Quirk's Air Conditioning Installation Project
Here’s a bit more than My Two Cents Worth about my installation of an Vintage Air “Sure-Fit” Air Conditioning system into my Falcon, but here it is; maybe it will help someone with their A/C installation, maybe it will help someone fall sleep easier.
We have a 1964 Ford Falcon, four door Station Wagon. While I'm not a pro-mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, I've done every repair on my Bird for the past 10 years and I felt I was competent enough to tackle this job. Turns out I was right, but the install could not be completed without the support and help from a long time friend, whom happens to be more than a professional wrench. I’m not a writer either, technical or otherwise, or a photographer for that matter, so don’t expect too much from this piece other than hearing my story, reading and seeing some facts, and taking my opinions for what they are worth. Depending on the application used to look at the pictures, you may have to zoom in or out, but you can see things pretty well, they are relatively high resolution (and quite large files).
First off, I don't want to unfairly dog Vintage Air and their “Sure Fit” system, so please consider that my Bird’ is a 37 year old car - a 37 year old Ford no less - so it would be very difficult, I’d say impossible, for anybody to design a ‘Drop In’ system that would truly drop in without much of a hassle. Consider too, that this system in fully integrated, its not just a box under the dash, i.e., along with under-dash louvers it runs defroster air through the system (thereby dehumidifying the air, which is good for defrosting efficiency), incorporates your heating mechanisms (heater core, plenum box, etc.) and the fan blows through all these systems and all are controlled by your OEM dash levers. Kind of a complex system until you get familiar with it, but Vintage has a great product; the components are equal to or better than I expected and the system does exactly what it was designed to do – bold cold air. And considering that this unit was designed for a Ranchero, it does a great job blowing lots of cold air into this four door Wagon. There is a lot of air space to cool in this wagon, and it cools it well. Heck, I’d swap the highest-speed fan setting for one more slower speed.
On With the Story
When You Finally ‘Need’ Air Conditioning
One summer too many I told myself, one summer too many of being hot with minimal ventilation to cool me down in the Wagon. You have the same routine; get off work, open all four windows, open the vent windows (‘wind-wings’) all the way to force as much outside air into your 130 degree interior, an interior with vinyl seats no less. I’d lived with it for years (as my parents had for the first 27 years) because here in Ventura, CA, it never gets much warmer than maybe 85 degrees, and worst case that’s only once or twice a summer. But when my daily commute brought me to Simi Valley, CA, dealing with 100+ degree summer days everyday was when I started my search for an A/C system.
Which Air Conditioning System?
There are several systems to choose from for our Falcons. I had paperwork and quotes from Vintage Air and Classic Air from several years ago, but the Internet has opened up any opportunities and allows for a in-depth research with little hassle. I’m not going to spend much time detailing the selection process, but as far as I know we have three basic designs to consider:
The ‘stock’ Ford system. This system came with our Fords (Mustangs, Falcons, etc.) in the 60s, or was installed by a dealer as far as I know. There are companies that rebuild these original systems, keeping everything stock.
The ‘Daily Driver’ system. This resembles a Ford unit as it is mounted under the dash as well, but build with modern, efficient components. The under-hood components are all modern and efficient (less draw on engine power, i.e. better gas mileage). The evaporator/fan box mounted under the
dash looks reasonably like a Ford unit, but not really.
The aforementioned ‘integrated’ system.
During my investigation process, I got very good information about Classic Air (a company out of Florida, I believe) positive feedback about their product as well as their customer service and support. I narrowed it down to Classic Air’s re-built Ford unit or the Vintage Air system. I was familiar with the Ford hardware as I’ve seen plenty of them in Stangs’ and Falcons over the years. And when I spoke with Classic Air, they answered every question. I didn’t sense much enthusiasm during my calls, but they knew their stuff. Vintage product is very popular with the Hot-Rod crowd, so all you have to do is go to any sizable car show and you will see plenty of their hardware. Vintage answered most of the questions I had in my earlier calls, but I was given some advice from more than one Falcon owner, warning me that their service and support may be lacking. After much thought, and considering that my Falcon is a daily-driver, I chose the Vintage Air system for the Wagon. Dreaming of cold air in the summer, strong defrost power in the rain, upgraded heating in the winter…sweet…I could HARDLY wait.
Place the Order
The system was bought directly from Vintage, verses going to a local ‘authorized dealer.’ Seems to me that a dealer meant middle-man and a mark-up on the price, but I did not get pricing from a dealer, so who knows. I know of several Falcon owners who paid to have Vintage Air systems installed by a dealer, and the prices paid seemed rather expensive, but once you see what you’re up against…well, you be the judge that. I went ahead and placed the order over the phone, very easy.
The system arrived in a timely manner, as promised. Two well-protecting boxes came right to my door step. Heck, for the better part of half a day a sharp-eyed thief could have bagged the system, just sitting there by the door. Geez, I thought UPS was going to require a signature…oh well, saved me a day or two chasing a UPS truck. After fondling the parts, envisioning the fit, the look, etc, I began.
