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Thread: Adding Air Conditioning

  1. #1

    Default Adding Air Conditioning

    I added A/C to my car and wanted to share with you what I learned.

    It is a pain in the butt, but doable if you're patient. It's also a great way to learn about how the system works.

    I was lucky enough to find a 73 Centurion 2 door hardtop for sale as a parts car. I was also fortunate enough to have a neighbor who let me hide this treasure in their garage while I did the conversion. I think anyone considering the upgrade should get a parts car. If you want to invest the time you could use all your non-A/C parts to reassemble and sell the parts car when you're done. I took so much from that car that it went to the great junkyard in the sky when it was done. Don't worry, this car was beyond repair before I began.

    I moved the parts over in 3 steps, plumbing, venting and wiring. For each stage I disassembled the parts car first, learning how it should be and what fastners are a pain. I then painted the parts and disassembled my car. Then I installed the freshly painted bits. Be sure to release the pressure from the cooling system before you put in the hot water cutoff valve. I almost forgot and cut the hose while under pressure. The vacuum system has roughly double the number of hoses when you add A/C. There is 1 tricky vacuum line that needs to go to the hot water shutoff valve. Without this the A/C will never be truly chilly.

    Each stage had it's difficult bits. The plumbing and ducting around the hood hinge required unbolting the hinge, holding the hood up while my wife stuffed the new heater core and evaporator housing on the firewall. This had to be done twice because the opening for the fan is bigger with A/C. The mechanism for the recirculating setting is particularly buried. I almost skipped it, but I can't stand doing a partial job.

    The venting (all of the ducts and flaps under the dashboard) was probably the hardest part of the entire process. It's necessary to disassemble the dashboard down to the firewall. Everything has to go. There are ducts that are part of the sheet metal work of the firewall. I had to make block off plates for the passenger floor vent and cut openings for the A/C ducting and the inside half of that recirculating mechanism. The heater box has 2 studs that go through the firewall and secure the air box on the other side with nuts that would be easier to get at if you pulled the engine. A/C cars have 2 vents for the passenger (only 1 without A/C). The instrument faceplates are also different on an A/C car as they have the vents, fins and openings for the on off lever. The plate that fits under the steering column is different as it incorporates the vent that blows between your legs. You can also expect that the air hoses will crumble to dust after 30+ years and will need to be replaced. Then there is the control center and it's octopus of hoses to route and connect. I tested each hose, and each actuator while they were out of the car. The actuators were all fine, but a couple of hoses wouldn't hold vacuum. I also replaced all of the foam insulation on the flapper doors.

    The final step (wiring) wasn't so bad because I took the entire wiring harness from the fusebox junction forward. I labeled each connection before I disconnected it. There are a couple of things to watch for. A/C cars have 4 fan speeds, non-A/C have 3. There are new connections for the compressor clutch, pressure sensors and the throttle pusher thingy.

    I did all of the work and took it to my mechanic to check everything and convert it to the new freon.

    Was it worth it? Hell yes. I tested it on a 75 degree day, on the highway in recirculating mode and the fan on low. A thermometer in the vent got down to 34 degrees before I chickened out and took it off recirc. There is a sensor that's supposed to shut the compressor off before it ices up, but I didn't want to risk it. That's frosty baby.

    People ask why I would go through the trouble to add A/C to a convertible.
    After all if it's hot you can put the roof down. There are 4 reasons. First there are days when it's too hot to sit in traffic and bake. Second there are hot rainy days. Finally there are those in between days when the windsheild fogs up and A/C is the only way to keep it clear. Finally and most importantly because my car didn't have it.

    I wouldn't recommend it, but I wouldn't call it a deal breaker either. Because of the number of little bits involved I think the only way to do it is with a parts car. I think any B-body Buick (71-76) would do.

