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  • Chillin' Louie: To Coldly Blow (Part IX: Firing it up, buttoning it up)

    Chillin' Louie: To Coldly Blow (Part IX: Firing it up, buttoning it up)

    Okay, with the compressor and bracket, condenser and fan, evaporator assembly, receiver-drier, hoses, and wiring installed, it was time to fire it up, then button it up. Similarly, with the project itself complete, it's time to button up this series of articles. As such, this is a long piece that touches on a number of topics.


    Leak detection


    There's a whole chapter in my a/c book devoted to leak detection, and specifically to the use of nitrogen or other dry inert gas to pressure-test. My philosophy of a/c rejuvenation in vintage cars is that if you flush out the evaporator, use new components for everything else, build new hoses, fill the compressor with the correct amount of oil, put it all together, and leak-test it, you know you're starting off with a clean, leak-free system, and it'll simply come up running.


    That little blue adapter between the pressure regulator and the yellow service hose in the photo below is a ¼" NPT to ¼" 7/16-20 SAE adapter. You can find it on Amazon. Connect the manifold gauge set to the charging fittings of your car, the yellow hose to the nitrogen bottle, open up both valves on the service port fittings, open up both the blue and red knobs on the gauge set to allow nitrogen to flow into both the high and low sides of the system, slowly raise the pressure to 100 psi (or 120, which is the limit on most low-side gauges), then close both knobs on the gauge set and on the nitrogen bottle and let it sit overnight. If it drops by more than one psi overnight, you're deluding yourself if you don't think there's a leak. But if it doesn't budge, it's tight. Consult the book for reams of detail. 


    Nitrogen bottle and manifold gauge set for pressure-testing 
    Nitrogen bottle and manifold gauge set for pressure-testing

    I had a nice example of the utility of pressure-testing with Louie. I hooked up the nitrogen bottle to the manifold gauge set and slowly increased the pressure. When it was at about 80 psi, I heard a loud hissing from the larger of the two brand-new just-installed bulkhead connectors. I grabbed the wrench, checked it, and found that I'd forgotten to tighten it. D'oh! I took a moment and checked the connector on every fitting on the a/c. Nope, it was just that one that I'd forgotten. I pressure-tested it again and found that it still leaked. I pulled it apart and found that, when it leaked the first time, it had blown out and misshapen its o-ring. Another o-ring, a fresh coating of Nylog Blue sealant (which I use on all o-rings and threads), and it was tight. I pressurized it to 100 psi and let it sit overnight. I the morning it hadn't moved one iota. That's pressure-testing. That's how you know you've got a tight system.


    IMG_6580.JPG That's what you want to see.




    Once you've got a tight system, you need to pull a vacuum for at least 90 minutes on it with a good vacuum pump. This serves two purposes. First, it removes ambient air so that, when you begin to charge the system, air isn't displacing the refrigerant. Second, by lowering the pressure, it makes sure that any moisture in the system is boiled off and sucked out. This is particularly important with R134a because moisture is absorbed by both PAG and ester oil and reacts with R134a to produce hydrofluoric acid, which can corrode the innards of your beautiful new a/c system. 


    As with pressure-testing, connect the manifold gauge set to the charging fittings of your car and the yellow hose to the vacuum pump, open up both valves on the service port fittings, start the pump, then open up both the blue and red knobs on the gauge set to allow suction to pull a vacuum from both the high and low sides of the system. After 90 minutes, close both knobs on the gauge set, then shut off the pump. Some people use the vacuum as a leak test, but really it makes far more sense to pressurize, as when it's under pressure, you can find leaks by hunting for the sound, and, if necessary, spray soap solution and look for bubbles. You can't do either of those things when it's under vacuum.


    IMG_4059b.JPG Vacuum pump connected to manifold gauge set




    Not to sound like a broken record, but, as with pressure-testing and evacuation, there's a whole chapter in my book devoted to charging, but I'm not a certified a/c technician. I use a combination of:


    • Watching the gauges to see the high-side pressure rise
    • Watching the discharge line from the evaporator to see the metal fitting begin to sweat
    • Watching the vent temperature thermometer placed in the evaporator blower vent to see when it drops to a reasonable setting
    • Driving the car


    This time, with Louie, there was an additional variable: I'd bought a case of cans of R134a on Amazon ($68, less than six bucks a can) without knowing what that meant for them to be "self-sealing cans." These cans are compliant with a recent California mandate that small cans of refrigerant must be self-sealing. R134a is not an ozone-depleting agent like R12, but it is certainly a greenhouse gas, and the self-sealing feature makes it so that the cans aren't single-use like they used to be and just leak out the refrigerant after they're punctured. This is actually a good thing for both the environment and for you the user, as previously, there wasn't an easy way to use just a portion of a can. But it does take a little getting used to.


