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Aftermarket Air Conditioning for my 1960 LeSabre


TexRiv_63
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After the horribly hot summer we have had here in DFW I have a new topic for this car - AIR CONDITIONING ADDITION!! My LeSabre does not have factory air which was still a pretty rare option in 1960. Even if I could find any of the factory air parts I really do not want to tear up the car to the extent necessary to install them. What I am thinking about is a center mounted under-dash unit similar in appearance to add-on units of the period but with all new technology and under-hood hardware. I would love to hear from anyone who has done this actual conversion on a 1960 Buick, but also anyone who has done it on a similar period full size car.  Some of my questions:

  • System supplier recommendations and reviews
  • Availability of car-specific underhood items like brackets, pulleys, etc.
  • Suggestions to bring my non-a/c cooling system up to the task.
  • How effective is the cooling from this type of unit in a car with acres of glass like mine?

TIA for any and all comments.

044.JPG

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(Relocate the tissue dispenser . . .)

 

The compressor mounting kit was termed "Mount and Drive Kit", which had everything to mount the compressor to the engine.  The Sanden compressor has a multitude of "backs", where the freon lines attach.  ONE of which is a "GM back" which accepts middle-1970s-style GM hose hookup fitting.  Rather than the "bugs antennae" that you normallhy see on a Sandenj.  Then there's the aluminum Denso compressor which is identical (other than the front clutch cover) to the GM A-6 in mounting and dimensions.  Your judgement call.

 

Ford's "Factory Air" units until the 1965 full-size cars were "hang-down air".  So those might offer some alternatives and probably provide some OEM Repro "inside items" to use (but with a Ford crest on them) which look quite nice.

 

Underhood items, as the condenser, will need to be "mass flow" rather than the OEM "serpentine", for best results, as I understand it.  Which means "universal look" for a particular height and width (bigger is better).  So some satin black paint might be needed.  There are a few DIY kits for tubing, plumbing, and condensers.  PM me for details.  Even if you might purchase a kit from a noted vendor, I highly suspect the final plumbing operations and routing will be up to the installer.  NOT to forget the receiver/drier and such, too.

 

Other than looks, I mention the Ford OEM items as they should have been designed for vehicles of similar inside volumes, but with a bit less glass, which would mean their sizing might be more appropriate than a similar item from a "universal fit" vendor.  BTAIM

 

Higher-capacity alternators should be available, too, from serveral sources.  Might need to also upgrade to a quality electronic voltage regulator, too, for good measure.

 

Welded-together aluminum radiators seem to be the "hot ticket" these days, rather than up-sized copper radiators with leaded joints.  IF you can find a GM OEM radiator of similar dimensions, so much the better!

 

Just some "in general" thoughts,

NTX5467

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Those old hang-on units were full recirc units. Once they cooled the air in the car, they kept cooling and dehumidfying the same air over and over, to point it was DRY air along with COLD air.🥶

 

My folks had a 65 Impala with a Sears hang-on unit. Maybe not quite as much glass as a 1960 GM car, and white with turquoise interior, but that thing would freeze you out of there. 

 

The big issues I see are: finding bracketry to mount the compressor on a Nailhead, and finding a generator with the output to run A/C. I suspect you might be able to solve both problems by finding a 1962-66 Buick parts car with factory A/C and an alternator. Salvage what you need, change charging system to alternator, and use it to adapt an underdash hang-on unit. Yes, you'll have to make holes in the firewall for refrigerant lines.

 

Now, if you could find a 60s-vintage unit with a good evaporator, you'd have the proper "look". Hoses and metering valves are a minor problem.

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We had a '61 BelAir 4dr sedan, into which a hang-down unit was installed.  It did work well, but when the evaporator would freeze up, when it started to thaw out, we could aim the air outlets such that those in the back seat felt the cold water, hehe.  Like when we went to the AstroDome in 1965, in humid Houston.  It was a fine line keeping the temp/cycling control set for "cold" and to not freeze up, though, plus getting it to unfreeze . . . all at the same time.  THEN, in late 1966, we got our first factory a/c car and never looked back.

 

Enjoy!

NTX5467

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There are portable Lithium battery powered air conditioners that can provide up to 5 hours per charge. It looks like under $1500 is  the price range.

