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  • Chillin' Louie (Part V: The Clardy Evaporator Assembly)

    Chillin' Louie (Part V: The Clardy Evaporator Assembly)

    The Bigger Picture of the Evaporator Assembly and Console


    This whole thing started because a) I did some work on the bone-stock Clardy system in my friend Jose Rosario's 2002 and was very impressed with how cold it blew after shooting just one can of R134a into it, and after that b) I happened into a full-up Clardy system at The Vintage in 2017 for a price I couldn't pass up. As I say in my a/c book, whether you're doing an installation of a system like the one I bought, or a rejuvenation of an already installed but long-dead system, the smart path is to:

    • Re-use the original evaporator assembly (but first disassemble it, flush it out, then replace the expansion valve) and its original console.
    • Throw nearly everything else away.


    In other words, you're going to use a new Sanden 508 compressor or clone thereof and a bracket to mount it to the block, you're going to use a modern parallel-flow condenser whose size is limited to about 10x18 unless you cut some metal in the nose, you're going to use as big a fan that fits between the hood supports (12"), you're going to use some generic inexpensive receiver-drier, and you're going to make all new hoses. All those things are moderately-priced components that are easily sourced. Commodities really. So the only thing that really matters is that evaporator assembly and console.


    I've said in my book and here on the FAQ that, although you can try to fit an evap assembly from another car (there were persistent unsubstantiated rumors here on the FAQ that an evap box from something weird and small and Japanese like a Moparbishi Colt/Champ would fit), or a generic universal evaporator assembly, or a generic climate control box (an evaporator and heater core in one box that creates a blended temperature-controlled output), I think that most people will be happy using the evap assembly and console from one of the original three dealer-installed systems (Behr, Frigiking, Clardy), as that way they'll have something that looks like it's been engineered to fit as opposed to, well, hacked. I'll freely admit that that view was influenced by trying, 20 years ago, to retrofit a/c into my E9 coupe, starting off with a generic evaporator assembly, and realizing that, even if it fit under the dash, there was no way in hell it was ever going to sit inside a console and look well-integrated. I'll come back to this in a moment.


    In the first installment of this series, I included photographs of the evaporator assemblies and surrounding consoles of all three dealer-installed a/c systems (I've read here on the FAQ about a fourth that was mounted on the parcel shelf, but I'm not familiar with it). Personally, I think that the Behr system is by far the best looking of the three. It's got a real console with hard sides that wrap completely around both the evap assembly and the shifter, looks very similar to to the non-a/c console, and gives a family resemblance to the Behr a/c systems in the E3 Bavaria and E9 3.0CS coupe. I always thought that the Clardy console was just plain weird-looking, too angular in a 2002 interior and dashboard that's otherwise bereft of hard lines and hard angles. I never would've given it a second thought if Jose's hadn't worked so well after I fixed it.


    Having bought this old Clardy system and installed the evap assembly, I've learned a bit more. 


    Physical configuration: As I showed in the first installment, the Behr evap assembly has everything (evaporator core, expansion valve, blower motor) inside a hard plastic case that's kind of a pain to crack open and disassemble. In contrast, the Clardy has the blower motor hanging out to the right and the expansion valve behind on the left. Further, the Clardy doesn't really even have a "case" like the Behr; it's more two thin halves of plastic shrouding that are screwed together. In comparison with the Behr, it's light to the point of being flimsy, and way the the blower is screwed to the side almost looks like a kluge. However, it does make it so the expansion valve and blower motor can be replaced without tearing the thing apart.


    clardy_evap_front.jpg Clardy evaporator assembly. Photo courtesy Earl Meyers.


    Evaporator core size comparison: I was curious if the mystique of the performance of the Clardy system was because it has a larger evaporator core than the Behr. It doesn't. The Behr evaporator core is about 8.25 x 7.75 x 3.375 inches (about 216 cubic inches). The Clardy core is about 10.25 x 3.75 x 3.625 inches (about 139 cubic inches). So it's about 35% smaller than the Behr evaporator core. Most surprising.


    Expansion valve and o-ring fittings: As I said in Part I, both the Behr and Frigiking have old-school externally-regulated expansion valves, but the Clardy system has a modern block-style internally-regulated expansion valve. What I didn't realize until I took mine apart to replace the valve is that both the external hose connections to the expansion valve and the connections between the expansion valve and the core itself are o-ring connections. This is great because it means that it's possible to put an a/c system in a 2002 that has only o-ring fittings and no flare fittings. This dramatically increases the chance that, when you put the system together and tighten the fittings down, it'll be leak-free. It's also surprising because I believe that the original Clardy system's other components are not o-ring fittings; they're flares.


    IMG_6267.JPG Preparing to remove the original block-style expansion valve on my Clardy evaporator assembly.
    IMG_6270.JPG And beneath it, o-rings!


