Installing Vintage Air In Project Gift Horse

Ever since inventors started enclosing open carriages, getting air to circulate inside the passenger compartment was a necessity. Clever types searched out various ways to keep the passengers comfortable, but most focused on speeding up the evaporation of sweat — they didn’t cool the seating area. Pop-out windshields and cowl vents brought fresh air in from the front of the car, then vent windows came along to bring in additional outside air. But, if it was raining or hot outside, the passengers got hot and wet as well.

Modern touches make our vintage rides so much more enjoyable. Thanks to Vintage Air, Aubrey will be just as cool as he looks while driving Project Gift Horse.

In 1921, the Knapp Limo-Sedan fan came along, which moved air with the windows up. The introduction of the world’s first car cooler wasn’t until 1930. (Some in the South call it a “swamp cooler”). This was the first piece of equipment that cooled the air coming into the passenger compartment. It was essentially a can filled with ice that hung on the window. As you drove down the road, cooler air flowed into the car as it rushed over the top of the ice. It also raised the humidity, so you can see why southerners gave it the moniker “swamp cooler.” In an already humid environment, you are going to get even wetter.

The Gen IV SureFit is a compact unit that features all the modern touches such as electronic blender doors and heat, as well as air conditioning. That will come in handy on those chilly nights.

Willis Carrier invented air-conditioning for buildings in 1902. Packard was the first to offer the pricey option for autos in 1939. But, being located in the trunk, it required someone to manually remove a belt to turn it on or off. It wasn’t until 1953 when automotive manufacturers had a true offering.

We had several options when choosing the A/C vents for our '56. The round vents go with the design of the dash and we used the rectangle units in the console. The Gen IV system comes with the necessary flexible ducting to route the invigorating air to where it does the most good.

Today, it is possible to put air-conditioning in just about any car. Thanks to specialized companies like Vintage Air designing systems for the classic car industry, we can retrofit our old cars with well-designed, compact systems that fit in places A/C was never designed to go. Vintage Air virtually created the aftermarket A/C industry when the founder, Jack Chisenhall, decided to start making units for street rods. It continues to be the leader in the industry and is constantly innovating new products.

The SureFit System

Aubrey King, the owner of Project Gift Horse, researched different offerings on the market and decided on Vintage Air’s Gen IV SureFit to install in his ’56 Chevy. “I wanted to use Vintage Air because they offer a SureFit system specifically for Tri-Five applications,” Aubrey says. “It is a great advantage to be able to take a system out of the box and bolt it in!  I also have a Vintage Air system in my Buick, and have had an excellent experience with it.”

Both the heating and A/C lines run through the firewall and are sealed with this plate. The system comes with a coolant shut-off switch to prevent hot coolant from entering the cabin. This helps the A/C work more efficiently, as the engine's heat is kept out under the hood when not wanted.

Tri-Five Chevys have always been popular and Vintage Air has had an option for them almost since the beginning. The Gen IV SureFit has all the bells and whistles and is the company’s most powerful and intelligent climate control system, using fully-electronic microprocessors to eliminate cables or vacuum connections. With separate high-capacity, copper, parallel-flow heat coils and aluminum plate-and fin-cooling coils, the Gen IV provides outstanding performance and instant temperature adjustments. The unit has a variable-speed blower and allows the driver to blend the air output to the dash, floor, or defrost.

The kit that Aubrey purchased includes the evaporator unit, mounting brackets, duct hoses, wiring harness, patented electronic cable-converter hardware, and installation instructions. In addition to the basics, Aubrey opted for a chrome drier (P/N: 07310-VUQ), ⅜ x ⅜ O-ring adapter (P/N: 34098-VUG), and chrome ball-louver vents (P/N: 49153-VUL) to upgrade the fit and finish in the engine bay as well as the interior.

We used the LS3’s heater hose connectors, but since we couldn’t find a line with a bell at the end, we used this reducer to drop the line from 3/4-inch to 5/8-inch.