 

With one of those units one could make a big cup holder arrangement for mounting and end up pretty happy. I sure wouldn't exclude the option without checking it thoroughly.

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1 hour ago, 60FlatTop said:

There are portable Lithium battery powered air conditioners that can provide up to 5 hours per charge. It looks like under $1500 is  the price range.

 

With one of those units one could make a big cup holder arrangement for mounting and end up pretty happy. I sure wouldn't exclude the option without checking it thoroughly.

Thanks, never heard of this. Are these self contained units?

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17 hours ago, NTX5467 said:

We had a '61 BelAir 4dr sedan, into which a hang-down unit was installed.  It did work well, but when the evaporator would freeze up, when it started to thaw out, we could aim the air outlets such that those in the back seat felt the cold water, hehe.  Like when we went to the AstroDome in 1965, in humid Houston.  It was a fine line keeping the temp/cycling control set for "cold" and to not freeze up, though, plus getting it to unfreeze . . . all at the same time.  THEN, in late 1966, we got our first factory a/c car and never looked back.

 

Enjoy!

NTX5467

My Dad installed a Mark IV unit on our '60 Ford with exactly the same results! Living up north, I did not own a factory air conditioned car until the early 80s, a '73 Olds 88.

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I looked at this one on Amazon. It was interesting.

https://www.amazon.com/Portable-Conditioners-100-240V-ACLithium-Conditioner/dp/B0B2N1KF5L?source=ps-sl-shoppingads-lpcontext&ref_=fplfs&smid=A3CX269BJ939SM&th=1

 

shopping?q=tbn:ANd9GcQxnJC5flai1XCaQcKFy

 

The modified 1948 Chrysler Saratoga I recently acquired has an interesting add-on unit I may get some pictures of this afternoon. I was looking into options for that car and the portale may be the best way to go.

 

I am planning to replace the headliner on that Chrysler and was considering installing cant rail ducts for AC at that time. Something you might also think about. The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows use cant rail discharge. On your '60 Buick you could go that way and only invade the headliner area and use a more traditional unit.

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)
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Good comments. I should mention that this would not be my first rodeo with A/C conversions. I put a complete Vintage Air system in my 63 factory air Riviera back in 2008 and more recently did a full underhood conversion on my 66 Monaco wagon:

The thing I have no experience with is converting a car without factory air. Brackets and pulleys are going to be problem and I didn't even think about the need for an alternator! Doing some research now on basic component availability.

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There are some "looks like a generator" alternators on the market now, but it would be easy enough to add a later model year alternator (seems like '62 was the first GM alternator?) with salvage yard items, IF there are any salvage yards with that stuff any more, reasonably close to us.  Bud's in OK might be an option?  That was a tour locale for the OK meet we hosted a few years ago.  They ship, but I think I'd want to see the stuff, for good measure.

 

Of course, there WERE factory a/c cars pre-alternator, but I suspect an alternator wouild be better for the low-rpm charaging characteristics.  Key thing is the output amperage for either "generator" device.  Interesting that GM still terms "alternators" as "Generator" in the parts book . . . as they both generate electricity, I suspect.

 

Enjoy!

NTX5467

Edited by NTX5467 (see edit history)
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I got a couple of pictures of my novel add-on AC. It's a little spooky but the logic is there and I may restore it. If anyone knows the origin of this system I would like to know all I can. Excuse the car. It is a 1948 Chrysler Saratoga and the straight 8 was replaced with a SBC sometime in the last century.

The Chrysler has twin heaters and it appears cabin air is drawn through the right heater/defroster via the closed cell wrapped duct to an evaporator. Then discharged through 4" ducts to the openings in the cowl to the air intake under the cowl vent. On my version flex ducts discharge through the former radio and clock openings, no time or tunes anymore. This is the reason for the cant rail ducting I mentioned. Check out the compressor brackets!  It has its own Rube Goldberg kind of charm though and food for thought for one who really wants AC. Think about what they did. There are some interesting ideas.

Anyone know a brand name?

n. IMG_0958.JPG.777d3a68e3f839e863ea33f8891a7a8b.JPGIMG_0955.JPG.8c8fc319243908913f166db11a62c0e0.JPG

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)
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The Chrysler is sitting next to my non-air 1960 Electra. This morning I took a look at the Buick imagining a similar reversible installation.