    Let me expand on that flare/o-ring observation. In most vintage a/c systems including the original Behr system, every component—compressor, evaporator assembly, condenser, drier—had flare fittings. When you rejuvenate a system, you almost always need to make new hoses anyway, so you'd be silly not to replace the compressor, condenser, and drier with components with modern o-ring fittings. However, there's no getting around the fact that the fittings on the Behr evaporator assembly have flares. You can use flare-to-o-ring adapters (and I usually do), but it doesn't solve the fundamental issue of those fittings, as well as the expansion valve fittings inside the assembly, having leak-prone flares. Flare fittings use a metal-on-metal sealing face. You have to crank them down really tight to get them to seal. It's possible to tighten them so much that you actually crack the flare. I've done it. Believe me, few things are a frustrating as installing an evaporator assembly, hooking up all the plumbing, charging it, and finding that you have a leak inside the evaporator assembly and have to pull it out and take it apart again. With the Clardy's evaporator assembly having o-ring fittings on the block expansion valve, it means that, once you update the other components, there are no flares in the system. Zero. This alone is a HUGE advantage of the Clardy evap assembly.


    Form factor and how it affects installation: You've seen the photos that show how the Clardy evap assembly has that big blower motor on the right side, hanging into the passenger compartment. What you probably haven't seen is what the consequence of that is in terms of mounting.


    The Behr evaporator assembly basically sits on the transmission hump. There's a metal stand for it that's a pain and probably a bit over-engineered—the stand screws to the hump, attaches to the bottom of the assembly, and there are 10mm bolts on sliding slots that you try to reach in and tighten, but even without the stand, it still basically sits on the hump. And it's fully surrounded by a hard-sided console that wraps completely around the shift lever. It's got a trapezoidal faceplate that's held in place to the console by screws through the sides. 


    In contrast, the Clardy assembly does NOT sit on the hump at all. Instead it has two little metal tabs that you need to screw into the corners of the heater box, and it hangs from those. Yeesh! And the Clardy console isn't really a console at all, at least not as compared with the hard-sided Behr console. Instead, the faceplate is the business end, and two flappy thin plastic side pieces screw to it, rather than the other way around. Two other pieces extend around the shifter to make it look like it wraps around it, which it really doesn't, at least not in the way that the Behr console wraps around the shifter. I'll photograph all this in a later installment when it's all buttoned up.


    But the point is that the whole Clardy setup is a little weird and kind of flimsy as compared with the Behr system. 


    Faceplate bracket: In the photos below, you'll see that there's a metal bracket above the evaporator assembly. I'd already screwed it to the underside of the dash as part of the test fit. If you're going to retrofit a Clardy system, you need this bracket, as it holds the faceplate. The installation of the faceplate and ashtray will be a pain without it. (This is an example of why it's always handy to buy a full-up removed a/c system even though you know you'll throw out the compressor, condenser, fan, receiver-drier, and hoses. You never know when there's a piece like this without which your installation life will be difficult.)


    Evaporator assembly maintenance


    Okay. So you've bought a used evaporator assembly. You do NOT just throw it in the car. First, with the old expansion valve removed, you flush out the evaporator core. This removes dirt, traces of old refrigerant oil, and other contaminants. Why anyone would install a used a/c evap assembly without disassembling and flushing it is beyond me.


    IMG_6301.JPG Are you feeling... flushed?


    Next, if you're smart, you replace the expansion valve. Some enterprising soul here on the FAQ had already figured out that the two fittings on the front of the expansion valve are like they are on most evaporator assemblies (#6  input) and #10 output), but on the back of the expansion valve where it mates to the actual evaporator fittings, it's two #10s, and that a Four Seasons 38881 expansion valve fits. I got really lucky and found one on Amazon for $10.31 :^). Because it's new, I assume it's a valve meant for R134a.


    A word on this. You've probably read that the expansion valve should match the refrigerant—that you should use an R12 expansion valve for R12, and an R134a valve for R134a—but I haven't always followed that advice. Sometimes, when rejuvenating a Behr system, I've reused the original R12 expansion valve. Sometimes I've combed eBay to purchase a new old stock Egelhof expansion valve and used them with R134a. Sometimes I've bought a new and presumably R134a-compliant expansion valve. I can't say that I've ever found the valve to the the sole and obvious determining factor of either a system that blows so cold that it shatters the enamel on my teeth, or performs so poorly that it feels like something's wrong.


    IMG_6364.JPG New o-rings wetted-up with Nylog Blue sealer
    IMG_6369.JPG Newly-installed expansion valve

    Lastly, I connected the blower fan directly to a battery to verify that it worked (it did) and that it didn't rub (it did; requiring a little jiggering of the fan motor inside its housing). The fan motor was then turned on and rechecked at several times during the evap assembly installation. You don't want to button everything up to find that the fan scrapes.

