Today’s aftermarket is nothing short of remarkable when it comes to great products for classic muscle cars. You get the incredible styling and nostalgic feel of vintage muscle along with all the creature comforts of modern automotive technology. Vintage Air, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, brings you its SureFit Gen IV in-dash, electronic climate control for classic 1964-’72 Chevelles and El Caminos. Just imagine—affordable, full-spectrum climate control in a classic Chevy.
To get cool comfort in your vintage Chevelle or El Camino, you must first have a reliable method of heat extraction during the hot months. And that’s what refrigeration (air conditioning) does. It doesn’t put cold in, it transfers heat out. And what better way to do this than with a SureFit Gen IV in-dash, electronically controlled climate control system from Vintage Air? Not only does the SureFit draw ugly summer heat out, it makes the cabin toasty in winter when the summer months are but warm memories.
We’re working with a 1971 Chevelle (well, technically a Malibu) that originally came from the factory without air conditioning; equipped with little more than a heater to keep the toes warm. Vintage Air has shipped us its complete SureFit Gen IV system (PN 961071) for our Chevelle project. The SureFit is such a stealthy system that you hardly know it’s there until you need heat or cooling and flip the controls. It tucks up nicely behind the Chevelle’s dashboard and stays clear of your feet. The OEM-style sliding controls work in a very similar fashion to what GM had there to begin with, making it second nature to use.
1. We like the Vintage Air SureFit Gen IV package for 1964-’72 Chevelles and El Caminos, which hides neatly up under your dashboard. Instead of old-fashioned cables or vacuum motors, the SureFit uses electronically controlled servo motors (arrows), to operate air doors within the unit. There’s nothing to adjust or sweat about. A powerful blower keeps air moving throughout the cabin.
2. Vintage Air provides a plug-and-play harness, which includes compressor and fan relays and grommets, making installation easy.
3. The refrigeration lines and expansion valve are wrapped with insulation tape prior to installation. The added insulation really bumps up the system’s efficiency.
4. The hot water valve is electronically controlled. No vacuum hoses or cables to leak or add clutter.
5. The arrow shows you coolant flow direction and proper installation.
6. Vintage Air’s OEM-style climate control offers sliding fingertip function. An LED indicator light indicates A/C function. If you want a more custom look Vintage Air offers a variety of control panels.
7. A steel firewall panel is provided to fill in the factory heater/air-conditioning passageway. Our Chevelle already had a DSE block-off plate since the previous owner had pulled out the factory heater core.
8. The Chevelle’s glove compartment will not clear the SureFit Gen IV unit so you’ll have to cut and modify the back of the glove compartment in order for it to clear.
9. Vintage Air provides a cap for the glove compartment cut. It ends up being smaller than factory, but retains plenty of storage space.
10. Securing the SureFit at the firewall is straightforward using the 1/4-20 nuts provided in the kit. Secure the unit up above at the cowl brackets. Note the line passages at the kick panel air intake. Here’s how the installed SureFit Gen IV unit should look(ducting hasn’t been installed yet).
11. Defroster ducting and outlets have been installed in place of the original equipment.
12. The Vintage Air electronic control module (ECM) is tied into the system as shown. This is the climate control system’s computer.
13. Two plastic air conditioning line and heater hose transition panels are provided in order to get these lines and hoses through the fresh-air vent to the firewall. You have two options here. You can use the round transition panel at the firewall or bore four holes in the firewall panel.
14. The kick panel is cut for line access. We’re going through the passenger-side fresh-air intake.
15. This is how the refrigeration lines and heater hoses are routed through the fresh-air vent bulkhead on the passenger side prior to unit installation. The lines are routed through the fresh-air vent to the firewall.
16. Here’s the firewall passage where we have marked for refrigeration lines and heater hoses, bored the holes, and installed grommets.
17. The air-conditioning lines are routed through top holes with the heater hoses, and heater control valve, routed through the bottom holes. The heater control valve allows coolant to flow to the heater core. The solenoid is energized when we want heat, opening the valve. When the solenoid is de-energized, the valve closes.
18. This is what you can expect with a Chevelle with factory air conditioning. The SureFit Gen IV air-conditioning ducting transitions to the factory registers. Our non-A/C Chevelle didn’t have these ducts, but Vintage Air supplies underdash options.
19. Here are the Vintage Air registers, defroster outlets, wiring, and glovebox cap spread out on our worktable. This is the best way to tackle this installation, with everything positioned on a table for easy access.
20. Heater-equipped Chevelles and El Caminos won’t have the in-dash air-conditioning registers. Instead, we’re using the provided register located along the bottom of the dashboard.
21. The Vintage Air sliding control panel is OEM style. These fingertip controls are within easy reach of anyone seated in front.
22. This Vintage Air illustration provides a good overview of the air-conditioning and heater hose routing in traditional small- and big-block applications. The overall concept for LS engines is the same.
23. Green O-rings are engineered specifically for refrigeration lines and connections. Lubricate these O-rings with the lubricant provided. Never use chassis lube. Carefully slip these O-rings on and gently connect fittings and tighten lines, but do not over-tighten.
24. The condenser, which gives up heat to the slipstream, is mounted in front of the radiator. You have choices when it comes to the compressor location, condenser position, and hose routing. You can even relocate the receiver tank just about anywhere if you’re willing to make custom lines. On the receiver’s high-pressure line is the pressure switch, which needs to be wired back to the ECU.
25. The compressor and condenser (high- and low-pressure) hoses are routed like this through the passenger-side fender above the wheelhouse. The heater hoses are routed low to the LS engine’s water pump.
26. Our Vintage Air compressor is mounted on a Kwik Performance compressor bracket (which came from Vintage Air with the kit) designed for LS engines with a Sanden compressor. All we have to do now is crimp the hoses and charge up the system with R134a refrigerant. You can buy the crimping tool from a shop like Summit Racing or, once properly clocked, take the hoses to an A/C shop that will do it for a few bucks.
SureFit Gen IV Features:
“Fly-By-Wire” full electronic servo motors void of cables and vacuum hoses
Infinite “just right” temperature blending
Infinite fan speed adjustment
High-Volume dehumidified defrost mode
Separate high-capacity aluminum plate/fin evaporator (cooling) coil
Copper/Brass CuproBraze parallel flow heater core
In-Dash design goes in place of your factory heater or factory air conditioning
Uses factory system controls with Vintage Air’s patented Electronic Cable Converters
New electronic panel included for 1968-’72 Chevelle/El Camino
Steel Firewall Panel
Replacement Molded Plastic glovebox
Uses factory air-conditioning ducts or bolt-on underdash ducting
Optional (PN 627902) stamped firewall panel for 1967-’69 Camaro, 1964-’72 Chevelle, or 1968-’74 Nova
Optional (PN 493062) factory-style vents
Photography by Steven Rupp and Jason Scudellari