 

My first choice would be the battery powered portable unit. We have been using "spot coolers" in machine shop and computer areas for decades. Even though heat is rejected locally the cool discharge has met the demands. Inside a hot car in Texas some airflow through the car might be needed.

 

To duplicate what I would call a "side stream" cooling system like the Chrysler in the Buick, there appears to be plenty of space for an evaporator box ahead of the existing heater firewall plate. You could use the existing heater ducts and probably have a good system.

 

A third option might be a trunk mounted evaporator and package tray distribution system. The option of headliner vents in the cant rail could make that the best option.

 

My present inclination is to keep my Chrysler keeping appearance original and restoring the previous modifications. I know the shortcomings of those cars and all the modifications were ones I would have approved of and done myself rather than deal with Chrysler's oddities.  Right down to the crossover pipe and single exhaust with a quiet muffler.

 

My quest on the AC was if this adaptation was a marketed package unit. I recognize the parts but did some company assemble them as a kit of some sort, I have never seen anything like it. The AC is a low priority but I am intrigued. I will open the evaporation box and trace the controls to see what is there. Maybe someone admitted to making the box and put a tag on it.

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21 hours ago, 60FlatTop said:

I looked at this one on Amazon. It was interesting.

https://www.amazon.com/Portable-Conditioners-100-240V-ACLithium-Conditioner/dp/B0B2N1KF5L?source=ps-sl-shoppingads-lpcontext&ref_=fplfs&smid=A3CX269BJ939SM&th=1

 

shopping?q=tbn:ANd9GcQxnJC5flai1XCaQcKFy

 

The modified 1948 Chrysler Saratoga I recently acquired has an interesting add-on unit I may get some pictures of this afternoon. I was looking into options for that car and the portale may be the best way to go.

 

I am planning to replace the headliner on that Chrysler and was considering installing cant rail ducts for AC at that time. Something you might also think about. The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows use cant rail discharge. On your '60 Buick you could go that way and only invade the headliner area and use a more traditional unit.

I'm curious where the condensed water drains from/to. You could probably get away with one half that size. That one looks about the size of a "boom-box" from the 80's. 

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19 hours ago, 60FlatTop said:

I got a couple of pictures of my novel add-on AC. It's a little spooky but the logic is there and I may restore it. If anyone knows the origin of this system I would like to know all I can. Excuse the car. It is a 1948 Chrysler Saratoga and the straight 8 was replaced with a SBC sometime in the last century.

The Chrysler has twin heaters and it appears cabin air is drawn through the right heater/defroster via the closed cell wrapped duct to an evaporator. Then discharged through 4" ducts to the openings in the cowl to the air intake under the cowl vent. On my version flex ducts discharge through the former radio and clock openings, no time or tunes anymore. This is the reason for the cant rail ducting I mentioned. Check out the compressor brackets!  It has its own Rube Goldberg kind of charm though and food for thought for one who really wants AC. Think about what they did. There are some interesting ideas.

Anyone know a brand name?

n. IMG_0958.JPG.777d3a68e3f839e863ea33f8891a7a8b.JPGIMG_0955.JPG.8c8fc319243908913f166db11a62c0e0.JPG

That is pretty amazing. Not sure but I would guess that is all homemade.

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Thanks for all the response. Is there anyone on here with a '60 who has already done this? Send me a PM if you don't want to post.

 

I did a little research yesterday, looked at Vintage Air and Old Air. Both offer what appears to be the same or very similar underdash units, one that looks like the old Mark IV plus two four-outlet units in different finishes. Old Air has the one with the angled outboard vents, looks like that may provide better circulation but not sure. They also offer underhood kits with compressor, condenser, hoses, etc. I doubt I will use a kit but rather design my system and buy individual components to make it up. 

60264734-fc5d-4e88-bbf0-0c789f5ac9de.jpg

d13837ca-81f3-4e3c-ac56-90ee02156836.jpg

e48d17b0-1ecf-48ec-a77e-524b5910c85a.jpg

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4 hours ago, MRJBUICK said:

for all the above 

Please be aware that the pedal start system on the B60 works through the generator for some grounding 

so you may have to do away with the pedal start when changing to an alternator

Marty

There ARE ways around that. Easier to just go to a push button, so I did.

