate shows that.
I think you’re right about that. A/C was available on the Plymouth-Dodge compacts starting in ’61 (a hang-on unit); integral heat-defog-A/C became available in ’65, but ’66 was the first year any substantial number of Darts, Valiants, and Baccarudas were ordered with it
Air cooled engines ( Corvair, VW, and Porsche) are typically cooled with 1). cooling fan air directed to pass over cylinder heads and cylinder barrels and 2).cooling fan air directed through an integral engine mounted oil cooler. Air cooled engines therefore employ direct air cooling and indirect internal oil cooling via the oil cooler to maintain manageable engine temperatures. The longevity of air cooled engines is typically related to oil temperatures with 250F (121C) considered an upper limit of acceptable temperature, above which oil breakdown and thinning begins to reduce engine and bearing longevity. Typically for air cooled Porsches 185F(85C) to 205F(96.1C) is considered an optimum range. Similar temperature ranges would be the optimum range for the Corvair and for aircooled VW’s . The cooler the better.
The temperature/ thermal loads on air cooled engine are exacerbated in Southern California, in the US Southwest, and in large parts of the US South.
As an example, last year I drove my 44 yr old, non-air conditioned 1973 914 Porsche with an additional non factory additional supplementary oil cooler in addition to the original type engine mounted oil cooler. My drive was from San Luis Obispo, California to Las Vegas through the Mojave Dessert via Bakersfield and Barstow using I15. The reported air temperature was 115F (46.1C). When climbing the Cajon Pass to the summit at 70 mph (112 kpm) my engine oil temperature, despite the supplementary cooler, momentarily rose and peaked at 240F(115C), and when I downshifted to 3rd to increase engine air flow at high rev’s, the oil temperature stabilized at 235F(113C), A similar event occurred going up the San Bernadino Pass on I15. Going downhill the engine oil tempertures would drop and stabilize at a cool 185F(85C). Ah, temperature bliss, 185F (85C).
The point of this is to highlight the problems of thermal stresses that can occur with non air conditioned air cooled cars even with modern supplementary oil cooling.
The air flow restricting huge condenser mounted over the axial cooling fan of the first generation Corvair without an additional supplementary oil cooler and fan would have thermally stressed the Corvair to its design cooling limits or beyond. A trip from LA to Las Vegas on I15 with an air conditioned Corvair would have been a thermal challenge back in the day. I hate to imagine climbing to the Cajon Summit in an A/C Corvair without an additional supplementary oil cooler. With a Monza or a later Corsa, you would have had an oil temperature gauge to give you worries. In a standard Corvair without an oil temp gauge, maybe ignorance would have been bliss.
Porsche wasn’t so lucky when it began to use engine exhaust thermal reactors for emission control in California bound 911’s in 1975, 1976, and 1977. Unfortunately.and unbelievably, those engines didn’t have standard supplementary engine oil coolers, and, especially if they had dealer installed A/C systems without supplementary oil coolers added, they just cooked in hot LA traffic. OIl temperatures in LA traffic were frequently reported as high as 275F (135C) up to 300F(148.9C). Porsche 911 engine life in those years was low with remarkably high in number California thermally related engine failures. Ah, because of that air cooled demon, HEAT.
Maybe it was good that the install rate of A/C on Corvairs was low, likely due to the prohibitive option cost, and thereby sparing the Corvair and GM more embarrassments due to thermally related engine failures, especially in the Southwest and California.
So Tom maybe your hunch was right about limiting advertising and keeping the price high to minimize the “take” rate of A/C on Corvairs. Thanks for great article.
Your data on engine oil temperatures got me to thinking… imagine factoring in 1962-era engine oils. Life for an air cooled engine would’ve been bad enough. Life for an air cooled engine with AC would’ve been hell!
I wonder what impact the advances in oil formulation that are much better able to withstand temperature extremes (i.e., synthetic) would have had on those old air-cooled engines. IOW, if they had been able to run Mobil 1 back then, maybe not so many of them would have melted down.
Back in the ’70s, my dad got pretty good service life out of several VWs, but their oil was changed promptly every 3,000 miles. To paraphrase the Christmas Story movie, “My dad was a Gulfpride 30-weight man.”
I frequently helped and sometimes did the complete job. Oddly, I don’t remember any swearing. This is probably due to the fact that no drain plugs, 10 mm nuts or copper washers ever found their way into a sewer grate. 😉
Vic, thanks for the information about the challenges of keeping an air cooled engine cool.