    Evaporator assembly installation


    Okay. Let's get on with it.


    For the actual evap installation, I combed the FAQ for a set of Clardy installation instructions, found references to them, saw wiring diagrams and charging instructions, but never found a complete set of installation instructions. I pulsed some FAQers and they sent what they had, but I never got my hands on the part that describes what I was looking for, which is how exactly to install the evap box. Fortunately I did find this photo, unmistakably showing the little tabs on the evap box screwed to the corners of the heater box.


    evaporator attachment #1 with arrow.jpg Photo courtesy of Conserv (Steve)


    There was also the question of the position of that faceplate bracket. It's pretty clear from the above photo, but I also found this pic from the Clardy installation manual on the FAQ. It was unclear to me whether the two outer screws were supposed to replace already existing under-dash screws that are very close to those locations, but the ones in my car that those locations were solidly rusted in place, so I drilled new holes near them.


    bracket attachment.jpg Clardy faceplate bracket placement. I forget who posted it on the FAQ, but thanks.


    Looking at the photos, I first mounted the bracket under the dash, then test-fit the faceplate to it and verified that the faceplate's curved base sat correctly on the transmission hump.


    IMG_6387.JPG Test-fitting the Clardy faceplate and bracket.


    Once I was convinced that the faceplate sat about right, I took it off, supported the evap assembly on a block of wood on the hump, put the faceplate back on, slid the back of the vent openings into the opening in the front of the evap assembly, and verified that, basically, if you lifted the evap box as high up as it would go, the tab locations looked about like they did in the two photos above without making the vent ridge on the faceplate pop out of the evap box. I marked and drilled the holes in the heater box for #8 Phillips screws, but first looked at an old heater box I had kicking around to reassure myself I wasn't about to accidentally drill holes in the heater core.


    IMG_6388.JPG A fair amount of time and stress over two very small holes.

    With this done, I could finally hang my prize.


    IMG_6534.JPG Yay!


    I'll do a big wrap-up at the end of this series, but since I'm concentrating here on the evap assembly and I just talked about it in a fair amount of detail, here's a small wrap-up:


    When I published my a/c book three years ago, I said that I thought most people would be happy building a system around one of the original three dealer-installed evaporator assemblies. Since installing this Clardy box, I know a little more than I did then. The 2002 a/c system that Bob Poggi at ICE AC sells reportedly uses an evaporator assembly that's very similar to the Clardy box. I've written to Bob Poggi to try and get some details on what the evaporator assembly actually is and how it differs from the original Clardy box (their website is horrible). The only detail he's provided me is "I can assure you it has no ties to the Clardy system aside from the offset blower assembly." From the occasional photos of the ICE evaporator assembly I've found here on the FAQ, the ICE box looks extremely similar to the Clardy box, right down to the little mounting tabs that look like they need to be screwed to the heater box the same way. The fact that the KoogleWerks faceplate is advertised as working for both the Clardy as well as the ICE system certainly indicate that, at least as far as mounting and form factor, the two systems are extremely similar.


    The point is that, if I was doing a build on a car, and was looking for a new evaporator assembly and faceplate/console that worked better than a 45-year-old one but also looked like it wasn't a hastily-built one-off, I'd look at the ICE evaporator assembly, as it is, I believe, the only new commercially-available option that fits that bill. Yes, there is the Vintage Air mini-system (and the DTech system that I believe is built around it), but that's not just an evaporator assembly; it's a climate control system with layers of additional complication with which I have zero experience.


    Next installment: The bulkhead connectors.




    (My a/c book Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack Mechanic Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning can be purchased here on Amazon, or personally-inscribed copies of it and my other books can be purchased directly from me here.)


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    Rob, that’s a great analysis of unit differences and the quirks of installation.  I received a Clardy unit with the purchase of Zouave, which is a ‘74.  It had never been installed (Zouave had never had AC), so I have had a good look at the components.  Best I can tell, they are virtually identical, mounts and all, to the ICE unit.  The dimensional difference of which I’m aware is that the ICE fan extends a little further into the footwell than the Clardy, in order to accomodate a bigger blower.  You don’t need that extra foot space.  Bob tells me (though I haven’t verified) that his evaporator contains an additional row (or maybe he said, “row’s worth”) of tubing for enhanced cooling.  I can’t verify that — the two evaporators look pretty much identical from the outside of the box.  But as with radiators, no reason to think you can’t cram more cooling into a space today than you could in ‘74. 