    I spent the $14.99 and bought the proper Johnsen's California-compliant R134a dispensing valve that screws onto the top of the self-sealing cans. You need to read the instructions that come with the valve. First, the spigot is reverse-threaded, so you turn it left (counter-clockwise) to open it, which on the one hand makes sense because it's like opening a faucet, but on the other hand it's unlike every other dispensing valve where you turn it clockwise to extend the pin that punctures the top. Rather than puncturing metal, though, the California-compliant valve moves a flap in the self-sealing can that, once the pin is withdrawn, swings back into position and seals the can. Again, this is a good thing, but the can takes much longer to empty than it used to, which makes the charging process longer.


    IMG_6858.JPG I followed the instructions for the dispensing valve for the self-sealing cans to the letter, and it worked perfectly


    As I said way back in the introduction, part of the reason I bought this Clardy system is that I resurrected the one on Jose Rosario's car, and was very impressed with how, after shooting just one can of R134a into it, it blew cold. That was pretty much the case with mine. After just one can, I was seeing 200 psi head pressures, saw the connector to the bulkhead fitting start to sweat, and read 40-degree vent temperatures on the gauge I had sticking out of the evaporator vent. That was enough to make me drive the car (there's only so much you can tell in the garage with the car at idle). Under load around town, in 90-degree heat and high humidity, I continued to see 40-degree vent temps, and on the highway at constant throttle, it dropped to 36. It might well go lower with a little more R134a (ideally you want the evaporator core to get to freezing and the temperature probe/switch cycle the compressor on and off), but I've let it be for now.


    IMG_6773.JPG As the president said at the end of Independence Day, "Not bad. Not bad at all."


    Drilling drain holes


    The Behr system I'm used to requires a single drain hole in the center of the transmission hump under the evaporator assembly. In contrast, the Clardy box has two drains, one at each side corner, requiring the drain holes to be cut pretty conspicuously closer to the sides of the hump. They're hidden by the console's side panels, but I wanted to be certain the system was working, and that it actually needed both of the holes before I cut them. I temporarily ran each rubber drain hose into a seltzer can and ran the car in the garage for ten minutes, making the system look like a frat boy wearing one of those hats that hosts two cans of beer. The amount of water in both cans was substantial (it was very humid). Okay, two drain holes it is. My 5/8-inch hole saw made nice clean cuts through both the original carpet and the floor. If you have a replacement carpet kit, I wouldn't recommend this, as I've had strands of wool pull out of cheap carpet kits like the drawstring on a big bag of dog food.


    IMG_6660.JPG One hole...
    IMG_6663.JPG ...and its attendant drain hose.



    Wrapping the sweating fittings and expansion valve


    Of course, in addition to the bulkhead fittings sweating in the engine compartment, they also sweated inside the car, so, as I said in that installment, it was crucially important that I wrap them with that tarry cork tape that prevents humid air from coming in contact with them. Which leads me to the following story.


    IMG_6683.JPG Getting the metal fittings on the suction line wrapped was a pain.


    In 1983, when we were living in Austin, just after I'd gotten my first 2002 running well and looking good, I happened into a second one that had a/c. Unfortunately, though, it wasn't blowing cold. In my first book, there's a chapter titled "Redneck Wind Chimes" in which I describe how Tom, a friend of mine from work and a first-rate shade tree mechanic, diagnosed it for me as a bad expansion valve. I removed the evaporator assembly, opened it up, and replaced the valve. Some of the components and copper tubes inside of and coming out of in the evaporator assembly are wrapped in sticky tarry cork tape whose purpose is to adhere to the metal to prevent humidity in the air from condensing on them and dripping on the rug. I remember going to an a/c specialty shop to buy the tape, and finding that the roll was a little pricey. The proprietor said "Yeah, but if you're not a pro and don't do a lot of cars, it'll last you forever."