But I’m going to disagree with you about this: So Tom maybe your hunch was right about limiting advertising and keeping the price high to minimize the “take” rate of A/C on Corvairs.
The Corvair system cost $350. The A/C in the full size ’61 Chevy cost $457; much higher. The Corvair system clearly was not priced to limit demand.
And as I said before, advertising a/c on cars back then, especially a compact, just wasn’t done. Why? Because the demand was so low anyway, and there was zero incentive to try to boost demand. It wouldn’t have worked. Chevy didn’t “advertise” any of the other options on the Corvair; they were simply listed in the brochure (see attached image), along with all the other options. None of these options had any specific advertising for them.
Here’s how it worked back then: No dealer in his right mind would have ordered/taken a Corvair with a/c for dealer stock. This was an option whose take rate was still low overall in the industry, next to nil in the compact class. Chevrolet made this available to stay competitive for those buyers that really wanted it. And they would have ordered their Corvair with a/c. Ordering cars with one’s specific choice of options was very common back then. Obviously, there might have been the rare exception in a semi-tropical city like New Orleans or such.
The take rate (2.5%) simply reflects the demand. Certainly Chevrolet wasn’t going to not fulfill an order from a customer. This was a regular production option (RPO).
Falcon didn’t offer a/c in 1961, and only had a dealer-installed unit optional in 1962.Compact buyers just weren’t expected to also buy a/c. The take rate in the whole industry was some 20% then, and that was skewed heavily to the mid-upper segment of the market.
One more minor detail: the turbocharged Corvair Monza Spyder and Corsa had full instrumentation, but not an oil temp gauge. They had a cyl head temp gauge, which was somewhat comparable. But a/c was not available on the turbocharger engines, so it’s not really applicable. The regular Monza had basic instrumentation only.
Paul, you are a definite Corvair guru, and I always learn interesting Corvair trivia from you. Thanks! I guess I misidentified the temperature gauge of the turbocharged Corsa that I saw in Ypsilanti as an oil temperature gauge and not the actual cylinder head temperature gauge that it actually was.
Your comments encouraged me to look up the meaning of cylinder head temperatures and how to interpret them compared to oil temperatures. The Corvair CORSA site was interesting and showed me that the Corvair community had multiple comments about the poor temperature calibrations of the stock temperature thermistors used by GM giving inconsistent temperature readings. In general at no load, at idle, cylinder head temps are in the order of 300F, and at full turbo boost temperatures rise to values ranging from 475F to 600F. There was little data about actual oil temperatures except for one Corsa owner with an additional aftermarket oil temperature gauge who described operating his Corvair at an air temperature of 100F in California, on partial turbo boost, showing erratic cylinder temperatures ranging between 500F and 600F, with an oil temperature of 260F at which point fearing oil breakdown he pulled off the road to allow the Corvair to cool.
So in the CORSA world there is confusion about the actual real world meaning of cylinder head temperatures. Some CORSA contributors cited oil temperature ranges for air cooled Porsches published in the magazine Excellence as a guide for Corvair engine temperature management. Interesting.
Maybe oil temperature and not cylinder head temperatures is the better metric to assess engine health. Likely the GM Technical Center or a Piston Aircraft Manufacturer like Lycoming in Williamsport,Pennsylvania, have more complete data comparing cylinder head temps vs engine oil temps at idle and at load. More anon?
Thanks for teaching me something new about Corvairs and encouraging my curosity.
You are equally right about the typical low take rates of A/C in lower priced cars which needed to be special ordered, but I also agree with Mark Reimer that in 1961 the $350 for A/C ( current equivalent of $2835, 16% of the Corvair list price) would have been a high cost hurdle/ impediment limiting installation in the low cost compact market.
“…advertising a/c on cars back then, especially a compact, just wasn’t done. Why? Because the demand was so low anyway, and there was zero incentive to try to boost demand.”
In the case of the Corvair, I’m amused by the copy in several of the early ads in my collection, which state that having the engine in the rear provides the advantage of a cooler passenger compartment, because the engine heat isn’t “pushed” into the path of the occupants. However, I don’t think for a minute that this advertising claim had any significant influence on the low number of early Corvairs that were ordered with a/c.
I wish I could find it IIRC, from an article in the Corsa Communique Chevrolet tested a Corvair with A/C and an AIR pump on a test track in Arizona. During the test the oil got up to 450 deg F. and climbing. Chevrolet canceled the test and decided not to make A/C an option anymore.