 

  Ben

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An AC clutch draws a nominal 4 amps. Your generator should be a 35 Amp unit. Do a little testing of the system now. You could put a test ammeter in, check it at idle with no load, turn on the lights a pair would draw 8-10 amps. Vary the loads while monitoring the generator temperature with an infrared thermometer, and decide where you stand before modifying for a problem that may not exist.

 

I rarely drive my cars at night so I have an extra 8 amps right there. I would feel comfortable adding the load of the clutch.

 

You may find just adding a cooling duct like an AC generator would cool the unit enough.  I like to avoid changes that affect systems.

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)
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On 9/12/2022 at 11:07 PM, NTX5467 said:

What are the evap core sizes??  Something I'd be concerned about finding out, all things considered.

 

There might be some information and pictures in "Working on the 1960 Electra" thread by our late friend Bill Stoneberg?

 

NTX5467

I was following Bill's posts but he was doing a total behind-the-dash VA replacement on a factory air car. All of the challenges he faced is what led me to a much simpler underdash install. 

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On 9/13/2022 at 7:19 AM, 60FlatTop said:

An AC clutch draws a nominal 4 amps. Your generator should be a 35 Amp unit. Do a little testing of the system now. You could put a test ammeter in, check it at idle with no load, turn on the lights a pair would draw 8-10 amps. Vary the loads while monitoring the generator temperature with an infrared thermometer, and decide where you stand before modifying for a problem that may not exist.

 

I rarely drive my cars at night so I have an extra 8 amps right there. I would feel comfortable adding the load of the clutch.

 

You may find just adding a cooling duct like an AC generator would cool the unit enough.  I like to avoid changes that affect systems.

Thanks. Does anyone have a picture of that type AC generator with the duct?

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2 hours ago, TexRiv_63 said:

Does anyone have a picture of that type AC generator with the duct?

Google search is about as useful as Ebay parts compatibility. I couldn't find a '50's generator with ducted cooling. I remember working on at least one.

 

The ducts for BMW alternator cooling are quite common. I am sure one of those could be fitted. On a generator you would direct air through the commutator and brush area. My BMW had a liquid cooled alternator so it was at oil system temperature, high, but a transfer medium. An air duct would work fine. Quite a few out there.

 

Another opportunity to get some temperature readings.

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On 9/15/2022 at 6:42 PM, Ben Bruce aka First Born said:

I suppose!   I was never cool so I didn't lose anything.  LOL

Well, I guess some thought I was cool back when this song was popular.

 

 

Kind of goes right along with this one. Another favorite.

 

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One of our late members had a '58 Super that he resurrected, which was a factory air car.  It had the cooling duct for the generator, too, still on it.  So that's ONE application, so there must be others like it.

 

In the later '80s "Pre-NorthStar" era, Chevy built a DOHC V-6 on the 2.8L 60-degree V-6 architecture.  3.5L?  It was used in Monte Carlos and similar Oldsmobiles.  It had a rear duct on its alternator.  From the sound of it, from a customer who called one day, that duct not being there meant a new alternator every year!  On that car, the alternator was mounted way down low, so the duct was needed.

 

Just some thoughts,

NTX5467

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Those yellow cad hose clamps look a lot like Kindorf clamps.

 

Back to add on AC. I got a picture of my evaporator box for the '48 Chrysler Saratoga I recently brought home . It looks manufactured but I have not removed it yet.

449423506_IMG_0966(1).JPG.e2bcf91080553fecf67d5aa914dd75f5.JPG

 

Cabin air comes into the top oval port, through the evap, and out the lower two through ducts in the firewall under the cowl vent.

 

1129192077_IMG_0958(1).JPG.90d7c9618513825ad50700459a78f08b.JPG

 

The concept is interesting. I will probably reuse the box and trunk mount it as well as update the compressor.

 

Twenty years ago I wouldn't have cared either way about AC but even in my climate I enjoy using it for the short season.

