Installing an aftermarket GM A/C system
Putting the cool out front and the problems behind
Story Chris Petris - May 01, 2011 09:00 AM
Under-hood accessories have come a long way from the couple of aftermarket valve cover choices we had available early on.
This really dates me but, when we were dressing up early small-block Chevrolet engines many years ago, it was typical to stop by the local plumbing store to pick up stainless steel pieces in our hunt for engine dress-up pieces. Those were the days when you had to be inventive, adapting pieces from multiple vehicle makes. Today, we have multiple choices of shiny stuff to make things both shiny and reliable. Good looking is one thing but reliable is what concerns those of us who drive our cars.
This car had multiple V-belts with dated accessory drive components like all GM cars of the era. We really wanted to get rid of the poor- performing, vibration-prone GM R4 A/C compressor. Before the R4 compressor, GM used their corporate A6 compressor, which was a very reliable but power-robbing heavyweight.
GM alternators have been very reliable with a few voltage control system changes. Internal voltage regulator alternators with one wire are the most popular today. When you are thinking about making engine swaps and wiring changes, one-wire alternators make things simpler.
What would fit our application?
Corvettes, street rods and custom-built vehicles are restrictive in the engine compartment area. Early street rods, for example, have narrow engine compartments requiring accessory drive components to be inside the hoodline. GM also used long and short water pumps, depending on vehicle configuration.
Short water pumps were used on all V-8 Corvettes until 1996. All other GM car lines dropped the short pump in 1968, changing to a long water pump. Fuel-injected engines pose another concern if you decide on dumping your carburetor and intake manifold. Many OE accessory drive components will not allow clearance for the fuel-injected throttle body. We also want to get rid of the multiple V-belts that require extra work and frequent belt servicing. Serpentine belts appear to cost more but in reality they are no more expensive than buying multiple V-belts. The really great thing about serpentine belts is reliability. They typically don’t leave you on the side of the road like V-belts can.
So what makes sense? Do we hunt the local junkyards for possible accessory drive pieces? There are very few serpentine belt accessory drive systems available at the salvage yards any more. If there are any complete systems available, most salvage yards do not want to part them out; they go with the complete used engine package.
Swap meets are another possible place to find accessory drive pieces. Like the salvage yard, finding all the pieces in one place is difficult. Then who knows if all the pieces are correct until you get out in the garage on a Saturday morning. Accessory drive systems typically use proprietary hardware that is equally difficult to find. So it is possible to find used accessory drive systems but you may find yourself paying as much in aggravation, fuel and time spent hunting (if not more) for the entire system.
Our choice was the Vintage Air Front Runner accessory drive system. The Vintage Air Front Runner system will fit just about any Chevy engine application you can imagine. We have accrued many miles on numerous Vintage Air Front Runner-equipped vehicles with excellent results. The Front Runner accessory drive is a well thought out system with easy to maintain components. The system is easy to install with three main billet supports to keep everything in place. Vintage Air supplies a new Stewart reverse rotation water pump to assure adequate coolant flow. The compact Front Runner places all the accessory drive components within the side dimensions of inside the engine block area.
We were able to use the Front Runner on a fuel-injected 510 Donovan big-block Chevy in a 1968 Corvette. The Front Runner accessory drive fit easily in the tight engine bay with plenty of room for the twin electric fans.
Once installed, the Front Runner serpentine belt tensioner works flawlessly, maintaining a tight belt under all rpm ranges. The billet main support locates the A/C compressor and alternator for perfect belt and pulley alignment. Billet supports on each side are used to maintain the power steering pump and tensioner alignment. The side billet supports locate off the main support, making for easy installation and pulley alignment.
The highly polished pieces look really great too. The A/C compressor is a high-efficiency Sanden SD7 unit. Sanden A/C compressors are proven reliable and will save you dollars on fuel. The chrome plated 140-amp one-wire alternator cleans up the engine compartment and simplifies the wiring chores.
As we mentioned earlier, the system is an easy install with typical hand tools. We had to get out the 10mm, 3/8- and 7/16-inch 12-point sockets to install some of the ARP supplied hardware. You may need some outside help in two areas when it comes to converting the A/C hoses to the Sanden compressor. The best policy is to have a local auto A/C shop evacuate the system if necessary. They can save the refrigerant for installation after the hoses are made and installed. Vintage Air has all the necessary hoses and fittings to make the Sanden compressor connections.
We also had to get out our power steering pulley installer. There is no way to get around this installer; hammers will do irreparable damage. Time to move on with the install so follow along as we get the job done.
For Your Information:
Vintage Air Inc.
(800) 862-6658 www.vintageair.com