A Guide to Air Conditioning Systems and Components

In the early days of street rodding, air conditioning was a difficult luxury to fit into your rod. The evaporator was huge, not to mention the old style compressors that were about the size of a football. How could you make those things look good on an engine?

On the other hand, if you just planned to go fast air conditioning wasn’t even considered – it was too much weight and too many parts to get in the way. The most effective air conditioning was simply the classic option of 2-at-60 (two windows down at 60 mph).

Today air conditioning in your hot rod is nearly as common as four wheels! Maybe that’s taking it a bit far, but there’s just no reason not to take advantage of today’s modern A/C systems. They’re far more compact, much more efficient and available for any number of applications.

We reached out to the pros to see what’s new in cooling the air of your hot rod and found no shortage of different systems for direct-fit or custom applications. Plus, there are plenty of accessory drive systems, stunning vents and supporting accessories to help you stay cool while cruising all summer long.

Dakota Digital

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acControl Your Temperature

Isn’t it great to see two big name companies working together on new products for rodders? Dakota Digital offers a trick Climate Controller that plugs into a Vintage Air Gen IV system that looks great and maintains the temperature in your passenger compartment.

The DCC-4000 series controller provides the status and controls of your HVAC system, similar to those on later model vehicles. The full-color TFT display can be configured for horizontal or vertical orientation and the illumination colors can be selected by the user. As a bonus, when it’s connected to a Dakota Digital HDX or RTX system, the DCC colors and brightness will automatically sync for a complete and coordinated look in your interior.

Gotta Show

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acSleek with Stainless

Let’s be honest, an air conditioning system adds a lot of underhood components, but with the help of Gotta Show, you can make sure the extra plumbing looks as good as it cools. Gotta Show offers a complete Stainless Hose and Fitting Kit (PN 343100) that you can custom route and fit to your application.

Once things are measured and roughed in, you send the hoses back to Gotta Show where they’re crimped and leak tested with a one day turnaround! That means your lines will have factory secured crimps and fittings with a perfect fit. The fittings are made in the USA and can be polished for a fine, show ready finish.

Vintage Air

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acCooling Goats

Pontiac fans, specifically the ’68-’72 A-body owners, will be happy to see a new Surefit Climate System from Vintage Air. Available as a complete kit or as an Evaporator kit, the system is based on their Gen IV design which employs their exclusive fly-by-wire, fully electronic servo motors matched with intelligent climate control that produces “just the right temperature” while you’re on the road.

The evaporator’s separate high capacity copper parallel-flow heater coil and aluminum plate-and-fin cooling coil provide outstanding performance. Vintage Air also supplies a direct-fit control panel with cool backlit LEDs. The complete kit is supplied with an efficient condenser, compressor and brackets along with a hose kit plus the system is backed by a three-year warranty.

Tech Tip #1

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod ac

Detroit Speed

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acBlocked Off

One of the great things about moving to an aftermarket A/C system is how much smaller the evaporator assembly is. In turn, this results in reducing the clutter hanging off the firewall giving you the opportunity to really clean up the engine compartment.

Detroit Speed specializes in making muscle cars clean and smooth and offer these cool heater delete plates for a number of GM applications including first gen Camaro/Firebirds, ’68-’74 Novas and ’64-72 GM A-bodies. These 18-gauge steel, bolt-in panels are reminiscent of the rare factory delete panels and will give your muscle car a crisp underhood appearance yet you’ll still be staying cool inside!

Restomod Air

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acFull Size Air

Oversized classic land yachts make great cruisers but keeping an oversized interior cool can be a constant struggle. RestoMod Air likes big cruisers and decided to design an A/C system specifically for full-size cars – the Haymaker II.

The Haymaker II is their largest system and the efficient assembly is packed with their innovative, exclusive features to produce copious amounts of cool air to keep any large cabin comfy. The system also offers heating capabilities with floor and defrost delivery along with an infinite blend of treated air to maintain the exact temp to keep you and your passengers cool on long hauls or just down the block for an ice cream.

Eddie Motorsports

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acAll in One Set

Adding air conditioning means adding a compressor to the accessory drive of your engine. Finding the right brackets and compressor to fit your existing parts can be difficult, or you can start with a complete system engineered to effectively work together, such as the S-Drive serpentine kits from Eddie Motorsports.

The S-Drive Kits include everything you need from high strength, billet brackets complemented with all new accessory components including a compact Sanden A/C compressor, high output Powermaster alternator, new PRW waterpump and a GM Type II style power steering pump. Eddie offers complete serpentine and V-belt kits for small and big-block Chevys, LS engines, small-block Ford, Pontiac and big-block Mopars.