    The ICE unit, being a Clardy clone, is of course most appropriate for ‘74 and on cars, on which it was (I think) the main dealer option.  I agree with Rob that the Behr console looks cooler — it’s a little more old-school — especially on a roundie, but I think the Clardy style looks perfectly appropriate on a squaretail (cue snide comment from Ray….).  And once it’s in place the “cheap” mostly goes away.  OK, not completely, but compared to a lot of ‘70s interiors it is just fine.


    Rob’s right that Bob will provide very few details about his unit beyond what I have just told you).  But if you’re willing to pony up and endure the accompanying mystery til the boxes arrive, the kit provides you everything you need to install it, including confusing but very complete instructions (also available on his site) and a correct wiring harness, a condensor/fan combination that is about as big as you can stuff in the nose without cutting, pre-made hoses and a basic faceplate that you can modify to accomodate a variety of switches, radio, etc (I opted for Koogle’s faceplace and cupholder console, which were closer to what I wanted in terms of vent and radio placementj than the stock ICE offering).  I should add, one of the benefits to me of the kit was that I felt I could install it and forget it for a few years, as I have done enough jiggling of fans in my day to stop them rattling.  Only to have them remind me a couple hundred miles later that they’re old and worn out.  


    My only disappointments in the ICE system were the confusing instructions (read: my repeated inability to understand the instructions), the cheap (but very functional) switches, and the Sanden knockoff compressor, the mounting configuration of which is outdated and only works with the somewhat bulky mount supplied by ICE.  But the system is cold and voluminous, and with a little judiciously placed soundproofing material it’s a little quieter than it first was.  Though don’t expect to enjoy your favorite string quartet.  Also, if you have size 13s like i do, you may find that the side of the console is in contact with your right foot more than you like.  If I had it to do over, I’d have shifted the mount 1/4” to the passenger side.  It would be aesthetically insignificant and provide room for a little fatter shoe.


    I also note that, with the Koogle faceplate, I think it’d be easy for someone good with ABS to fashion an upper center air vent to go with the two supplied vents.  In one of the photos below, you’ll see how I placed an ABS “wedge” top and center on the evaporator. Seriously, a little further shaping and cutting, and the Koogle faceplate, and a third generic vent like the ones supplied by ICE, and you could do it.


    To be fair to Bob Poggi, and (as if most of you cared) to Jon at DTech, who I spoke with at length and got even less useful information than I got from Bob, these guys don’t want to tell you much about their systems because they know that once you have ID’d the evaporator assembly you’re likely to go buy the evaporator and cobble the rest together on ebay, then post the details.  Not interesting to them, and they don’t really give a s__t if it costs them a few units to keep their intellectual property sellable.  I don’t blame them. 


    Finally, I shared Rob’s trepidation about drilling into the heater box for the rear mounts.  My teeth go to grittin’ just thinking about it.  However, it is nothing for pucker-factor compared to the holes I had to drill in the firewall (brake lines! Wiring! One chance!) and apron (pre-cut hoses! Drier bottle placement! Persnickety grommets! One chance!).  That will make you measure twice.


    All in all, having now installed an AC, I’d be more willing next time around to try a modified system, but I think the ICE or Clardy system with a third vent might be the killer app we’re all looking for.


    ICE mounting bracket and evaporator:image.jpeg

    Evaporator on bench with the ABS wedge — just cut out the top of the evaporator, create a rectangular vent that reaches to the faceplate, glue it on, cut out the requisite hole in the faceplate, voila.


    Scary holes: 


    Some call it weird; I think it’s “appropriate”:



    Ray, eat your heart out:


    No regrets about this purchase so far.  Keep the thoughts (and photos) coming, Hackman.


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    16 minutes ago, ray_ said:

    Ken, can you measure or estimate the dimensions of the opening at the front of the evaporator?



    Will do when I return to SRQ in August.  Currently enjoying the mild weather in Austin.

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    Between Rob and Ken, what a great summary of both the Clardy and I.C.E. AIR systems! Kudos and thanks to you both! ?


    Despite installing my ‘76’s Clardy system in 1976, and using it for 45 years — with a refresh in 2011-13 — there is nothing I can add!


    OK… maybe 1 cent’s worth…


    1.) The Clardy blower, awkwardly intruding visually into the front passenger’s leg space — when viewed from the backseat with the front passenger seat removed ? — has, not once, in those 45 years, gotten in anyone’s way. And…


    2.) The Clardy system was introduced in 1975, but distribution across the U.S. was far from even. The minuscule marketing efforts put forward by Clardy focused, probably appropriately for a tiny company, in the U.S. South, particularly Texas, where Clardy was located. The reason I installed the Clardy myself, with my father’s assistance, was because the closest Clardy dealer/installer in 1976 was in Brooklyn, 3 hours from me in Pennsylvania. It seems that Behr A/C absolutely ruled in the Northeast U.S. through the end of the ‘02 era.


    There’s my contribution!


    Thanks and best regards,




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