Rear engines are a challenge whether water or air cooled, years ago I drove my Imp on a day nearly as hot as your SLO-LV trip (43°C from memory), I don’t have an oil temp gauge but the water temp was ok on surface roads but quickly rose over 100°C on the freeway – I took the first exit and used some water to cool down the radiator. It may have been around the time the water pump on the way out, on another trip the downshift to 3rd to cool it down trick worked for me too.
I know a guy who has fitted an AC system to his Imp, via a similar overall setup but using modern components.
No Corvairs at all, A/C or not, came with an OIL temp gauge from the factory. Monza Spyders (not all Monzas) and Corsas came with a cylinder head temp gauge. It did not measure oil temp directly although I imagine there was a close correlation. All Spyders came in turbo configuration, hence none of them had A/C. Corsas came in both 140 HP (four carb) and turbo versions. Therefore, there were, presumably, a few air conditioned 140 HP Corsas. Those would have been the only A/C Corvairs to have a temp gauge of any kind from the factory, as opposed to the “Temp-Press” light.
The I’m referring to was in ’66 or ’67. The engineers installed an oil temp gauge for their testing purposes.
Late 80s VW Cabriolet’s, oddly enough, had stock oil temp gauges. Running 80 in 5th gear resulted in a constant 3700 RPM. Doing this during an Alabama summer would consistently generate oil temp readings of 115~125C. I ran Catrol 20W50 in that 1.8L engine year-round and it never suffered any ill-effects from those temps.
In my home area of northern Indiana, I don’t recall ever seeing a/c in anything small until probably the 1970s. We only get high heat (with varying humidity) for a shorter stretch, so air was definitely a luxury item found only on larger or more expensive cars.
In fact, I remember more than one older person who claimed that a/c was harmful to small cars because the load of the compressor would hurt the engine. Such was conventional wisdom in a place where nobody ever got a/c in small cars.
This is the first I have ever seen or heard of a factory system in a Corvair, so what a cool find!
@ JP ;
Now you have two =8-) .
It’s do able but the air cooled engine really needs to have lower compression ratio and careful tuning to avoid ping and holed pistons .
In Pittsburgh too I suspect. I’ve been around plenty of Corvairs of both generation be and have only seen 1 with A/C and it was a ’66.
Mostly locally at least on an Impala level or higher (Pontiac,Olds..) would one expect to see A/C. until the ’70s. Our first Air conditioned car was a ’67 Dodge, but it was a fully loaded Monaco.
Even in the hot and humid south, A/C wasn’t routinely on most regular folks’ cars until the mid-to-late ’60’s, including Galaxies and Impalas. I remember seeing the occasional Dart with air (and the Airtemp sticker) around the same time. When the family ’61 Valiant was finally turning into a pile of rust in ’68, my Dad was looking for a cheap replacement. I remember the Little Rock AMC dealer offering new Ramblers with (allegedly) factory A/C for $1995 (probably no other amenities). We ended up getting a ’66 Comet 2-door, with add-on Park-O-Mat air for $995. Relatively speaking, a pretty decent car.
Just a couple of years later, most every Maverick, Duster, and Nova around had factory air. The lack of viable A/C on air-cooled VW’s had a lot to do with killing sales down here by the energy crisis. Corollas with air were everywhere by ’72 – ’73.
“Cool” post, Tom. I await your treatise on VW Beetle a/c units!
It’s on my todo list!
My ’70 Ghia had remnants of an A/C system on it when I drove it, but whomever had it removed the condensor, pump and the vent/controls before it came into my family. Strange, too because it was only 9 or 10 years old then.
This is a fun series. I’ll be looking forward to the VW article. I had A/C in my 69 Beetle and this is the story below. The links to the information about Heatransfer Corporation in San Antonio and the subsequent lawsuit should prove useful for your research.
I had air conditioning installed in my 69 VW Beetle at College Mall Volkswagen in Bloominginon, IN @ 70-71. It was a unit made by Heatransfer in San Antonio, Texas. From the patent information, this is basically how it worked:
“In accordance with the present invention, a reversible evaporator-condenser unit, including necessary coils, valving, and blowers, is mounted compactly in a casing which fits in and rests on the slightly modified flooring in the compartment provided in the Volkswagen body just behind the rear seat. The control console is mounted on the flooring tunnel in convenient position for access by the driver and is connected to the evaporator-condenser motors and the source of electrical energy by means of suitable cabling which runs along the central tunnel in the flooring. The compressor is conveniently mounted on the rear engine, and a hose cluster connects the same to the evaporator-condenser unit. The hoses are provided with quick connect fittings of the type provided with check valves so that the evaporator-condenser unit can be safely precharged in the factory or at any time prior to installation.”
