Early Days of Automotive Air Conditioning

Some readers may not realize that automtive air conditioning wasn’t always standard.

A/C was installed in only 0.4% of all US cars in ’53 (1 in every 240), and in the GM line, anyway, was a $600 option — on cars whose base price ranged from about $1900 to $2400! GM’s system was similar to the one shown here, and although Desoto’s intake grilles are more attractive, GM’s system of flanking clear plastic tubes which delivered cooled air under the headliner to each seating station was superior. The MoPAR setup shown here ensured that the cold air produced by its trunk-mounted evaporator and fan followed the curve of the headliner inside the car, directly from rear to front, ending up right on the driver’s neck and shoulders, which soon stiffened up as a result. GM’s units were offered on only their highest-end, senior cars — Cadillacs, Buick Roadmasters and Supers, and the uppermost Oldsmobile, as well as on their limousines and other big commercial cars. Fun fact: Having surveyed the competition for ’53, GM’s marketing dept. put so much pressure on Engineering to get an A/C system ready that the engineers forgot to include in their design a disengagement clutch on the compressor. Thus, every Spring you’d have to go to your friendly GM dealer, he’d install the special A/C drive belt that came with each air-conditioned car, and you’d have A/C — like it or not — continuously until the Fall, when you’d have the belt taken off. Like the telescreen in the novel 1984, you could turn the system DOWN, but not OFF. This defect was remedied for ’54, when a clutch was finally included.

Source: Robert Haworth/Youtube

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