In the last installment on Scarlett, our ’72 coupe project car, we covered the first half of the Vintage Air install, which consisted of bolting in and plumbing up the compressor, condenser, and other underhood components that will actually cool the air headed back into the passenger compartment.
Now we’ll talk about what it takes to get the cold air where you want it and when you want it, which consists of modifications to the dash, vents, and controls, as well as routing the hoses to the vents from the plenum on the evaporator. As with the other projects in this series, we’re doing the work at Tray Walden’s Street Shop in Athens, Alabama.
One of the features of Vintage Air’s Gen IV system is that it uses the factory control panel, albeit with a few minor and reversible modifications. These are all straightforward, and the only difficult change was totally voluntary. Since much of our design language with Scarlett has been to follow the factory appearance with a slight twist, we decided to make the A/C controls white-faced to match the gauges and the radio, which we had already modified. The good news is that the normally black backplate and lens have to be removed anyway, as the factory lens must be replaced with the one supplied by Vintage Air. The bad news is that both parts are peened in place from the rear, so you’ll be breaking some pot metal to get them out, and bending some to put them back in.
Rather than reuse our somewhat tired factory controls, we opted to use a new reproduction part, which was supplied by Paragon Corvette Reproductions. Since I was dead set on making it white-faced, I choked down my trepidation and unscrewed and pried it apart then sprayed the backplate with the correct color of white, then scanned the Vintage Air lens markings into Photoshop. Once I was sure the scan was right and legible, I polished the markings off the lens, then printed them onto a transparency in black. After cutting the transparency to the right size and shape, in it went between the now-featureless clear lens and the white backplate. Voila! White-faced (Full disclosure: it took months of fooling around with other options before I stumbled on that solution).
Similarly, we also ordered new vent balls to go in our new dash panels, as the once-chrome originals had long since gone the dull yellow of scuffed nickel plating. While you probably can retain the factory on/off vent control system, Vintage Air supplies a simplified plate to mount the vent ball in the dash, and to which the ducting then mates. So in the interest of simplicity and maximum airflow, we went with the Vintage approach.
In the same vein, we also removed the rubber “flapper” that controls airflow through the upper center vent in dash above the smaller gauges. Like the vent balls, the upper console plate to which the center vent mounts was also in sorry shape, and those vents were so worn we couldn’t even tell they had once been chrome. Unfortunately, the upper console is one of a precious few parts that are not reproduced for the ’72 Corvette, so a refurb it was, and along with it the need to fill in the random hole some previous owner had chipped through it, which was large enough I’d once mounted a nitrous oxide toggle switch in it. One safety note: even with rubber gloves, the gel I used to strip the factory paint is murder on your hands, so be careful and pause frequently to wash your hands. To make it all match, I even used the “correct” black paint to paint it, the sort of thing that evokes howls of laughter from anyone who knows what we’ve done to this car.
01. The well-worn wiper switch upper console plate is one of the few parts that isn’t currently in production for ’72 Vettes, so we stripped our original down for refurbishing using the noxious-but-effective Aircraft Paint Remover, whose directions say it is not for use on aircraft.
02. Since someone appeared to have gnawed a small, round hole in the upper console plate, we used some mesh backing and the much-maligned Bondo to fill the hole before repainting the plate in the “correct” black.
03. Since our center vents were looking a little shabby and the foam seals were long gone, we ordered replacements for both from Corvette America. The adhesive foam seals come in strips, which we carefully stuck in place around the pivoting vents.
04. Behind the upper console plate is the flapper assembly that determines when air comes through the two vents. Vintage Air suggests that you remove the flapper for maximum airflow, which we did, while leaving the now-nonfunctional switch in place so it doesn’t look silly. It bolts into place on the rear of the upper console plate.
05. Once the wiper switch is installed, the refurbished upper console plate will be fully assembled and ready for installation.
06. We also had to modify the center defroster duct, which will sit behind the upper center vents. This starts with cutting it in half using the included template; once the bottom half is removed, another panel follows it into the trash barrel so the plenum supplied by Vintage Air can take its place.
07. Here’s the completed defroster duct. While the Vintage Air-supplied part of the duct attaches to the modified factory piece with steel clips, we went ahead and sealed it up with a little black RTV.
08. Two sizes of ducting are supplied with the kit: 2- and 2 1/2-inch. Individual pieces will have to be cut to length, wrestled over their respective fittings, and then secured in place with a zip tie.
09. The defrost vent screwed into place on the birdcage and with its hoses attached. Pay close attention to the instructions when routing the hoses. We inadvertently reversed the orientation of the two center vent hoses, so we got to do it twice.
10. This is the seat where the vent balls will mount into the rear of the dashpad. Rather than reuse the tattered originals we replaced all of the dashpads with new ones provided by Corvette America.
11. Like the upper center vents, since our originals were in sad shape, we opted to replace the vent balls and their felt seals with new ones sourced from Corvette America.
12. Here’s the original vent assembly after removal from the back of the dashpad. You’ll need to reuse the bracket (shown at the right) that the vent balls fit into, and against which it is sealed by the felt pads.
13. Since the Vintage Air system doesn’t use a shutoff feature like the factory one, the vent ball is held in place with a simple backing plate. Note the stainless screw and washer to the upper right. This was used to hold the vent knob in place. While the knob is no longer functional, it’s better than having a random hole in your dash.
14. The ducting slipped into place on the back of the ball vent. The driver side (shown here) uses a hard duct instead of ducting: it also slips over the ball vent, and is then connected to the plenum by ducting.
15. The ducting all attached to the evaporator plenum and looks a bit like something from The Matrix. The center vent, which will slip over the rear of the upper console plate, is mocked up here with a clamp. Once the dash is installed, it and the duct ends will be slipped into place on their respective fittings.
16. These new A/C controls were provided by Paragon Corvette Reproductions. To convert them, after removing some of the bracketry, the sliders from Vintage Air (they call them slide pots) need to be cut to length, then screwed in place so they’re operated by the thumbwheel.
17. In addition to the sliders that attach to the thumbwheels, the Vintage Air kit comes with a circuit board that will plug into the blower switch. You’ll need to install the plug before you seat the board on the blower switch.
18. Once the sliders and the blower switch are in place on the control panel, the switch assembly can be plugged in with the wires zip-tied out of the way. It’s now ready for installation in the console.
19. Here’s the control panel converted and screwed into place in the center console. The white face, like the almost-right six-speed shift map is just one more indicator that Scarlett ain’t exactly numbers-matching. Although we’re using the original console for mockup purposes, we’ll replace it with a new one prior to final install.
20. To connect the now-converted controls to the A/C system itself, it plugs into the evaporator box through the rectangular hole in the box’s mounting bracket.