It worked well and kept the car icy cold; however, the power loss was significant.
Heattransfer was later involved in an interesting anti-monopoly lawsuit against VW that you can read about here:
“Heattransfer was later involved in an interesting anti-monopoly lawsuit against VW that you can read about here: http://openjurist.org/553/f2d/964”
The section labeled “The Facts” (paragraphs 10 through 39) is an interesting read.
Way back when, I was told by several VW “experts” that the air conditioning in the Beetle and Type 2 shortened the life of the engine.
That ad featuring the Beetle in an ice cube could have been advertising the heater in winter too.
Dad’s ’70 Squareback had A/C (and fully automatic transmission as well). The compressor was mounted horizontally next to the “pancake” engine and the condenser under the front of the car, beneath the gas tank. I dont recall how well it worked. It was strictly a commuter car he used in Los Angeles traffic, so the power zapping AT and AC didnt make much difference.
Hmmm. I hadn’t thought whether Squarebacks had A/C. Corvair Lakewood wagons and trucks/Greenbriers didn’t. The same issue exists of where do you put the condenser. There are aftermarket units. Some people try that kind of under-floor setup but Clark’s Corvair says there is not enough air flow. So, for the Lakewood wagon the trunk floor has to be cut to mount the condenser and a new false trunk floor is constructed above it, taking away most of the front trunk space. I suspect the best system for a Greenbrier van is an RV-type rooftop system.
I was wondering if anybody cooked up an aftermarket A/C for the ’61=-’62 wagons since factory A/C wasn’t offered. It’s also worth noting that despite not having factory A/C or being 1960 models, all Corvair wagons had the spare tire in the front trunk to free up space in the rear luggage area. So if both the aftermarket A/C and the spare tire took up space in the front trunk, there *really* must not have been much space left in there.
Were there aftermarket A/C units available for the ’68-’69 models? I have to think that by the late ’60s, not offering air conditioning would be a dealbreaker for a significant chunk of buyers. Certainly a substantial percentage (if still a minority) of Mustangs from this era I’ve seen are air conditioned.
That’s a wow for sure. I’d hoped that being a Corvair they could have used the same belt to drive the compressor, which would have required ANOTHER idler pulley and mounting the compressor shaft up. No such luck.
As for the VW, I think I’d literally go with the block of ice before adding a compressor to an air cooled VW motor..
swamp cooler mounted in the sunroof!!
That condenser looks huge but I wonder how it compares with those used in other GM cars. I also wonder how much of a power loss resulted from turning on the A/C.
Anyhow, I am finding these A/C articles very cool. More please.
Keep in mind that the condenser had to “breathe” through a handful of narrow slits cut in the engine cover. Take a look at the underside of the “hood” and see how few air slots there.
I’m sure the condenser got nowhere near the amount of air flow that your typical unit mounted forward of the radiator got, which probably explains its large size.
Wow. Just wow. I never even thought of an AC equipped Corvair, much less expected to see pictures of a working unit.
My 63 Valiant has a knee knocker aftermarket unit that is converted to R 134 A that is running for the first time in 3o some odd years. I have no idea when it was installed, but not surprising since it was sold at Town & Country Chrysler-Plymouth in Phoenix and was living in Yuma when it found me.
It’s on it’s last legs but very effective, even in the 105-108 [today] heat we’ve had for the past three or four weeks.
An overhaul is in it’s future.
Looking forward to the rest of the series, Tom.
I can’t imagine the power deficit that big ole Harrison A6 compressor draws as its running on those cars. I feel it on my 305 V8 powered Chevelle when it kicks on. While that 305 has decent torque and hp to spin it, it’s a performance and mileage penalty – the butt dyno says about 25-30hp draw and the wallet feels it with a 2-3mpg hit.
Corvairs aren’t exactly blessed with an abundance of power to begin with, and coupled with a powerglide are probably as fast as a VW Bug with it on – but way cooler!
I see Ed wants VW Beetle AC, I would like to also request Tesla. Extremely effective (and I live east of Phoenix where we have days over 110 f often) and efficient, don’t know how they do it or exactly how many miles heat and AC use, but I have observed that it is relatively efficient.
Tom, you might find the whole topic of AC in hybrid and electric cars to be interesting. No belts in EVs of course, no belts in 2010 and later Priuses either. Compressors are electrically driven.
