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Vintage Air A/C Conversion for 1st Gen Rivieras


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Ed Raner, Bill Stoneberg and others have expressed interest in the Vintage Air aftermarket A/C conversion I did on my 63 so I wanted to share some of the details. BEWARE – LONG POST. My car had factory air but when I got it nothing worked. I looked into rebuilding the stock system and even bought a few new parts but the more I looked at it the scarier it got. I went to see a full custom Riv with a Vintage air system and really liked the way it cleaned up the junk under the hood so I decided to go for it.

Get the latest Vintage Air catalog and look in the back for their dealer’s list. If you can, buy the system from a local dealer as they can be very helpful. I bought mine from Sachse Hot Rod Shop, not too far from my house. I bought the largest universal kit, the Gen II Super unit with heat and defrost, 61005-VUZ-A. I used the 49200 rotary controls because at the time I planned to hide them. The condenser was the 03263-VUC 14" by 24" horizontal, compressor was a 04808 VUA Sanden SD-508, and I used a trinary safety switch 11076-VUS. These numbers may be different now, I bought the system more than two years ago. All these conversion units are recirculate only, they do not mix outside air like the stock system. This makes them more efficient at cooling than stock. The entire AC, heat and defrost system is built into the under dash unit including electric servomotor controls, no more cables or vacuum lines! The only parts left under the hood are the compressor, condenser, and dryer.

The first step is to strip out the entire stock system plus the radiator and grille. This took me awhile because I wanted to preserve all the old parts. I always planned for the conversion to be as reversible as possible, just in case a later owner may want to go back to stock. You will also need to remove the console, dash pad, lower passenger side dash, passenger seat, and front passenger carpet. With all this stuff out the main unit just squeezes up behind the dash but it fits well and the defroster outlets line up perfectly. I trial installed everything over the grungy existing conditions so I could drill and file as needed, then took it all apart and cleaned / painted the engine compartment. The underhood stuff was fairly easy but the dash unit needed to be trial fit a few times.

The condenser replaces the original but is much thinner and the outlets are located on the end rather than the top. Be sure to trial fit with fittings in place to be sure they will clear the radiator support. I used their universal brackets but had to fabricate one mounting point, get it as close to the radiator as possible. The compressor is much shorter than the A6 but about the same diameter, I was able to use the stock front mount and tubular support with a little filing and some spacer washers and I fabricated a rear bracket. Stock size belts work fine. Because of my reversibility rule I fabricated bolt-on covers for the openings in the dash with galvanized steel and painted them body color. I also used the VA aluminum bulkhead connector 34218-VUQ for the lines and mounted it in one of my patch panels. Remember to caulk everything including unused holes for fume control and cover the inner firewall with new insulation / sound deadener, I used a pad with aluminum on both sides from Sachse. You will also need a good fan shroud correctly located, my original was broken so I bought the repro from CARS plus added some old weatherstripping around the edges to maximize the intake of outside air by the fan. If you are converting a non-AC car you may need to do other updates to the cooling system.

Once all the components are mounted you need to plan your refrigerant and heater hose layout. This is probably the most time consuming part of the job. Start with the refrigerant lines and follow the instructions. You will have to create some holes in the radiator support, a Greenlee electrician’s knockout punch set works wonders. You will quickly find that the fittings included in the universal kit will not be sufficient. This is the first advantage of a local dealer, they let me exchange the duds for the fittings I actually needed. You need to install all the fittings, cut the hoses to fit, and mark them to be sure they stay lined up. Second advantage of a local dealer, they crimped all my fittings at no additional charge. You also need to fit your heater hoses at the same time to be sure it all fits under the dash. You will lose your glove box, it gets very crowded in that area. Buy top quality heater hose as it will be very hard to get at once you reassemble the dash.

After all the hoses are in you will do the wiring. You have a main feed with circuit breaker from the starter relay, an ignition-on tap into the fuse box, and a single wire to the compressor, all the rest is new harnesses including relays with easy to follow instructions. At this point the system is ready to charge, third advantage of a local dealer / installer. I had them charge the system and leak check it, they said this type of unit charges differently than most OEM and they had the experience of having done many installs. Its best to have this done before you button up the dash so they can access everything in case there are leaks.

