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Keeping a Classic Chevy Cool with a Vintage Air SureFit System

Cabin Cooling

Tommy Lee Byrd Jul 27, 2017
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Automotive standards have pushed our industry in ways that car guys never thought possible. Air conditioning is one of the items that offered comfort inside the car if you were willing to pay for it, but it didn’t become a common option until the 1970s. Now, if you buy a midsize sedan it’s going to come standard with air conditioning, and dozens of other creature comforts. But if you rewind the clock to 1964, only about 12 percent of 1964 Chevelles came with factory air conditioning. That means that 88 percent of buyers relied on the car’s excellent ventilation for cooling, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years with our 1964 Chevelle four-door project car. It’s an awesome survivor that we’re upgrading for daily driving, and one of our requirements for a comfortable drive is climate control.

Even though the early Chevelles do have some quirks, we were pleased to see that Vintage Air made a SureFit kit for our application. The Gen IV SureFit kit for our 1964 Chevelle uses the original sliding heater controls and completely replaces the original heater box assembly for a clean, fresh install. The kit comes with a compressor, the appropriate mounting brackets for our small-block Chevy engine, a condenser, and pre-bent hard lines. The pre-made hoses and lines offer simple installation, and the wiring couldn’t have been simpler. Wally Smith was in charge of the installation, but this is a job that most gearheads can tackle with some help from a buddy over the course of a weekend.

In addition to the Vintage Air system, we upgraded our cooling system with a larger radiator from U.S. Radiator and a clutch fan from Vintage Air to replace the original fixed-blade fan. It was also suggested that we upgrade to a more powerful alternator, so we opted for a stock-look 12si-style alternator from Powermaster.

After a couple days of work in the garage, Wally had the system installed and ready to run. The Vintage Air kit was all-inclusive; the only thing we had to buy from the parts store was a new heater hose fitting for the water pump due to changing from 3/4- to 5/8-inch hose. After it was all buttoned up, we checked for leaks in the cooling system and made sure our wiring connections were correct. The only thing we couldn’t handle in our shop was charging the system with refrigerant so we had a local shop help us get it charged. Now it’s time to hit the road with a comfortable cabin and a happy driver (and passengers).

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1. Before getting started on the installation, it’s a good idea to remove the battery tray and passenger-side inner fender. This is a bit tricky, but with a little bit of flexing, it can be removed with basic handtools. At this time, we also drained the coolant.

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2. Disassembling the original heating system is quick and easy. Wally Smith starts by removing the nuts that fasten the original heater box to the firewall. With the box out of the way, he can loosen the nuts that hold the heater core in place. He will install new heater hoses so he simply cut the old hoses at the end of the lines.

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3. Inside, Wally removes the glovebox to provide easier access to the underdash equipment. In order to remove the inner portion of the heater box, he first disconnects the cables that control the heater mode, temperature, and fan speed.

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4. After all the cables and wires are removed, the entire box assembly can be wrestled out from beneath the dash.

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5. One of the more challenging aspects of the installation was removing the original defroster ductwork. Wally used a cutoff wheel and an air chisel to remove the factory spot welds for a clean removal.

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6. The ductwork is removed completely to make room for the new system. Reaching the spot welds was tough, but we carefully chiseled it away from the firewall.

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7. Vintage Air provides a block-off plate for the original heater box hole in the firewall. The new system rides beneath the dash so the external box is not necessary. Wally applies some caulk before installing the block-off plate.

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8. Our car required the Vintage Air Gen IV SureFit system for 1964-’65 Chevelles without factory air (PN 961065). This system features a fly-by-wire, fully electronic servo motor to eliminate the original cable-operated systems.

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9. Before the evaporator unit goes under the dash Wally prepares it by installing the supplied heater fittings and lines. The hard lines feature a barbed end, offering a tight seal.

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10. Wally also prepares the evaporator unit by installing the front mounting bracket. There is also a rear mounting bracket that features supplied studs that poke through the original holes in the firewall. Wally can now install the heater hoses and A/C lines, wrapping the A/C line connections with the supplied press tape.

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11. The final step before Wally installs the evaporator unit is to loosely route the A/C lines and heater hoses through the supplied fresh air cap. At this point, the evaporator unit is resting on the passenger-side floor of the car.

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12. Wally lifts the evaporator unit into place, while the nuts are handtightened at the firewall. The plan is to leave the fasteners loose until we see that the other bracket is in place and the unit is level.

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13. The front bracket for the evaporator unit is attached with two sheetmetal screws. Wally drills a small pilot hole and then tightens the screws. With the unit secure, he can now take any slack out of the hoses and lines that run through the fresh air cap in the cowl.