Dave, my Fiat 500e also gets cold very quickly, quicker than the 2010 Prius. Maybe it’s due to the smaller cabin size, maybe it’s got a more powerful motor.
Efficiency is critical in hybrids and EVs. Here’s an SAE article about a trick Toyota’s using.
“Tesla AC” is very punny, since Nikola Tesla invented the AC induction motor that made our whole electric power technology possible. Tesla cars are all driven by AC induction motors, through DC-to-AC converter electronics. I wonder if Teslas have AC A/C motors or DC A/C motors.
One of my Corvairs (the ’65 Monza coupe) had factory A/C although by the time I got the car, used, in 1972 it was inoperative and we didn’t really need it in New England. (What I could have used was good heat, but that’s another story.)
The previous owner had used an aftermarket adaptor kit with longer hoses for the condenser, and it was mounted to the underside of the hood. (JC Whitney, if I had to guess.) This allowed the spare tire to remain in its stock position, to the right of the engine, but it was one TIGHT fit for everything underhood for sure.
The other benefit was, replacing the 540° V-belt, spark plugs, distributor cap/points/condenser, and other odds and ends was as easy as with non-A/C-equipped cars.
Another terrific article on a once obscure option that’s now commonplace and standard equipment on nearly all vehicles, even the cheapest. It’s especially interesting not only on one of the first compacts, but the radical, air-cooled Corvair.
It’s been mentioned how integral A/C is to modern automotive HVAC systems and I’ve wondered how much it inhibits old-style ventilation. For those of us old enough to remember, it just seems like, so long as the vehicle was in motion, non-A/C ventilation was a lot better in the old cars (particularly those with vent windows). I guess the exponential increase in stop-and-go commuter traffic over the decades has played a big role here.
Ah, yes – “2-60” air conditioning! Brings to mind the crotch vents on my Vega, which were in the permanently open position from April-October (Georgia, USA). It actually wasn’t bad up to around 90° (but I were a younger man then, too).
Oh how I miss true fresh air ventilation, which was common at least through the late 1960s. In the early 70s the fresh air ducts were merged with the HVAC systems so that ventilation air came in not through their own dedicated openings in the kick panels or thereabouts but through the same vents that heat or ac air came through. The problem is that in non a/c cars the heater core is always putting out heat. Yes, they close a little plastic door to keep it out of fresh air in warm weather, but in actual practice there is so much radiant heat bleeding through the ductwork that the “vent” setting just blows hot air at you. Manufacturers in this way almost require you to get aircon if only to occasionally cool off the ductwork so that the “vent” setting is usable.
I suspect that the abandonment of dedicated, outside, floor air vents can be directly attributable to two things:
1. The downsizing of vehicles meant there wasn’t enough room for those separate, dedicated floor vents. Hell, GM couldn’t even get window regulators into the rear doors of their downsized intermediates for 1978 (at least not at first).
2. More cynically, it was an effort by domestic manufacturers (probably led by GM) to ‘persuade’ buyers to spend the extra cash for A/C. I can see many of the old-school buyers grudgingly acquiescing when they discovered the cars they were buying, on top of no longer having vent windows, didn’t have decent floor air vents, anymore, either.
But, then, in the end, it seems to have worked out okay, with just about all new vehicles, regardless of how low the MSRP, coming standard with reliable, effective A/C.
I vote 2. My memory says that the 1971 GM B/C body cars were their first to make this change and I know the 73+ colonnades were this way too. I can’t remember if our 72 Cutlass (with air) was this way or not.
GM was first with a number of coordinated styling changes that seemed to lead directly to getting rid of decent external ventilation. The main change might have been hidden windshield wipers, which did away with the whole, separate cowl area. Astro-Ventilation that eliminated vent windows wasn’t far behind. That was a big one in that the idea was the vehicle’s occupants would be comfortable with the windows up. Well, they’d be comfortable, all right, so long as the car had A/C…
I think that the older cars with more upright windshields also have a higher pressure zone at the induction cowl, which provides better air pressure & flow to the interior. More aerodynamic cars would have less pressure.
My ’89 Mazda 323 still had what I think was true fresh-air ventilation, even though it shared vents with the factory A/C. The outer vents on the dashboard had levers below them that switched the vents from blowing air from the HVAC unit (at whatever fan speed and heat level was selected with the controls, and air conditioned if the A/C button was pressed), and fresh outside air which would blow at a rate that varied with how fast the car was moving, with no air coming in at all if the car was stopped. The air was the temperature and humidity of outside air and unaffected by any of the HVAC control settings (temperature, fan speed, A/C compressor, recirculate). Air from these vents didn’t feel any warmer than air from the windows being rolled down.