After the system is charged and working its time to reassemble everything. I reused all the OEM air outlets, the two outboard ones were connected by just pushing the new duct hose inside the OEM hose. For the center vent I bought a VA outlet 63016-VUL and removed the rear hose adapters, which I attached to the back of the OEM outlet with silicone. These were the most difficult to attach because the ducts had to snake around a number of obstacles but it does work. The biggest problem I had was with the control panel. My original idea of hiding the rotary controls behind the ashtray door did not work and I agonized over cutting the console panel to the point that I drove the car for almost a year with wires hanging out and no console. I finally bit the bullet and switched over to the diecast aluminum slide lever control panel 49110SHQ. This is a much nicer setup that is backlit and looks fairly stock. I did have to cut the diecast panel on my 63 but on 64 and 65 this unit could drop into the existing control location with much less disruption. Once I made this decision I was able to finish everything. The unit has operated trouble-free for two years and cools the car very well in our Texas heat. The blower sound at low speed is a little noisier than stock but not objectionable. The heat and defrost work well and you can blend in a little AC for dehumidification.

Well, that’s the story, sorry for the very long post. If anyone would like some photos of the install send me a PM with your direct e-mail.

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Don,

Thank you for the great post! I was thinking about keeping my A6 and using the Vintage Air set up for the rest of the system. I'll keep my ear to the ground for anyone interested in your Riv, sure looks like a nice car!

Tim

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Don,

Thanks for the great post. I'm going to start looking around for some local dealers and talk to them. Your post may be the jump start I need to get on with this project.

Ed

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Tim,

Get ahold of a VA catalog, as I recall their opinion of the A6 was not too good. Essentially too large and overkill for use in a modern system I think, but check with them. Not much response to my ads but I'm probably picking the worst time to sell with the economy in the dumper. Thanks for the kind words.

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Bill,

You might check with Old Air Products and look at the kit they sell that replaces the Suction Throttle Valve. It reconfigures your system to use the compressor shutting on and off to regulate temperature such as modern systmes do. I know two guys who have done this and are very happy with their systems now. Looks authentic except for a couple of wires and a relay.

Ed

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Don,

VA usually has a presence at Back to the 50's up here on the frozen Tundra, that'll be in a couple weeks. I like the A6 because I understand it and can fix it, but you're right,it's huge, sucks up horsepower and has much more capacity than the updated AC systems need. Don't sweat selling the Riv too much, we'll get use to $4 gas and the economy will turn around!

Take Care,

Tim

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 4 years later...

Back from the dead as my evaporator has a leak and won't hold gas.. I have checked the catalog and all the parts Don listed above are still available and reasonably priced. One more trip to South Bend with the old engine and AC and then out it all comes. I have a rebuilt 401 and will put in a Vintage Air.

Don. Thanks for documenting this.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Bill S just brought his 64 to my shop today to have me replace the factory AC unit. Thanks to Don for the emailed pics. I can post a blow by blow account of a straight replacement if desired. I have approximately three weeks before I head up to St Paul Mn to be a truck driver / mechanic for a '30 Buick Speedster in the Great Race, and Bill wants to drive the Riv to SB.

Actually, I may do it anyway since Bill is paying me and he needs to see how much work it is :)

Edited by buick5563
Prove that English is my primary language (see edit history)
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I can post a blow by blow account of a straight replacement if desired. I have approximately three weeks before I head up to St Paul Mn to be a truck driver / mechanic for a '30 Buick Speedster in the Great Race

Please, please, please as James Brown would say. I know that I would be extremely grateful; I'm sure others would be too. The Great Race sounds like a ball as well. '30 Buick Speedster? 8 in a row makes it go? I'd like to see pictures of that as well.

Ed

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Yes, I could not wait as I really didn't want to drive 2500 miles with No A/C or Minimal A/C

Just so you know parts for this operation are coming in at around the 2K mark. I am going with newer technology for the hoses

as opposed to bead lock and that adds some but the hoses are half the size and can be crimped in Mike's Garage.

Ed, if you would like a list with prices, let me know.

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Don,

Were you running an auxiliary cooling fan? The reason I am asking is that it was my understanding that you use a binary pressure switch if using a stock fan setup.

Just wanted to verify before Bill purchases parts.

Yes, I realize we will still need to order pieces we forgot about :)

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Worked for maybe six hours today until it got too hot and I wanted a beer.

One advantage that I could see on one of those "Restoration shows" is that they just cut everything out. The Restoration guy in me wouldn't let me do that, so Bill might be able to hook y'all up with some decent parts.