There are two sets of instructions provided, basically for two (kits) that ultimately plumb together. One set (one page actually) (reference picture/document:Comp&MountDrawing) is for installing the compressor and pulleys (see Compressor and Compressor Mounting Kit section below). The second set is for under-dash components and condenser installation. Neither tells you where to start, and I wish they supplemented their instructions with tips on how to do what they say needs to be done. They just say “do this” and you have to figure it out. Vintage advertises that they have very informative instructions with drawings, but I don’t think so, at least not in this case. What a cry-baby, huh? I must have read them half a dozen times prior to starting the project, and they made the project look so simple you’d swear it was a weekend job. Not that I had any illusion that this would be the case, I wasn’t born yesterday, and I had already set aside the entire summer to do this, planning on weekends and maybe a few week-nights to work on it. I used the summer alright…and then some, including weekends, MANY week-nights and ANY free time I had in between. Luckily I had been provided lots of information (tips, warnings, opinions) during my research, and I was more than aware that the pulleys (crank, water and power steering pump pulleys) and compressor mounting would be the biggest areas of concern. Yep, Yep, Yep and Yep.
Compressor and Compressor Mounting Kit
Vintage supplies a kit that is for a 1965/66, 289 V8 Mustang. It includes the compressor, compressor mount (the bracket that mounts the compressor to the engine), crank pulley, belt Idler and eccentric, bolts, etc., but the instructions (reference picture/document: Comp & Mount Drawing) are clearly labeled Mustang with no mention of a Falcon or any other application on the document. Yeah, yeah, "Early Falcons & Mustangs, they are the same.” Simply not the case, as far as this install goes. All quality parts however, no issue there at all.
Under-Dash & Condenser Components
Again, quality parts, nice design. But unlike the compressor instruction sheet, the instruction documents for the under-dash components (evaporator/heater box, defrost and dash vents, fan switch, etc.) and condenser are written specifically for a 1964/65 Ranchero, so the instructions and drawings are made for those cars specifically, as are the components. So with the information and feedback I had prior to the purchase and these instructions, I had little reason to doubt that the under-dash assemblies would fit. Let’s find out.
Gettin’ Under the Hood...
In the beginning, I spent MANY an hour hanging under the hood and over the fender, laying things out, trying to make sense of the fit, or lack of fit as it were. (Oh geez, what have I done, I spent all this money on this beast and it looks impossible). I spent a fair amount of time on the phone with Vintage, and they made some attempts at helping over the phone, but as a fellow TFFN’r (http://www.tffn.net/) mentioned to me long ago, their support was not awe-inspiring. Early on, when it became clear that things just didn’t fit, Vintage pretty much said they would give me my money back; they were at a loss for fitting it to my car. But in their defense, being 2000 miles away and having a 37 year old Bird, what could I expect?! I would guessthat a 289 configuration on a 65' Falcon is the same as the 65/66 Mustang, so the compressor kit they provide may work on a 65’ Falcon, but on my 64' 260v8 the power steering, alternator, water pump pulley, etc., were simply not lining up with the compressor. Not even close. Seemed to me this puppy just didn’t fit.
Luckily - and quickly - Vintage gave me the name and phone number of the company that designs the compressor mount and pulley kits for them, and the design engineer (named Herb) to talk to. Thank the Falcon Gods I found this gentleman; very patient, very understanding. I think he bent over backwards, listening to me for probably a dozen phone calls over a couple weeks. It did strike me as odd that Vintage gave me this phone number so quickly. I was on the first of my calls with Herb, and it was clear my premonitions were right about the compressor fit. It didn't.
Compressor Mount Issues Power Steering, OEM
The compressors mount conflicts with the OEM power steering (PS) bracket/mount. Essentially the Vintage compressor bracket moves the PS mount away from the head 1/4 of an inch or so (the thickness of the compressor mount). (Reference picture: PS #1 and PS #2), this causes PS belt alignment issues.
Compressor Mount Fit
The compressor mounts against the water pump and cylinder head, but not squarely. For proper operation and belt-wear, the mount must align the compressor pump pulley-grooves with the crank and water pump pulley-grooves. We removed as much as 3/16" off one of the welded 'bosses' on the mount; the longer of three that the water pump bolts goes through into the block. You can see this boss (reference picture: Comp #1) located under the vacuum line into the distributor. With the power steering issue above taken into consideration, by grinding of a couple bosses and using a washer or two on another, we were able to correct both PS and compressor mount problems. Possibly a 65/66, 289v8 water pump is different than my 64 260v? Who knows.
The drawing of the compressor mount is not up to date. While speaking with the Herb, it became clear that there had been design changes that were not incorporated on the Vintage drawing, which could confuse an installer (me). The changes I noted may not effect form, fit or function, but they were very blatant changes, and if there are blatant changes to the physical design of the mount not reflected in the drawing, who knows what changes there are that will effect the fit and are not incorporated?!