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Hmm, Bernie, normally you do better seat of the pants engineering work than suggesting a portable unit. The Amazon link is a unit with  an extremely small 1100 BTU rating! The A-6 system is good for 60,000 BTUs. It takes a lot of BTUs to cool Texas sun!👍

 

 

On 9/12/2022 at 12:48 PM, drhach said:

I'm curious where the condensed water drains from/to. You could probably get away with one half that size. That one looks about the size of a "boom-box" from the 80's. 

Nope, maybe one about 30 times that size!😄

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14 hours ago, EmTee said:

Why?  Where do those two cold air ducts currently exit? 

Most of these add on accessory jobs tend to be nocuous at some level. I want mine to be innocuous as possible.

 

Those two ducts exit, one in the former clock opening and the other where the original radio goes. The radio knob holes appear to have toggle switches for the AC clutch and the evap fan. The handiwork of the radio install did in a pretty nice radio grille that I will attempt to repair.

 

Ingenuity is ruthless when it strikes.

IMG_0988.JPG.f239d139d52614decea786a9250f8932.JPG

 

Earlier I mentioned that I like the Rolls-Royce cant rail discharge. I am thinking at least four similar to this exiting ducts under the new headliner.

Image 1 - 74 to 80 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow interior climate control temp sensor

 

I can be pretty sneaky with stuff. Maybe even enough to get past the chief judge's eye. On everyday cars it is a little like sport. I saw a car that I had owned driving in the city once. I followed the guy and talked when he stopped. It had quite a few subtleties done to it. The guy's first reply was "Wow! I always wondered who did these things". His comments were quite favorable.

 

Main point is to remember what my Grandfather told me. He had a worker named Nelson who critiqued his shoddy work. Grandpa Jerry would say "Nelly says I make it too ospious." Good words to live by.

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I have not studied this in detail but I think the biggest problem will be finding brackets and pulleys to correctly mount the compressor. This bracket set is made by Alan Grove Components and sold by Vintage Air. it is designed for a nailhead in a first gen Riviera but I doubt it would work in the B60 due to the extended water pump. Does anyone have good photos of a '60 factory air setup showing how the brackets and pulleys work?

315R.jpg

151102.jpg

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On 9/10/2022 at 3:16 PM, TexRiv_63 said:

anyone who has done it on a similar period full size car.  Some of my questions:

  • System supplier recommendations and reviews
  • Availability of car-specific underhood items like brackets, pulleys, etc.
  • Suggestions to bring my non-a/c cooling system up to the task.
  • How effective is the cooling from this type of unit in a car with acres of glass like mine?


FWIW here’s my experience with old air products hurricane in my 55, which I know is different from a 60 but it is a large series car with a lot of glass.

 

It’s a basic behind dash, full recirc, compact high capacity evaporator, provides a heater core, and works with cables permitting the existing dash levers for vent/defrost/recirc/fresh functions, and it’s wired it into a 55 AC control pod (courtesy of Mr Earl)..  3 fan speeds and a thermostatic control on the evap. It will do either heat or cold but not blend.  It’s installed for cool only, don’t have heat hooked up, opting instead for the more than ample factory heaters if needed through stock controls and ducting.

 

It shows a few inches under the dash but is neither obvious nor absurd and doesn’t impede legroom.  (The original AM radio chassis and speaker had to go to get it to fit in the 55, kept the radio faceplate, lights, controls, and have used a stereo behind the glovebox door for many years, however it lacks the nifty autoreverse feature seen in Bernie’s Chrysler - oh well, can’t have it all). It has more than enough BTUs to cool a large series 55 on a 95-100 deg day after sitting in the sun windows closed and people in the back seat can feel air blowing from the front - a number of the Tri-5 people had used it on big impalas/bel airs and seemed satisfied.  Although had considered the VA system for the blended heat/cool, I couldn’t fit the VA system behind the dash, don’t know how Leno did it, and didn’t like an under dash hanging Mark x lookalike - too likely to whack my knees on it, and did not want to cut into the firewall.
 