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14. Next is the drain hose. Vintage Air suggests drilling a 5/8-inch hole in the firewall approximately 1 inch below the drain on the evaporator. If you do not have a 5/8-inch drill bit, you can drill a pilot hole and open it up with a burr grinder, as shown.

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15. The original kick panels are modified to Vintage Air’s specifications. Wally marked the panel with tape and used an electric grinder with a thin cutoff disc to make the necessary cuts.

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16. The cuts in the kick panel offer clearance for the heater hoses and air-conditioning lines. Wally slides the panel in place and attaches it with the original screws.

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17. Moving to the engine bay, Wally installs the brackets to mount the air-conditioning compressor. The Vintage Air kit comes with various spacers, which work with exhaust manifolds or headers. We used the shorter spacers, designed for original manifolds.

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18. Next is the flat bracket that extends from the upper water pump hole to the support bracket. Keep in mind that Vintage Air sends these components in bare metal to be painted the color of your choice. We chose semi-gloss black to contrast with the Chevrolet Orange engine.

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19. The adjuster bracket bolts to the compressor and then the compressor can be lowered onto the two mounting brackets. The system offers a wide range of motion for easy belt fitment, and the compressor can also be indexed to position the lines in a tidy manner.

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20. The drier mounts to the inner fender and connects to the #6 air-conditioning hose that comes from the evaporator unit inside the car. Another #6 line goes from the drier, down to the framerail, and eventually to the lower fitting on the condenser. The lines are pre-bent to fit this application. After that, Wally could install the #8 discharge hose and the #10 suction hose to the compressor. Remember to install the supplied O-ring with a little bit of oil to offer a tight seal.

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21. The Vintage Air kit comes with all of the wiring necessary to install the system. It includes this 30-amp circuit breaker, which needs to be mounted near the battery. We chose to mount it to the inner fender, tucked behind the heater hoses.

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22. The new kit is composed of two 5/8-inch heater hoses, compared to the original 5/8- and 3/4-inch hoses. We installed a new heater hose fitting in the water pump and then cut the hoses to fit. The Vintage Air kit uses a heater control valve that runs inline with the hose that runs from the intake manifold to the heater core.

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23. Vintage Air offers a condenser and drier kit that applies to all 1964-’67 Chevelles. The upper condenser bracket bolts to the 7th and 8th and 12th and 13th holes from the left on the front side of the condenser.

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24. The upper brackets sandwich between the radiator support and hood latch plate. We suggest removing the two bolts and using a small pry bar to offer enough room to slide the brackets into place. The lower bracket mounts to the backside of the condenser in the 7th and 11th holes from the right and attaches to the radiator support using two existing holes in the front side of the radiator support.

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25. Although Wally already ran and installed the air-conditioning lines for the rest of the kit, he can now finish the line installation with the #8 discharge line, which is the upper fitting. Then, Wally will tighten the lower #6 line that runs to the drier.

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26. Since our 1964 Chevelle isn’t a factory A/C car, we are utilizing Vintage Air’s cable converter assembly to use the original sliders to control the heat, defrost, and air conditioning. After the cables are cut to the appropriate length, Wally attaches the supplied wiring for each switch and then plugs the harness into the Vintage Air ECM.

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27. The original heater control housing is installed using the four original screws. The revitalized control panel will control all functions of the Vintage Air Gen IV SureFit kit after a brief calibration procedure.

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28. Wiring the Vintage Air system is simple. The violet wire is run to a 12-volt ignition source while the main power and ground wires run directly to the battery terminals. With the additional load on the original wiring harness, we decided to upgrade our charging system with a Powermaster one-wire alternator. Powermaster makes many types of GM-style alternators, and our choice was the 12si-style unit offering 150 amps and a simple one-wire hookup.

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29. Another upgrade for our Chevelle is a clutch fan to replace the original fixed-blade mechanical fan. Vintage Air offers these fans, which are available in six-blade configurations in 17- and 18-inch diameters.

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30. We saved the ductwork and final interior work for last. The supplied ductwork is cut into four pieces and routed from the evaporator unit to the four vents.

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31. Since our 1964 Chevelle didn’t have air conditioning from the factory, the Vintage Air kit included an underdash panel with vents. A total of four vents will keep us cool on those hot summer days.

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32. Finally, we can button up the interior by installing the supplied plastic glovebox, which is considerably shallower than the original. Then, we can install the glovebox door, clean up the tools, and set up an appointment with a local shop to charge the system with R134a refrigerant.

Photography By Tommy Lee Byrd

Sources

Vintage Air
San Antonio, TX 78266
800-862-6658
www.vintageair.com
Powermaster
630-957-4019
www.PowermasterMotorsports.com

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