    Fast-forward to Louie. In wrapping the fittings, I used up the last of the roll of cork tape.


    I can't recall another consumable that took me 38 years to consume.


    I ordered another roll. Using the last one as a benchmark, the new one should take me to 2059. I'll be 101. Like sand in the big cosmic hourglass, when that roll is done, I'll know that my time on this plane is through.


    IMG_6659.JPG This roll served me well. We shall not see its likes again.


    I obviously still needed to wrap the fitting on the other end of the suction line, the one that comes out of the expansion valve. But I wondered if I needed to wrap the expansion valve itself. I didn't see any cork tape on the old valve when I took it off. I took the car for a short drive in hot humid weather, then checked the valve. Condensed water was streaming off it onto the rug to the right of the accelerator pedal.


    IMG_6781.JPG No doubt of what was needed here.


    IMG_6783.JPG It's a wrap, wrap-wise.


    Hose rubbing


    While running the hoses behind the zero-clearance-room area behind the evaporator assembly, I found that the little metal plate on the right side of the heater box was digging right into the suction hose. Without giving it a second thought, I drilled out the rivets (or the tops of them anyway) holding the plate to the heater box to remove the little plate. Plate gone! Problem gone!


    IMG_6569.JPG This could not remain.


    IMG_6570.JPG One problem solved, but another one was created.


    But when I went to button the system back up and reinstalled the glove box, I discovered a problem. I hated the way that the hoses and fittings looked, emerging through the center of the footwell like they did. Then I remembered: There was a thin trim piece that lived under the glove box. I test-fit it, and found that its left side screws into that metal plate I'd removed. D'oh!


    IMG_6700_cropped_enhanced.jpg Even once I reinstalled the glovebox, those hoses and fittings were still visible beneath it.


    I drilled the rivets that previously held the metal plate completely out, and after verifying that I wasn't about to screw into the heater core, was able to screw the trim piece directly to one of the holes on the side of the heater box and hide the hoses.


    IMG_6735.JPG Rivets gone


    IMG_6738.JPG Oh god that's much better.


    Buttoning up the console


    Spinning vents: The vents in my faceplate had no resistance to them, spinning freely without holding a specified aiming angle, so before I installed the faceplate, I did a little surgery. Risking shattering the 45-year-old plastic, I carefully pried the little dowel out of where one end of each of the vents went into the faceplate, inserted a little rubber grommet over the dowel, and put it back together. One at one end of each vent was sufficient to hold them in place when aimed.


    IMG_6544.JPG I was proud of this bit of hack engineering.


    Bracket and ashtray: I said earlier that buying the full-up Clardy system also bought me the part I didn't know I needed—the bracket that screws to the underside of the dash and hosts the faceplate. I installed the bracket early in the process, not understanding its interaction with the original assembly that holds the ashtray, the hazard switch, and the rectangular surrounding faceplate. This assembly must first be screwed to the bracket, then the pair attached to the underside of the dash. 


    IMG_6556_arrows.jpg Bracket attached to ashtray assembly. The plastic tabs that would normally host slide-on nuts shown at the top were broken, but the intact captured nuts for the machine screws shown at the bottom held it on fine.


    IMG_6559.JPG Ashtray assembly and bracket test-fit into console faceplate.


    Revisiting the anatomy of the Clardy "console": I talked about this in one of the other installments, but it bears repeating. Both the original 2002 non-a/c console and the Behr console are hard-sided pieces of rigid particle board-like structure, the two sides of which are attached to each other with a metal bracket which is then screwed to the transmission tunnel. This rigid structure then supports the ashtray assembly, the radio, and in the case of the a/c console, the faceplate.


    But the Clardy system simply isn't like that. There's not a rigid structural console like the Behr system. Instead, the faceplate itself is the closest thing to a rigid structural member. The two side pieces that hide the evaporator assembly are flimsy plastic that simply screw to the sides of the faceplate and each have a single retaining screw preventing them from literally flapping back and forth. And, unless I'm missing something, the shift surround isn't attached to the "console" in any way.


    IMG_6716.JPG Faceplate and shift surround without driver's side piece...



    IMG_6720_annotated.jpg ...and with side piece. Without the screw in the bottom, it flaps into the accelerator pedal. It's really pretty flimsy.