My ’66 Mustang has the Ford hang on unit. Starting in 1967 they integrated it into the dash like everyone else. The hang on unit can get in the way when working under the dash, like when I had to change the heater core which, of course, is a separate system. I converted the AC to R134 a few years ago when I was fixing some leaks. It will freeze you out if you want it to. The good thing about this system is that I still have the original floor vents separate from the AC system. They actually bring fresh air into the cabin, unlike my newer cars.
Back in 1969 when I was stationed in Arizona, I bought a used 1963 Corvair that had air conditioning. As I recall it worked ok and there wasn’t too much drain on the power. Of course it had 75,000 miles on it then so everything was failing. I gave up on it after about 3 months of $100 (probably $1,000 in today’s value) monthly repair bills. I also had a 1973 Pontiac Ventura with A/C. when I tried to get fresh air through the vents, only warm air would come through. I think it was set up for A/C use only.
What a horrible location for an AC condenser in that first Corvair!
In 1970, my folks bought a well-loaded ‘demo’ 70 VW Squareback with automatic, Blaupunkt Frankfurt AM-FM radio and dealer-installed AC. About the only options it didn’t have was a roof-rack or a sun-roof.
Over the more than dozen years we had it, the radio worked great and the automatic never gave any trouble. But the rest of the car was pretty much a lemon, with multiple fuel injection and engine problems. And the AC quit after maybe two years.
There’s a fascinating article, titled “Air Conditioning the Small Car”, in the June 1959 issue of ‘Science and Mechanics’. They tested add-on AC units for the Rambler American, Renault Dauphine, and Volkswagen Beetle. Prices ranged from around $300 to $400, plus up to about $70 for installation.
Most of the systems used full-size York compressors that took at least 7 hp to run and put quite a heavy load on the engines, especially the small engines in the Dauphine and Beetle. However, one of the two systems tested for the Beetle – the Continental Voyager – used a very compact, efficient single-cylinder Bock compressor, that only consumed a max of 1.5 hp, according to the article. All the evaporator-units, except for the Dauphine, were mounted under the dash.
The Dauphine’s evaporator box was mounted in the front of the rear-engine compartment, with the cold-air ducts coming through the rear shelf, like the early US automobile AC units.
I found my original copy of Science and Mechanics at a flea-market many years ago. Don’t know if it’s available today online.
Happy Motoring, Mark
AC in a Corvair? I have never heard of this and was fascinated by this article. Thank you so much! I’ll be expecting another auto AC article shortly.
AC was comparatively rare in the 1960s, only to gain in the 1970s. In fact, I never had a car with AC until I bought the 1976 Dodge Dart Lite in 1983! It kinda worked, at least well enough. That car had an under-dash unit that I think was factory, as the dashboards in those cars were never designed for AC.
Wonderful article and such a wealth of additional info from the CCommenters. And so refreshing to read this with an ice coffee at the end of a sweltering afternoon.
Re: the Corvair’s engine cooling, some used to call (a bit maliciously) air-cooled engines “oil-cooled”. There is some truth to that, especially for rear-engined air-cooled cars.
Great article. When I saw the second picture I had the same thought as Paul – some backyard engineer put the back of a Frigidaire on top of the engine. Very interesting factory design. Jim.
I wonder if the alternator was added in the ’62 due to the higher electrical demand of the AC, or was it a later mod. Most ’62 Corvairs had a generator. I know mine did. So did my ’62 Bel Air.
Thanks Tom, fascinating article! And I agree with Tatra87, great to read so much interesting info in the comments too. I just finished chopping some firewood (it’s mid-winter here In New Zealand) and reading this over a (hot) coffee was fun. Looking forward to the next instalment (and hoping VW Old-Beetle a/c features at some stage!)
Looking forward to more AC information. Maybe some comments from former owners of Renault, SAAB 2-stroke & Austin America Automatics with AC.
All I can think of is long drives across the desert Southwest back in the day with nothing more than a “mister” bottle (or two…). 🙂
Don’t forget the flax water bag hanging off the front bumper =8-) .
Been away and vacation and just found this article. Very interesting addition to the series, especially since a 56 Chevrolet and 65 Corvair with A/C have been for sale locally. Both were rough but did show original components (dash vents and compressor, respectively). The comments on non-AC ventilation were also interesting. My favorite was the underdash vent doors in mid-60s Valiants and Darts, which provided major airflow.