Mike Hoover of FabAuto also instructed Aubrey to purchase a female trinary switch, which he plumbed-in close to the evaporator in the interior. A trinary switch is a Hi/low safety switch. As you are driving down the road, it will turn the fan off when not needed. Mike moved it under the dash, so extra wires weren’t cluttering the engine bay. A trinary switch normally goes on the high-pressure side of the system, ensuring the fan(s) kick on if the system’s pressure rises beyond peak operating level. Moving to under the dash just cleans up the look.

 Let The Install Begin

Mike took inventory of everything before he began, making sure everything was on-hand for the upgrade. The one thing Aubrey left off the order was the hoses. That was intentional, as Mike plans to custom-fit the hoses for a cleaner look in the engine bay.

Mike formed his own lines to the firewall for a clean fit. The FSR Radiator cooling pack already had lines fitted, so Mike just needed to connect them to the system.

Mike’s first step was to figure out how high he could mount the evaporator on the firewall. Once he had it roughed into place, he was able to mount the bracket. The evaporator kit includes the evaporator unit and mounting brackets, louvers (where required), duct hose, wiring harness, Vintage Air’s Electronic Cable Converter, hardware, and installation instructions.

As mentioned, the Vintage Air Gen IV A/C features Fly-By-Wire, fully-electronic servo motor controls. This means there are no cables or capillary tube to route. As an added bonus, it also affords infinite temperature air-blending and blower fan-speed adjustability. The Electronic Cable Converter allows you to use your factory controls and still enjoy all the comforting modes of modern air-conditioning. The system also comes with a replacement, molded glove-box, formed with a reduced capacity to allow the A/C to occupy area under the dash.

Completely Cooled

The key to any properly working A/C system is having all the necessary components working together. The principles of air conditioning work on natural physics. But, getting them to happen inside of an enclosed automobile is an unnatural occurrence. Our bodies react to the absence of heat. There is no such thing as “cool”. An air conditioning system removes the hot air from inside the cabin of the vehicle and moves it to the condenser under the hood. From there, the hot air passes through the condenser and radiator, thus lowering its temperature.

The FSR Radiator system is a custom-built all-aluminum cooling package featuring SPAL's high-tech, variable-speed fans, radiator, condenser, and the necessary pre-bent lines.

To allow for that heat transfer to happen, you need air moving at all the necessary areas. That includes the evaporator coils and the condenser/radiator. One absorbs the heat (inside) and the other expels heat (outside). The Vintage Air system has the necessary fan to keep air moving inside the vehicle. But, under the hood, you’ll need to make sure the radiator and fans are up to the task as well. We used a complete cooling system that included a new condenser, radiator and aluminum support structure from FSR Radiators and features dual electric cooling fans.

Mike Hoover added a port for the Trinary switch next to the Vintage Air Gen IV. This puts all the necessary wiring under the dash for a clean install.

All new cars and many vintage cars now use electric cooling fans. They don’t draw power from the engine and they can be turned on only when necessary. In the case of a car’s A/C, the fan may come on because your A/C needs it. Even if your engine isn’t up to operating temperature. The trinary switch is a secondary, switching circuit, telling the fan(s) to turn on or off for the air conditioning. The trinary switch only comes into play when the A/C is operating, though. So, you’ll also need to retain the control circuit for the engine’s cooling needs as well.

We originally used Dakota Digital's DCC 2400/2500 controller to operate our Vintage Air system. But, when we saw the new DCC 4000 controller, we knew the upgrade would make a world of difference! The Dakota Digital DCC 4000 controller is a versatile unit that allows for horizontal or vertical installation. It also works with HTX and RDX controls and, it allows for dimming and color-coordinating of the display! A very trick unit! It was truly a plug-and-play upgrade.

It took a while for true air conditioning to find its way into our autos. But, today’s advanced and versatile units such as the Vintage Air SureFit system make it easy to BE as cool as we LOOK, while we’re enjoying our rides this summer! As Project Gift Horse winds down, we’ve got just a few more items to cross off of our list. We’ll keep you updated on the progress and once everything gets back to normal, we’ll see you out on the show field!

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About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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