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Captain Obvious

Designing A/C System Using Other Cars Parts?

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Do we have any A/C experts in the house?

My 77 280 came without A/C and I'm working on adding a system. I've got the interior stuff done and have turned my attention to the stuff in the engine compartment.

Has anyone got any experience with using parts from a different vehicle and adapting them to the Z? I'm assuming the technology and compressor designs for the newer stuff (designed for R134) is better than the stuff from forty years ago. Newer, lighter, more efficient, cheaper? I could "relatively easily" fab up a mounting bracket to mount a different compressor where the stock one goes. Use a ubiquitous compressor from a Maxima, Civic, or Corolla instead of the stock one?

How "matched" do the components need to be? Compressor, evaporator, condenser? Would it even work right to use a compressor that wasn't designed to be used with the stock evaporator and expansion valve?

So what I'm asking here is.... Has anyone done anything like this, or am I on my own breaking new ground?

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AC was a system I always thought I wouldn't touch, but then the compressor in my G35 grenaded and it turns out the prospect of a ~$2,000 repair bill will get me to take on new things. Some of Nissan's engineering decisions made the project take some time, but my takeaway from the whole experience is that the system isn't as complicated/scary as it always seemed.

That said, I'm certainly no expert and there's probably things I don't know that I don't know, but my guesses: you should be able to "mix and match" and still have a system that works at least well enough. Cooling efficiency may not be quite as good, but it should be better than nothing. Since your car came w/o AC, you won't have to worry about flushing or retrofitting anything. 

It would probably be easiest to find the closest thing you can to a complete system that could swap in, though plumbing everything might still be a lot of work. You might be able to get a hydraulic shop to custom make some hoses for you. Integrating the frankensystem with the climate controls...I wouldn't even know where to start. Maybe try something like a Miata since it's similar in size and rear wheel drive?

As far as tools, the only things you'll probably need that you may not have are a vacuum pump and a set of manifold gauges. Total cost for both at Harbor Freight after coupons was about $120. Refrigerant and oil is about $20-30.

ETA: I just remembered this guy swapped an entire Miata HVAC system into a Z, along with the rest of the interior. So it's kinda sorta been done. http://forums.hybridz.org/topic/124965-frankenterior/

Edited by charliekwin

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I also have a copy of this book lying around the house somewhere. https://www.amazon.com/How-Air-Condition-Your-Hot/dp/1935828789

I think @Carl Beck posted many years ago about using a Vintage Air setup. That is all mix & match. Nostalgic AC has a wide variety of condensers. If you have a Z car evaporator, I think the biggest challenges will be to get an expansion valve set up and drier (280Z driers are made of unobtaniums). My brother works on building HVAC, but he has given me advice in the past on automotive AC.

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I just finished restoring a 280Z that had dealer installed AC from ARA (who is no longer in business). There was a company on Ebay  last August advertising a "Underhood Upgrade Kit"  that I called. The company was Air Manufacturing Corp in Graham TX (1-800-900-9560).They were helpful and knew what my ARA system consisted of. I wound up only using the original evaporator and the mounting bracket. They supplied all the other required components. (134 Compressor, expansion valve, hoses, condensor fittings etc. Cost was $725

I had a local AC place charge and balance it and it works great. It cools the car perfectly. I was expecting marginal performance because the evaporator was so small . It mounted behind  the 2 vents in the center of the dash.

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I should have included you need to be able to describe the fittings on your existing parts, like mine were flare fittings and I needed a 45 degree bend. They were able to supply the required adapters to go from the old system to current oring fittings.

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I've done four systems now using Vintage Air components. Stuff works ok, I've had some issues with leaking connections, but I'm now a big fan of the "Easy-Clip" system. 

Someone pointed out a system recently that looks better (as in a bit smarter) than the Vintage air stuff. 

http://www.restomodair.com/shopproducts/bantam-ultra-compact-custom-air-conditioning-system/

Any system you put in is total fabrication. Nothing "fits".  Usually about 60 hours per car. 

Saw on hybridZ once where a guy put an entire Miata dash and HVAC system in an S30. Lovely finally result, but the hours, OMG....

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Thanks all.

Jbond, I think I found the system you installed:  http://autoacsolutions.com/store/products/1976-1977-1978-datsun-nissan-280z-ac-underhood-package/ 

So why is it that the Sanden 508 compressor is so popular? Is that a good one?

I did some digging at rockauto, and clearly one of the stumbling blocks for slapping a different compressor on there is the belt configuration. Everything new runs the multi-groove belts instead of the old school V that we use. If the system was still under pressure, I would trust a compressor from a junkyard. I don't think I want to put in a used compressor though. That's something that I want new. So, if I can get a cheap compressor from a yard, I wonder how much I would spend on getting custom lines made up.

Question is...  If I use a cheap junkyard yard compressor, but spend real money for an evaporator and getting custom lines made up, would it have just about the same cost as buying one of the pre-packaged kits?

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13 hours ago, zKars said:

I've done four systems now using Vintage Air components. Stuff works ok, I've had some issues with leaking connections, but I'm now a big fan of the "Easy-Clip" system. 

Someone pointed out a system recently that looks better (as in a bit smarter) than the Vintage air stuff. 

http://www.restomodair.com/shopproducts/bantam-ultra-compact-custom-air-conditioning-system/

Any system you put in is total fabrication. Nothing "fits".  Usually about 60 hours per car. 

Saw on hybridZ once where a guy put an entire Miata dash and HVAC system in an S30. Lovely finally result, but the hours, OMG....

A bit smaller as well.

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What about building a system based on the 280zx compressor, mounted in it's stock position on the left side of the engine? 

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20 hours ago, Captain Obvious said:

Thanks all.

Jbond, I think I found the system you installed:  http://autoacsolutions.com/store/products/1976-1977-1978-datsun-nissan-280z-ac-underhood-package/ 

So why is it that the Sanden 508 compressor is so popular? Is that a good one?

I did some digging at rockauto, and clearly one of the stumbling blocks for slapping a different compressor on there is the belt configuration. Everything new runs the multi-groove belts instead of the old school V that we use. If the system was still under pressure, I would trust a compressor from a junkyard. I don't think I want to put in a used compressor though. That's something that I want new. So, if I can get a cheap compressor from a yard, I wonder how much I would spend on getting custom lines made up.

Question is...  If I use a cheap junkyard yard compressor, but spend real money for an evaporator and getting custom lines made up, would it have just about the same cost as buying one of the pre-packaged kits?

Holy crap, that seems high, especially when you consider you still need an evaporator and expansion valve. Does it even say anywhere what you get for the money?

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3 hours ago, Z dreams said:

What about building a system based on the 280zx compressor, mounted in it's stock position on the left side of the engine? 

I've got a parts ZX here that I could scavenge parts from, but wouldn't that have the same parts availability and old technology issues as a stock Z system? I was thinking (hoping?) that something from a Sentra or something ubiquitous like that would be cheaper, more reliable, more efficient, and easier to find if I need another one.

As a matter of fact, I've already got a stock 260Z mounting bracket and compressor. I was just thinking that I could do better?

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2 hours ago, SteveJ said:

Holy crap, that seems high, especially when you consider you still need an evaporator and expansion valve. Does it even say anywhere what you get for the money?

It doesn't spell it out, but they offer two systems... 1) What they call their "complete" system, and 2) what they call their "underhood" system.

My belief is that the underhood system includes everything you need except the evaporator (and expansion valve), and the controls. I think it's got everything else, including the interconnecting lines.

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