    IMG_6732_annotated.jpg The retaining screw for the right side panel literally screws into the housing of the blower motor. Don't use a screw that's too long. I'm totally not kidding.


    IMG_6856_annotated.jpg If this is beauty, it's less than skin-deep.


    I raise this because it's necessary to understand it in order to understand...


    Installation of the shift surround: When I threw the "console" into the car, I mounted the faceplate in the bracket. It's basically held there by its curved bottom resting on the transmission hump, the rectangular area for the vents sliding into in the rectangular evaporator outlet, and the fan and temperature controls going through the holes in the bracket and, when tightened, squeezing the two together. But I didn't understand the attachment of the shift surround. It was the last piece that I installed.


    The Clardy console reuses the original shift surround (the trapezoidal piece that the rubber boot attaches to) just as the Behr console does. But unlike the Behr console where the side pieces go all the way to the back of the shift surround, the Clardy console uses two short pieces that screw to the sides of the surround. But there's absolutely no attachment between the console and the shift surround and its side pieces. This is visible in the photos above and below. So when I first drove the car, the shift surround moved all over the place, and the back of it lifted up when I shifted into 1st and 3rd.


    I don't have the pages from the Clardy manual describing the installation of the surround, but I assume that the slot in the front of the surround is supposed to be screwed to the transmission tunnel just like it is with the non-a/c console, The problem is that that the 10mm-head screw that holds the front of it down is underneath the part of the part of the faceplate that juts out. So in terms of assembly order, really, the shift surround should be installed first and screwed down in front, and then the faceplate should be installed and slid on top of it. As I'd just gotten the faceplate installed and everything, including the radio, wired up, I didn't want to backtrack, so I tightened the front shift surround screw down partway, then slid the surround forward in its slot. That worked well enough.


    IMG_6698_annotated.jpg This was a bit of a surprise.


    But the back of the surround still lifted up when shifting. Without having the Clardy installation instructions, I cobbled something together. I took the bracket off the original non-a/c console and screwed it to the transmission hump using its original hole location.


    IMG_6722.JPG If this looked like it was meant to be there, it's because it was and it had been.


    Now, on the original non-a/c console and the Behr a/c console, remember that the console side pieces are rigid, they screw to this bracket or one like this, and the shift surround in turn screws to the rigid side pieces, but the Clardy "console" just doesn't have that structure. I test-fit the shift surround over the bracket I'd screwed to the hump, saw that its slots and slide-on nuts were directly above the ends of the bracket, and fabricated some short intermediate bracket pieces out of a leftover universal condenser bracket. I nut-and-bolted them at the bottom to the bracket, and used the same screw holes that the short Clardy surround side pieces use at the top. This did a perfect job of holding the back of the shift surround down.


    IMG_6729.JPG I was quite proud of this as well.


    If someone can tell me how this is done on a dealer-installed Clardy system, or on the ICE AC system, or on the KoggleWerks console, I'd love to know.


    Patina: My goal in this was to have the end product look like it's always been there—to have its patina match that of the car—and I think I succeeded in that goal. It's done, it's installed, and I think it looks pretty good. If I had a beautiful car in which I was doing an a/c install, I might be swayed by the newer-looking KoogleWerks console, but in Louie, it'd look too new. I still think the sweeping curved lines of the Behr console are more in harmony with the lines of the dash, and that the Clardy looks a bit oddly angular and blocky, but at least it looks aged-in.


    IMG_6854_cropped.JPG I am pleased.


    Post-Installation Issues


    Low vents: The vents on the Clardy evap assembly aren't at the top like they are on the Behr system. They're in the middle. As such, it really doesn't aim at your face; it more hits you in the chest. It's manageable. Someone commented on an earlier post about installing a triangular wedge to force the air up. If I have to pull the system apart, I might try that.


    Spitting: Because of the close proximity of the evaporator core to the vents, this Clardy system spits a fair amount of humidity. I don't find it problematic—hell, it's almost even refreshing—but it is unusual. No other vintage a/c system I've ever had has done this. If I drove around wearing expensive linen suits, I might be concerned about staining. A piece of screen installed on the inside of the vent would probably solve the problem.