My charging system is not upgraded except for the dual pulley, more airflow fan on the generator used on AC equipped 55s - it works fine. I suppose if the car sat at a worst case operating point of idle in drive with all the lights on, AC on, fans on high for a long time it’s be a problematic discharge, but at normal speeds it handles it even with the headlights on, though I also rarely drive at night and with the AC on full tilt.  An upgraded system to at least 35 amps would be advisable. The med-low fan speed is enough to keep the car very comfortable and there’s amps to spare. The idle in D in summer is increased about +75-100 rpm’s to help with charging and cooling, used a larger fan, stock HD 3 row radiator, added more insulation on floor especially over that long muffler, and made sure weatherstripping sealed well.  I didn’t add any to roof as the headliner is original and didn’t want to screw that up.

 

Been very happy with mine over past few years, OAP sent replacement parts fast and free when a hose leaked first year and were helpful in the design process.  Instructions were ok, tech support very good, guesswork at proper filling capacity but some trial and error got it right.  Admittedly have not driven for consecutive weeks thousands of miles in 100+deg, and central NY is not like Texas or Louisiana in August, but my estimate of 3500ish miles of use over the years have yielded no issues, and I would drive it purposefully on 95 deg days just to watch it all work.  Pulleys and brackets are indeed a pain but solvable with enough beer, friends with parts, a protractor, vice, BFH and graph paper.  And a sharp #2 yellow pencil with a freakin big eraser.
 

Just a data point for you. Good luck on the research and project

Edited by KAD36 (see edit history)
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16 hours ago, KAD36 said:


FWIW here’s my experience with old air products hurricane in my 55, which I know is different from a 60 but it is a large series car with a lot of glass.

 

It’s a basic behind dash, full recirc, compact high capacity evaporator, provides a heater core, and works with cables permitting the existing dash levers for vent/defrost/recirc/fresh functions, and it’s wired it into a 55 AC control pod (courtesy of Mr Earl)..  3 fan speeds and a thermostatic control on the evap. It will do either heat or cold but not blend.  It’s installed for cool only, don’t have heat hooked up, opting instead for the more than ample factory heaters if needed through stock controls and ducting.

 

It shows a few inches under the dash but is neither obvious nor absurd and doesn’t impede legroom.  (The original AM radio chassis and speaker had to go to get it to fit in the 55, kept the radio faceplate, lights, controls, and have used a stereo behind the glovebox door for many years, however it lacks the nifty autoreverse feature seen in Bernie’s Chrysler - oh well, can’t have it all). It has more than enough BTUs to cool a large series 55 on a 95-100 deg day after sitting in the sun windows closed and people in the back seat can feel air blowing from the front - a number of the Tri-5 people had used it on big impalas/bel airs and seemed satisfied.  Although had considered the VA system for the blended heat/cool, I couldn’t fit the VA system behind the dash, don’t know how Leno did it, and didn’t like an under dash hanging Mark x lookalike - too likely to whack my knees on it, and did not want to cut into the firewall.
 

My charging system is not upgraded except for the dual pulley, more airflow fan on the generator used on AC equipped 55s - it works fine. I suppose if the car sat at a worst case operating point of idle in drive with all the lights on, AC on, fans on high for a long time it’s be a problematic discharge, but at normal speeds it handles it even with the headlights on, though I also rarely drive at night and with the AC on full tilt.  An upgraded system to at least 35 amps would be advisable. The med-low fan speed is enough to keep the car very comfortable and there’s amps to spare. The idle in D in summer is increased about +75-100 rpm’s to help with charging and cooling, used a larger fan, stock HD 3 row radiator, added more insulation on floor especially over that long muffler, and made sure weatherstripping sealed well.  I didn’t add any to roof as the headliner is original and didn’t want to screw that up.

 

Been very happy with mine over past few years, OAP sent replacement parts fast and free when a hose leaked first year and were helpful in the design process.  Instructions were ok, tech support very good, guesswork at proper filling capacity but some trial and error got it right.  Admittedly have not driven for consecutive weeks thousands of miles in 100+deg, and central NY is not like Texas or Louisiana in August, but my estimate of 3500ish miles of use over the years have yielded no issues, and I would drive it purposefully on 95 deg days just to watch it all work.  Pulleys and brackets are indeed a pain but solvable with enough beer, friends with parts, a protractor, vice, BFH and graph paper.  And a sharp #2 yellow pencil with a freakin big eraser.
 

Just a data point for you. Good luck on the research and project

Thanks Ken for the detailed response. Could you post some pics of the installation?

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