|Airtemp..... Now, That's Cool!|
| In 1934, Chrysler Corporation
went into a business far from its normal expertise; the manufacture of
air conditioning equipment. Walter Chrysler first developed an interest in
air conditioning in 1930 when he was shopping for cooling equipment for
the Chrysler Building in New York. He found the current technology to be expensive and oversized, so he hired Charles Neeson to design better
equipment with the help of the Chrysler Engineering staff. They developed a
high speed radial compressor that was superior to existing equipment,
and in mid 1934 Walter Chrysler announced that his company had developed the “Airtemp
Conditioner.” He formed the Airtemp Corporation on October 22, 1934, and began manufacturing operations in a former Chrysler stamping plant in Detroit. The
air conditioning operation became Airtemp, Inc., a subsidiary of the Chrysler Corporation in August 1935,
and was later renamed the Airtemp Division of Chrysler Corporation in September 1938.
They just loved name changes, didn't they? In June 1936, Airtemp moved to the revamped Maxwell Motor Company plant in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1937 engineers invented capacity regulators which helped the system adjust to varying loads, and the following year they developed the first
self contained air conditioning units.
Chrysler Corporation was an early advocate of air conditioning. The Chrysler Building in Manhattan was the first fully
air conditioned skyscraper. Airtemp Division products also cooled Pullman cars on the nation's railroads in the
1930s, but Chrysler was late in applying what it had learned to automobiles. Packard fielded a pioneer air conditioning unit for 1940, and Cadillac followed for 1941. Though Chrysler
supposedly offered the Airtemp system on some 1941-42 models, none are known to have been sold
so equipped. Several have surfaced with ice cube trays in the glove
box, but I doubt it had anything to do with air conditioning.
A.C. From The Early Days to 1968
The development of the automotive air conditioner began in earnest in 1930 when General Motors Research Laboratories conceived the idea of the vapor compression system with R-12 refrigerant. On Sept. 23, 1932 a proposal was made to General Motors management to develop such a system by some guy drenched in sweat who just happened to wander in off the street. The Cadillac Division evinced interest in the proposal. However, it was not until the summer of 1933 that the work started. The cooling capacity of the automotive air conditioning system was determined to be 1 ton i.e., 200 Btu per minute. This estimate was half of the cooling capacity of present systems. There were two reasons for the lower estimate.
First, the tests took place when the only way to provide cooling in an automobile was by ventilation. In the earlier days of motoring with open body automobiles, no special provisions were required. This changed in 1908 with the gradual introduction of the closed-body automobiles. The only way to keep cool in a closed-body automobile prior to 1940 was to raise an adjustable windshield that opened vertically or to remove the side curtains. The opening of the windshield was restricted to about 0.5 in. (13 mm) so that the passenger compartment was sufficiently pressurized while minimizing infiltration of the hot air from the engine. Subsequently, windows could be cranked up and down for the desired airflow. Also, vents under the dashboard facilitated air circulation. Convertible tops permitted airflow upon being lowered. Really? I never would have guessed.
These ventilation systems were rudimentary, as they did not filter dirt, dust, pollen or insects from the
air, so the quality of the air circulating through the passenger compartment was
poor. This really didn't matter because the passengers only took a bath
once a week and didn't smell very good anyway. Beginning in 1940, there was a gradual acceptance of fresh air
heaters. And soap. With this advance came an improved method of summer ventilation that was provided by
a cowl ventilator. Later, the car heater blower was used to increase ventilator airflow since
the air inlet for the heater was located in the ventilation duct.
Perhaps the earliest attempt at developing a mechanical comfort cooling system for a vehicle is attributable to
William Whiteley, who in 1884 suggested placing blocks of ice in trays
under horse drawn carriages and blowing air inside by attaching a fan to the axle. Really,
he did that. Unfortunately, the intake was a bit too close to the
horse's exhaust, and the air that sometimes came inside the carriage
wasn't that great.
Before World War II, approximately 3,000 American cars were equipped with air conditioning. Most of the units were installed in expensive luxury cars sold in the Southwest. This trend continued well into the 1950s. World War II put a damper on automotive air conditioning growth as complete facilities were turned over to the manufacture of military vehicles, aircraft and naval vessels. After the war ended, air conditioning growth resumed with Cadillac advertising a new, high tech feature called air conditioning controls. However, there was still one problem. The controls were mounted nearly 6 ft (1.8 m) from the driver's seat on the rear package shelf. You either had to put up with constant flow, or you had to have very long arms. By 1947, independent manufacturers began installing air conditioners on all makes of cars, creating a large aftermarket business. This business was centered in Texas, although several important manufacturers were headquartered in Michigan.
ARA was the first aftermarket manufacturer starting business in early 1949. Cheap cooling aids like louvered aluminum solar screens and evaporative coolers were also marketed for those who could not afford the factory installed or aftermarket units, or deodorant. The window mounted evaporative coolers, known as swamp coolers, became quite popular, especially in the southwest where the humidity is low. They were operated with water or ice and a fan that could be plugged into the cigarette lighter.