Tech Tip #2

In most cases, it is best to take the time to build your own A/C hoses so you can route them exactly how you want for your application. This takes a bit more work as you generally need to source the fittings and lines, mock them up in your engine compartment, then take them back to the hose shop hoping they assemble and crimp the lines exactly as you want.

To help the DIY rodder, Vintage Air offers their E-Z Clip Lines and Fittings which can be cut and crimped in your own garage. Not only are the hoses 30% smaller in outside diameter, they are also designed to be finished with a nickel plated steel O-ring fitting. The fittings are secured and sealed with a unique stainless steel cage and clips that are easily secured with a set of affordable crimping pliers. Vintage air offers these helpful fittings and lines in a universal kit or individually.


A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acA/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acRing of Detail

Building street rods teaches you how small details can make such a big difference in the presentation of form as well as function. The team at NotcHead understands the needs of builders and has developed a number of unique components such as their new Firewall Rings.

The Firewall Rings are ideal for routing the A/C and heater lines through the cowling replacing bulky rubber grommets. A threaded ABS nut allows for different thickness materials and the Rings, available in machined, polished or black anodized, install in a 1 5/16” hole so the lines can be paced exactly where you need them.

All American Billet

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acSerpentine A/C

Phoenix, Arizona, based All American Billet offers a number of serpentine belt drive systems that are designed for a compact installation and include a new A/C compressor. Their kits are easy to install with their unique CNC-machined billet aluminum brackets to produce a secure, reliable drive system.

The kits are available for over 20 different engines and in a number of finishes from satin to polished and their signature Silverline Series (black anodizing with machined accents to add just a touch of contrast ). Complete systems are available with a new air compressor, a 140 amp alternator, optional power steering pump, heavy duty tensioner and stainless steel hardware.

Old Air Products

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acA/C for F-Trucks

There’s no denying the growing popularity of Ford trucks from the ‘70s and Old Air Products has developed a new system specifically for the ’73-’79 models. The systems are available as a complete kit or just an inside package to connect with existing underhood A/C components.

The Hurricane unit mounts to the firewall with a custom mounting plate directing the heater and A/C lines neatly through the firewall with a custom rubber grommet. A custom condenser assembly fits with specific brackets as well as pre-formed lines to pass through the core support. An electronic switching package operates the fan and HVAC functions and mounting brackets are available for most Ford engines.

Tech Tip #3

When mounting the condenser, RestoMod Air provided several helpful tips. First, always get the largest condenser you can fit as surface area is key. When mounting it, always make sure the larger, #8 size fitting is on top and never position the unit more than an inch from the radiator.

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod ac

Concept One

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acDesigned to Drive

Concept One understands that not everyone is building a competition show car which is why they now offer a Driver Series pulley system. These kits are designed with the same fit, function and proven performance as their Victory Series, but without the show car bling and more of an OEM feel (with some $ savings as well!)

The Driver Series, available for small and big-block Chevy and LS engines, is more compact than bulky OEM systems. On LS engines, the A/C compressor has been moved to the front of the passenger cylinder head to accommodate more space by the frame and crossmember. Three finishes are offered; machined, or anodized in black or clear.

Clayton Machine Works

A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acStyling Direction

Having a cool functioning A/C system is top priority, but once it’s in place you need to think about adding a touch of style to the interior by choosing the right vent to install in your dash. The design and CNC experts at Clayton Machine Works offers several unique vent assemblies to choose from.

Their chrome plated, die-cast vents feature adjustable louvers so you can direct the cool air to the most comfortable position. Each vent is designed to deliver maximum airflow (4”x1.6”) and accepts standard 2.5” A/C ducting. The outer bezels can be removed and painted to suit your specific application and Clayton supplies hardware and templates to ease installation.


A/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acA/C, stay cool, classic car ac, ac, air conditioner, hot rod acCool Waves

The importance of an efficient electric fan is imperative to the performance of your A/C system as well as to the cooling of the engine. Flex-a-Lite is constantly searching for effective designs to help cooling and recently incorporated their patent-pending Flex-Wave fan design into their LoBoy 16” fan assembly resulting in moving up to 3,000 cfm of air!

The Flex-Wave fan features a sine-wave form which has proven to be more effective in moving air while reducing wind noise. The LoBoy assembly is perfect for tight spots and measures just 3 3/16” depth to the motor. The assembly is available as a puller (PN 238) or a pusher (PN 239) to aid a mechanical fan when the A/C is flowing.

Todd Ryden is first and foremost a car guy and admits to how lucky he is to have been able to build a career out of a hobby that he enjoys so much. He’s owned muscle cars and classics, raced a bit and has cruised across the country. With over 25 years in the industry from the manufacturing and marketing side to writing books and articles, he just gets it.