(first posted 7/6/2017, updated 7/6/2023) As readers of my three-part Cold Comfort series on factory air conditioning know, I have a preternatural obsession with automotive air conditioning. The response to those posts was so positive, I’ve decided to turn Cold Comfort into a recurring series, featuring interesting or rare 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 a cost of some $350 (about $3,500 today), or about 16% of the total cost of a new Monza coupe.
In addition to the factory system, a dealer-installed “hang on” unit was also available. The featured car has the factory De Luxe system, although the compressor is clearly not 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 in addition to cooling the engine.
Inside, there is a surprisingly well integrated (but alas not color-matched) panel that combines the controls, two “eyeball” vents, and a “barrel” vent in a single compact unit. Note that the A/C panel is an add-on to the radio panel, which itself is an add-on to the dashboard, so I guess that makes the A/C panel an add-on to an add-on. The evaporator is mounted to the firewall above the passenger footwell, like most modern cars.
Chevrolet didn’t go out of their way to promote the air conditioning option 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. A/C was available on any two- or four-door model, so long as you opted for 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, the 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.