The 1950s may be characterized as the decade of the comeback of automotive air conditioning. Neither the pre-war Packard nor the Cadillac system survived because of the aforementioned problems. It was not until the 1953 model year that automotive air conditioning staged a comeback, and this time it flourished. That year General Motors, Chrysler, and Packard each introduced a practical system that sold for approximately $600. The Frigidaire system built for General Motors was available in all Cadillac and Oldsmobile lines, as well as in Super and Roadmaster Buicks. The Airtemp system built for Chrysler was optional on the Imperial. You guys who had New Yorkers were out of luck, I guess. For Packard, it was available only in the Cavalier and Patrician lines, as well as in the rare Derham Formal Sedan conversions. During 1953, about 29,000 cars were shipped with factory installed air conditioning.
In 1953, Harrison Radiator Division of General Motors developed a revolutionary air conditioner that could be mounted in the engine compartment. This was a much more efficient design and was the subject of the U.S. Patent No. 2,831,327. After much negotiation, Harrison Radiator won a contract to produce the new air conditioner for Pontiac in 1954. In 1954, Nash joined the select group of carmakers offering factory installed air conditioning. One of its most striking features was an all season air conditioning system called the All Weather Eye. Nash already had what many experts considered the industry's best heating and ventilating system called the Weather Eye.
Introduced in 1938, it provided summer cooling and winter heating with a single knob control and
disconnected the compressor when it was not in operation. There was no need to manipulate multiple controls with
Eye. The entire Nash unit was located under the hood.
In 1957, all Cadillac Eldorado Broughams were air conditioned, making it the first model to list air conditioning as a standard item. The penetration rate for factory installed air conditioning reached 3.7% with 228,000 units sold at an average price of $435. The under the hood units cost approximately $355, while the trunk units sold for $420.
The big slump in the automotive industry during 1958 had affected air conditioning sales. Installations dropped nearly 15%. However, the penetration rate for air conditioning increased to 4.6% of all 1958 models built. At American Motors, the penetration rate dropped considerably due to discontinuation of the more luxurious Nash and Hudson lines. Starting in 1958, American Motors concentrated on the better selling economical Rambler line (smart move, huh) with the total cost of the car including air conditioning of less than $2,000. Ford produced a number of surprises during the 1959 model year, like cars that would actually stay running. For the first time, its factory installations exceeded those of Chevrolet by a wide margin, making it the leader for that model year with 65,796 units. In the arena of luxury cars, the traditional leader Cadillac fell back to second place with Lincoln taking over the lead and keeping it for many years to come. The total number of air conditioned cars made by American companies reached the million mark in 1959.
The popularity of automotive air conditioning soared in the 1960s with the
number of air conditioners installed in American cars nearly tripling from 1961
until 1964. Air conditioning for trucks was
becoming a much demanded accessory. The debut of the Big Three's compact
cars was the most exciting news out of Detroit for the 1960 model year,
but air conditioning was not offered on them. Nonetheless, its popularity grew with
the buyers of the larger cars that year.
During 1961 some cars began passing the 50% penetration rate for air conditioning. Lincoln led with 64% penetration rate followed by Cadillac at 52% and Imperial at 51%. More than 8% of all the 1961model cars had factory installed air conditioning. Corvair introduced air conditioning to the compact class on its 1961models. There were 2,978 built with it. The demand for compact cars started showing signs of moving from economy to luxury. Factory installed air conditioning on Corvair jumped in the 1962 model year to a total of 7,651. Falcon joined the cool-car club equipping 2,900 of its 1962 models with air conditioning. An industry penetration rate of 11% was reached with over 750,000 air conditioned cars. Both Chevrolet and Oldsmobile full size models were the first to exceed the100,000 unit mark, pushing Cadillac from its leadership position. During the 1963 model year, Ford set the air conditioner price at $232 for Falcon and Comet, which was the lowest list price ever for this option. It helped both models to double their sales. In 1963, Corvette became the first sports car to feature air conditioning. For all the 1963 cars, the air conditioning penetration rate reached 14% and the total number of air conditioned cars exceeded the one million mark for the first time in a single model year.
Installations in 1964 increased to more than 1.4 million units. Thunderbird entered the over 50% air conditioned group with more than 23,390 units. Also during that year, Buick factory installations surpassed those of Oldsmobile for the first time. During 1965, Buick's Riviera reached the 70% penetration mark while Lincoln hit the 90% mark. As the demand for air conditioning grew, production increases created manufacturing economies and prices bottomed out in 1965. The range was from a low of $252 on the Mercury Comet to a high of $650 on the Imperial.
In 1966 Oldsmobile launched the Toronado, which became the first
model to pass the 50% air conditioned mark in its first year of introduction and
reached a penetration level of 74%. Other models passing the 50% air
mark that year were the full size lines of Buick and Oldsmobile.
Industry wide the
number of factory installed air conditioners reached a level of 2.5 million. In
addition, an estimated 575,000 aftermarket air conditioners were installed on old cars
by dealers and auto shops. In 1967, almost two out of every five new cars had
factory installed air
conditioning. Full size Pontiacs exceeded the 50% air conditioned mark and so did
full sized Dodges and Mercurys. More than 97% of Cadillac's newly redesigned Eldorado, which debuted in 1967,
had factory installed air conditioning. By 1968, the demand for air
conditioning had reached such a crescendo that some carmakers installed it as a standard
accessory on their more expensive models.