It may seem hard for some of you who didn’t grow up in the ’60s and ’70s to imagine buying a new car without air conditioning on purpose. Today, literally everything comes standard with A/C, but back then it was an option frequently left unchecked due to the cost.
Combine the lack of A/C with vinyl seats and a hot humid summer, and driving these cars could become borderline unbearable. Of course, A/C also adds unnecessary weight to anything that might see any track or illegal street time, leaving the most desirable muscle cars purchased without.
So what should you do if your car didn’t come with A/C? If you’re looking to do an original stock resto then your only real option is to go with an original factory system. But if absolute originality isn’t an issue, then one of the aftermarket systems available can offer some advantages, and this can be true even if your car had factory air.
Muscle Car Restorations has installed a number of A/C systems in the last 30 years and unless originality is an issue, they definitely prefer aftermarket systems like those from Vintage Air. Yes, factory systems can be retrofitted to use R-134a instead of R-12, but the new systems are engineered for it.
While installing aftermarket A/C systems is a fairly straightforward process, it’s the charging of the system that can make most of us think twice. Should you take your car to an A/C pro or can you do it yourself?
MCR brings in Scott McIlquham from MC Motor Werks, because there’s no beating the automated simplicity of a pro-level A/C machine. Once hooked up, it’ll evacuate the system, check it for leaks, fill the system with the correct amount of refrigerant, and then let you monitor the system pressures with the engine running — all in about 30 minutes.
It seems like a no-brainer to have a pro do it, but McIlquham is familiar with vintage systems, and he makes house calls to MCR’s shop to do several at a time. You’ll have to take your car to a shop. Or do it yourself?
Since we’re looking at restoration work, we’ll deal with testing and charging a new system for the first time and leave diagnosing system issues for another time. When we’re done, you’ll wonder why you were ever afraid of A/ C work.
Crimp Pipe Fitting
There are two main tools needed to do this: a vacuum pump and a set of A/C manifold gauges. Both are available through Harbor Freight or even available to rent locally. We’ll assume you’re running an R134a system, as the old R-12 hasn’t been available over the counter for more than 20 years.
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