I'm just removing all of the old parts of the AC system. Like Don said, you have to pull the passenger seat and console. The dash pad took longer to do, because Bill has the Autronic eye. Oops, Twilight Sentinal and the plug under the glove box didn't want to come loose.

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Radiator, compressor and condenser come out.

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A long 1/4" extension with a swivel head 3/8" socket is your friend here.

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The worst part about this job is that the car is basically untouched since 1964.

Grunge abounds!

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Ok.

Trying to salvage everything and following TexRiv's post takes nine hours.

Your pile o' parts looks about like this:

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And the engine compartment looks like this:

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Bill is going to San Antonio tomorrow to pick up the big parts tomorrow.

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Don,

Were you running an auxiliary cooling fan? The reason I am asking is that it was my understanding that you use a binary pressure switch if using a stock fan setup.

Just wanted to verify before Bill purchases parts.

Yes, I realize we will still need to order pieces we forgot about :)

Sorry for the delay, I just caught up with your posts. Per advice from the dealer I bought the system from, I used the stock clutch fan with factory shroud, no auxiliary fan, and a 180 degree thermostat. My radiator had been rebuilt before I got the car but was stock. I did add some weatherstripping between the radiator and shroud to insure a good seal. Be sure to keep the fuel return line in operation. Never had any overheating problems. I'll follow your progress, good luck.

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Bill brought a bunch of boxes by earlier today. We will need to procure the proper hose ends later after the fabrication starts. Not a terrible idea, since I have installed a bunch of underdash AC units and I always need one different end and always have three or four left over that I didn't use.

Today I made two metal panels to cover all of the holes in the firewall. Since the heater core hole has a lip around it, the patch panel goes on the inside. The picture below is of the engine side to cover the other holes.

I will paint it black before installing it, since I am not doing the engine compartment restoration at this time. Just keeping it (oh, let's just say) original.

Patch Panel:

null_zps8caadc4b.jpg

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I'm pretty sure I have some hose ends left over from my Vintage Air install. Bill's a buddy of mine from his Houston day's and I'd be glad to help out. I'll try to shoot a picture of what I have and post tonight.

Rgeards,

Rick Rawls

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Thanks for the offer Rick, Its good to hear from you again.

I decided to go with the EZ Clip system as the hoses are smaller and as Mike said, you can crimp them at home.

After some reading it looks like good system that has been around for a while.

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Back from the dead as my evaporator has a leak and won't hold gas.. I have checked the catalog and all the parts Don listed above are still available and reasonably priced. One more trip to South Bend with the old engine and AC and then out it all comes. I have a rebuilt 401 and will put in a Vintage Air.

Don. Thanks for documenting this.

I am curious why you didn't repair and upgrade (hoses, compressor, 134) the stock system. My 63 did not come with air and I am on the fence about Vintage Air or finding a complete stock system. I like the stock controls on the 63, sort of Jetson-y ;)

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Do you like the stock controls on the '63 because of the looks or because of the headaches of trying to find and swap out levers after they break? :) Installation of an aftermarket unit is much simpler and they're better systems than the old suction valve systems. The compressors take less horsepower and they're much easier to work on because everything is in one unit. If you like the looks of the OE '63 controls, leave them there and hide the aftermarket controller - good use for that non used ashtray slot. You'll even have the lid to hide the controller.

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Do you like the stock controls on the '63 because of the looks or because of the headaches of trying to find and swap out levers after they break? :) Installation of an aftermarket unit is much simpler and they're better systems than the old suction valve systems. The compressors take less horsepower and they're much easier to work on because everything is in one unit. If you like the looks of the OE '63 controls, leave them there and hide the aftermarket controller - good use for that non used ashtray slot. You'll even have the lid to hide the controller.

I do like the look, mine have not broken....yet. I guess the controls ( for appearance ) and the stock vents are the only reason I was considering stock. I can install some stock or stock appearing vents. The ashtray idea is simple and was my intended solution. Thanks for your response.

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You can use your existing stock vents with the aftermarket installation. The interior will look stock, just your engine compartment will be so much less cluttered.

Ed

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Cool57. Its not for lack of trying. I have literally spent thousands of dollars trying to fix the old unit. New compressor, new condenser and 30 lbs of freon just to start with. Rebuilt STV valve and then a STV valve replacement. But when I was told that my evaporator was leaking and I would have to pull all that out, I said enough. Plus this way I get a heater too which is something that has been bypassed.

