Air-conditioning your Studebaker


By Fred Duplechin


Have you thought about installing an air conditioner in your car?  It’s South Louisiana, surely you have.  Read on to see if you are ready for this.


I made a cool move this fall.  I installed an aftermarket a/c package in my ‘55 hardtop.  I looked at the top vendors - Vintage Air of Texas and Classic Auto Air of Florida and chose Vintage because they had a specific compressor/pulley mounting for the Studebaker 259-289 V8.  I later found out that Vintage contracted with SDC Board Member Milton Jones on the design.  Milton has a Studebaker specialty shop - J & N Auto Air in Harlingen Texas.


If I was going to put air-conditioning, I wanted the whole tamale - cool, heat and defrost.  There was some question as to whether Vintage’s Slim-Line 11300-VUZ-A evaporator unit would fit.  It does.  Vintage also offered the Sanden rear discharge R134A compressor.  This is a must with the Lowey Coupe’s low hood profile.


The package didn’t look particularly intimidating when it arrived, but the challenges quickly materialized.    Mounting the evaporator under the dash was simple and straight forward.  The challenge came in measuring and retrofitting heater and refrigerant lines behind the unit and through the firewall.  Smaller, cool only, units may be simpler and easier to mount because longer lines offer more flexibility in mounting.  You must make your own lines with the fittings provided in the package.  Take care in keeping the angles right in having the fittings fastened to the hoses.


More challenges under the hood.  the early partial flow oil filter must be moved from the passenger side of the oil filler tube to the driver’s side.  Seems simple enough, but space becomes very critical and I ended up doing it 2 or 3 times.  So too with the compressor and idler pulley brackets.  I had to bend a bracket slightly for it to align with a mounting hole, but the final fit and alignment were good.


The condenser coil sent originally was way off, designed for old Ford vertical radiators.  The correct coil for the Studebaker is Vintage’s 03704-OVA, but they were out of stock with vague time lines due to Hurricane Katrina’s disruption of the Port of the port of New Orleans.  Classic Auto Air did have a 12”x24” microtube unit (model 11-1015) that worked.  Again, the fit is close.


Vintage’s compressor/idler pulley kit also contains a 2 grove crankshaft pulley and longer mounting flange bolts.  Since it has 2 groves, I “assumed” it replaced the original.  As I soon discovered, the grooves didn’t align with the alternator.  The new pulley supplements the original pulley, so I did that operation twice too, including finding taps to re-thread the crankshaft.


Wiring the unit and running vacuum lines was not difficult.


A final disappointment was the cooling fan.  I decided to order a special, high quality/low amperage unit from 5th Avenue Antique Auto Parts.  After blowing several fuses I ended up buying another fan from a local auto parts store thinking that the fan was defective.  It turned out that 5th Avenue sent a 6-volt unit by mistake.


The unit works well and my wife and I are more eager than ever to go cruisin’ in the warm weather.  So far, no overheating.


Visit the Vintage Air website ( and take a look at the “Cool 200” video.  It’s the story of Jack Chisenhall’s ‘53 Lowey Coupe that holds the Bonneville speed record for air-conditioned cars (219 MPH).  It’s quite a story and it’s not surprising that Jack chose the sleek Studebaker  to make his history-making run.  Hat’s off to Vintage Air for sponsoring it!