    Alternator: I haven't directly measured the draw of the Spal 30101505 condenser fan, as I still haven't found my old VDO ammeter, but its published spec is 13 amps, so it doesn't surprise me that, with the a/c on and the engine idling, the alternator is totally dragged down by the load, getting as low as 11.6 volts according to my el-cheapo cigarette lighter voltmeter. At highway speeds, though, it seems to keep up okay, with voltage in the low thirteens. The alternators on tiis are a pain to replace, as the injection pump is mounted where the alternator usually is, so the alternator is mounted low, requiring you to either disconnect the sway bar or remove the battery tray to get it out. I have a higher-amperage rebuilt tii alternator. Prior to the next long trip, I'll probably bite the bullet and install it.


    IMG_6774.JPG Waaaaaaay too low at idle, but it came up to fairly normal levels with the engine RPM up.


    The money


    Projects like this always cost more than you think they will. Even if you get the major components inexpensively (as I did with the $250 full-up Clardy system, and re-using an old Seltec compressor), in order to get it installed and working, it needs what it needs, and it adds up. Just for fun, here's the total. The bill for hose and fittings is higher than was required because I bought 10 feet of #10, #8, and #6 hoses, and I bought extra fittings in case I ruined some, and so far I've only used one can of R134a from the case of 12. So maybe you could say the total is closer to a thousand bucks. And, if you don't have to deal with retrofitting a/c into a tii and absolutely needing that tii-specific a/c crankshaft hub pulley (if you can find one), that was a quarter of it right there.


    used Clardy system $250
    tii a/c hub $250
    ester oil $16
    flush $18
    expansion valve $10
    spal 30101505 fan $84
    misc hardware $7
    condenser and brackets $79
    plastic sheet to fix faceplate $9
    derale mounting $8
    another mounting $8
    hose and fittings $145
    grommets $14
    drier $19
    case of R134a $70
    California can tap $14
    bulkhead fittings $34
    #10 short drop fitting $12
    more fittings $37
    nylog $11
    radiator port reconfig $65
    cork tape $19
    total $1,180


    To Coldly Blow...


    So that's it. Louie is chill. I can jump into the car and either go for a stress-busting drive, or run out to pick up take out or a quart of milk, and not come back feeling like I've just done 20 minutes on the elliptical machine. And that was the whole idea. If you enjoy your simple, non-air-conditioned 2002, more power to you. But to me, having working a/c in these vintage cars substantially extends my use of them during the summer, which in turn dramatically increases my enjoyment of the cars.




    (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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    This was a great series, Rob, at least for me! Makes me (almost) want to re-install my ‘76’s Clardy system!


    I have not seen the manila envelope that holds my Clardy’s original instructions since we moved back from Atlanta in 2016, sadly!


    And, at least the way I installed my system — can’t recall if I was following the instructions precisely — the front of the shift surround assembly is fastened to the console faceplate. Two long (black) screws, one for each side, go through the side panels and into the “front lip” of the faceplate.


    The two photos below just barely capture the two screws securing the shift surround to the faceplate.


    One operational tidbit, based solely on my experience with the unit in my ‘76, is that in extended high-speed cruising in very high humidity with the A!C running, I turn down the unit’s thermostat and/or reduce the fan speed to medium. This heads off the evaporator turning into a block of ice, which obviously cuts airflow dramatically.


    Thanks and best regards,







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    Got it, thanks Steve. The evaporator in the Behr system in Kugel would freeze solid as well, but they're really not supposed to do that. The temperature switch and the attached probe that goes into the evaporator core is supposed to sense freezing temperature and cycle the compressor off.

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    Hey Rob, great articles.  I just finished refurbishing my Clardy system so the series was helpful in seeing if I had done things right. ?  Question for you as I have the same issue with low voltage when I have the fan on high...for me it's around 11.0....anyway I have the stock 45amp alternator on the car so what would you or others recommend as a step up to solve the issue?  Would s 55amp work?



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    Murph, it's difficult to know what portion of the low RPM response is due to the alternator and what portion is the 2002's archaic external mechanical voltage regulator, the cigarette-pack-sized silver box on the left fender wall near the battery. In general, I advise people to replace the alternator and external regulator with a modern internally-regulated alternator, where the regulator is solid-state and integrated with the brush pack. I forget what cross-references for a 2002; I think it's an E21 alternator, but I'm not certain. (Wait, here's a link:

    ) For a tii, though, because the alternator is unique, you have no choice but to have yours converted by an auto electrical shop, or buy one that's already had the conversion done.

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