Ed's comments are also true. As I pulled things out the engine compartment is a lot cleaner looking. Not clean but less cluttered.

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Here's a picture that Don Rundgren - the originator of this post waaaaay back when - sent me of his engine compartment after his installation was complete. The cosmetics were not fully completed but the installation was. What a difference.

post-50017-143141914321_thumb.jpg

Especially on a '63, not so much a '64 or '65, where the switches, vacuum ports, etc. are all in that little flimsy plastic box that sits on the inner fender.

Ed

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Fit my firewall patch panel today. First I made sure it would clear everything and look good. Then I measured for the bulkhead fitting and drilled the holes for that:

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Then I painted it black and installed the "manifold". It's hard to see since the bulkhead is black also:

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Cool57. Its not for lack of trying. I have literally spent thousands of dollars trying to fix the old unit. New compressor, new condenser and 30 lbs of freon just to start with. Rebuilt STV valve and then a STV valve replacement. But when I was told that my evaporator was leaking and I would have to pull all that out, I said enough. Plus this way I get a heater too which is something that has been bypassed.

Ed's comments are also true. As I pulled things out the engine compartment is a lot cleaner looking. Not clean but less cluttered.

This is why I decided to convert my 63. I reused all the stock AC outlets and left the original controls in place but not connected. I was originally going to hide the AC controls in the ashtray but wound up putting temp and oil pressure gauges in there, so I did cut the console trim for a VA controller, that shouldn't be necessary in a 64 or 65. Here are some pics of my car in finished shape.

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I always planned for the conversion to be as reversible as possible, just in case a later owner may want to go back to stock.

Lemme put it this way.

It wouldn't be easy!!!

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Started fitting parts on. OEM bracket should work, like Don said. A little filing and an extra washer or two.Man, the evaporator only goes in one way (kind of a twisting install) and its tight!

null_zps49ba827b.jpg

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You can use your existing stock vents with the aftermarket installation. The interior will look stock, just your engine compartment will be so much less cluttered.

Ed

I have no AC vents, my car came from the factory without air. I will try to find some stock ones to install.

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If that's the case, then see what options the manufacturer has to offer. From what I've seen, they have quite a selection of vents - some pretty close to what you'd find stock.

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Started fitting parts on. OEM bracket should work, like Don said. A little filing and an extra washer or two.Man, the evaporator only goes in one way (kind of a twisting install) and its tight!

When I was first fitting the in-car unit I had left the carpet in - It wouldn't clear until I removed it!

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Yeah, I had to doublecheck the number you gave me!

Got that installed today. Your ears should be burning in a good way :)

I was singing your praises to Mr. Stoneberg.

He should post later with some cool pics about the center dash vents. I thought you were both crazy for ordering the extra vent from VA, but holy S...! It's gonna be perfect.

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Yes, It will be perfect.

So folks what has happened today. Mike is rather terse in his comments.

I went over to his shop today and cleaned some of the grunge out of the empty areas. No more muffler, or vacuum ball or anything else relating to A/C.

While I was doing this Mike was hanging the evaporator under the dash. Once it was hung we started talking about the vents. We knew we wanted to use the 2 outboard vents and according to Don we could do this.

Also ordered and I followed suit in orders a set of vents. No idea what for but follow our line of reasoning here.

Here is the original center vent and the ducting goes along with it. Big rectangular duct that fits well with the factory system. Doesn't do well with the Vintage Air system. Vintage air uses nice round ducting

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So we looked and tried various ways of shoving the ducting in and never liked the results. Then we went to look at the duct we ordered.

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Sorry but this is ugly. Plastic versus metal Old versus new. We knew though that Don had us ordering for a reason so we started investigating a pretty soon we had it apart.

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Maybe can shove this in the square ducting maybe we can use this another way ??? Finally it hit us....

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The vents ill fit right on the groove on the back of the metal vent. A little grinding off of the chrome and it will work Plus they both have Louvers that can be pointed at the driver or passenger as opposed to straight back

post-30710-14314191827_thumb.jpg

Looks like to was made for the car and with some more tinkering we found that the vents will drop right in the hole and lock in place with the locking tabs. The the metal vent will go right over the top of it.

Once all of it is in, it will look like factory and nobody will ever know. The vent tubing connects and we dont have to use the big rectangular piece of plastic.

post-30710-143141918294_thumb.jpg

Once we have it all back together, we will post more pictures but I hope you see how its working.

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