    John

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    1,426

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    Impressive reading….
    Smart strategy to learn from the parts car even though it broke my heart a little it was a 73 Centurion 2 door hardtop
    Per

    Buick Centurion two door hardtop 1973
    Hyundai Santa Fe 2006
    Honda Accord 2009
    Cadillac Seville STS 1999

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Newark, DE
    Posts
    609

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    So you did it the hard way... Damn John, that sounds like a lot of work, but I gotta tell you, I'm with Per, pretty impressive... How to Delaware are you? I was thinking I could sweet talk you into lending a brother a hand!!
    Options here are looking for the parts and then finding help to do this work. I am a little handy... emphasis on the word little. (No wise remarks fellas!!) Meaning I am a great apprentice and love to learn, but probably shouldn't be the artisan that does that kind of work. I've come to accept my limitations in the handyman world and I'm ok paying someone that can do it better than I can. Again, within reason...

    I'll keep my ears and eye out for a parts car or at least the parts...
    Thanks for your help John!
    Steve
    72 Buick Centurion Convertible - Current (Purchased in 2007)
    71 Buick Skylark Convertible - (mistakenly sold when I thought it was time to "grow-up"!)
    02 GMC Yukon XL - Daily Driver
    00 Jeep Wrangler - My "other fun" car...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    1,426

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    Quote Originally Posted by dewbers View Post
    I'll keep my ears and eye out for a parts car or at least the parts...
    This one might be an alternative as a parts car, its got air and has no reserve. PA shouldn’t be that far from you either…
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1971-...QQcmdZViewItem
    Per

    Buick Centurion two door hardtop 1973
    Hyundai Santa Fe 2006
    Honda Accord 2009
    Cadillac Seville STS 1999

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Newark, DE
    Posts
    609

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    I'll keep an eye on that one. Thanks Per.... May be too nice a ride to part out though. Bensalem is about an hour from me, so it's not too bad at all.
    Perhaps Kimson (EEE) will get back into the game with this one?!?!
    Steve
    72 Buick Centurion Convertible - Current (Purchased in 2007)
    71 Buick Skylark Convertible - (mistakenly sold when I thought it was time to "grow-up"!)
    02 GMC Yukon XL - Daily Driver
    00 Jeep Wrangler - My "other fun" car...

  6. #6

    Default

    The project is best described as a long series of simple steps. The compressor, condenser and evaporator all move together so it would be possible to do this with a fully charged system although I wouldn't recommend it. The point is that all of the really complex parts of the air conditioning move over in chunks. The hoses run over the core support so you don't have to unbolt any of the lines.

    I had no experience before I did this and I didn't know if I could do it. I just dove in and figured I'd bring it to my mechanic when I got over my head. As it happened I was able to figure out each step as I went.

    I had the luxury of doing this hobby style. Which means I could take all the time I wanted and walk away for a good think when needed. The key for me was taking apart the parts car first (with notes and photo's for reference). I must've walked miles between the two garages comparing the two before I did each step.

    If you can undo a bolt, tighten a screw and work a hacksaw you can do this. You also have 1 big advantage I didn't which is these boards to ask for advice and instructions if you get stuck. Most garage mechanics learn by taking on projects just a bit beyond their current skills.

    I was unhappy about taking parts from what was once a nice 2 door. But, the frame was rotted, the sheet metal all around was swiss cheese the rear window would've fallen into the car with a good shove because of the tin worm. Just about everything that was good about that car is now on my parts shelves. I also sold the drivetrain to a guy making a GS350 clone.

    Delaware is a bit too far, but I'll be happy to help with advice, encouragement and scans from the assembly manual. Speaking of the assembly manual GET ONE! I'm not talking about the generic Hanes manuals (although their helpful) but the factory assembly manual. They explain everything and have great diagrams.

    John

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Posts
    16

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    Just completed this conversion on my 73' Centurion Convertible. Bought a "kit" of A/C components from the CTC Auto Ranch in Denton Texas. The parts were pulled from wrecked 74 LeSabre. Fourtunetly, I just moved to within 25 miles of the yard, So I was able to take measurements for the firewall openings and photos of the setup. It's pretty much a bolt on project except for cutting openings for air recirculation and fabrication of patches for the vent openings. My only deviation from stock is a Pro6ten compressor. A local A/C tech stopped by the house to evacuate and charge the system. With R12 refrigerant it's cold enough to store meat!

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