Cool project: What to expect during A/C installation

Dave Crouse, owner of Custom Auto in Loveland, Colo., has been restoring old cars since childhood. “Doing period-correct restorations and modifications is one of the highlights of my business,” he says. “The majority of Custom Auto’s work is ’32 Fords, but we work on all kinds of cars, including vintage race cars.”

An often-requested modification to these vehicles is the addition of air conditioning systems. Crouse recently talked with us about what to expect when undertaking this project.

Question: What are your best tips for installing air conditioning in a classic?

Crouse: The first thing you want to do is find a good, reliable supplier for all your parts. (Crouse uses Vintage Air for the ’32 Fords.) Doing the plumbing neatly and methodically is really important to a good installation and crucial to good performance. It’s good to find a jobber that can make up these hoses for you, or you’re going to have to invest in the tooling to make up the lines and hoses yourself. Second to the plumbing is having good mounts for the compressor. If not, you’re constantly going to run into drive or belt problems. Also, be sure to use R-134a refrigerant, which is the modern refrigerant required by law.

Question: What’s best – a kit or a custom system?

Crouse: We start off with a really basic kit, and then depending on all the different options that are available we add to the kit from there to upgrade the system so that it has nicer appearance when it’s installed. Each system is customized to the car.

Question: What challenges are likely to arise during installation?

Crouse: Getting all the duct work for the cool airflow mounted into the dash and getting the evaporator and controls mounted under the dash can be difficult, depending on the type of car.

Question: So, installation will be tougher in some cars than in others?

Crouse: There are a lot of details that can make this challenging, but the biggest issue is how much room there is to mount the necessary equipment. But every time I consider one of these cars impossible to do, someone comes up with a way to do it. It’s always surprising. The more challenging it is, it just drives up the cost of the installation.

Question: What’s the price range for this type of installation?
Crouse: On the cars that aren’t extremely challenging, the cost of parts and installation ranges from $3,000 to $4,500.

To learn more about Dave Crouse and Custom Auto, visit

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