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Designing A/C System Using Other Cars Parts?


Captain Obvious

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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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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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  • 5 years later...

@Captain Obvious - Did you ever figure out your whole system? I am starting to think about this as well and wanted to follow up on what you chose for the various parts in your AC system.

In particular, I was wondering what you chose for your condenser, as I see Z Car Source offers a bolt in one. I'm trying to figure out how it compares to the ones Vitage Air recommends,

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3 minutes ago, Captain Obvious said:

Sorry Matthew, but I haven't made any significant progress with my A/C.

I have collected all the stock parts I need to put a system into my car, but other than collecting parts, that's it.

I'm going to start talking with Nostalgic AC when I get back from ZCON. My tolerance for no AC is getting depleted, especially with these mid-summer ZCONs.

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3 hours ago, Captain Obvious said:

I thought your tolerance for no A/C got depleted that year you tried to ice bath yourself while driving. Wasn't there some goofy thing with umbilical cords to a cooler of ice water and a pump?

No, it was a fan that blew air through the cooler. The ice would be melted in about 20 minutes. I wasn't willing to try your suggestion of swapping out to dry ice.

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@Captain Obvious, you mean you haven’t already done all my work for me?!?!?! Man!

But in seriousness, I was intrigued by the original premise of your thread. I have been wondering if one could pull the compressor and condenser out of a newish Nissan and make them work. I am guessing they would be super efficient compared to some of the aftermarket options available.

In addition to looking at the two condensers I mentioned earlier, I’ve been looking at OEM options from the last decade as well as things that have the drier built in.

No luck so far but I might find something. I’ll probably opt for the Z Car bolt in one, though.

Edited by Matthew Abate
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Years ago the refrigerant in the A/C system of my 1994 Nissan D21 pickup ran out so I deleted the entire system.  Regardless of whether or not that was a mistake, the Compressor, condenser, and many of the fittings and lines looked to be very similar in design principles to that which was on my '80 ZX when I deleted it's A/C system.  Not sure how much the ZX system has in common with the S30, but it may a start to research. 

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The ZX stuff would seem like a good starting point, but new systems would be set up for r134. I’m foregoing anything that isn’t purpose built to handle r134 so that I can avoid leaks and to just make maintenance easier.

I think step one for me is going to be trying to figure out the bolt pattern for the condenser.

If anyone had one laying around and wants to help draw up a patter, let me know. If anyone has the one from Z Car Source and could write a review, that would also be helpful.

From there maybe I can talk to Vintage Air and try to get them to tell me which one of theirs is closest. I might also be able to figure out a Nissan part that is close to that.

Edited by Matthew Abate
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11 hours ago, Matthew Abate said:

you mean you haven’t already done all my work for me?!?!?! Man!

LOL  Sorry. I've really been meaning to get on top of my A/C project, but time keeps on slipping, slipping.

That said. let me clarify something... I mentioned that I had collected all the stock parts I need to put a system into my car, but I am still opposed to using the original compressor. Even if I use the original hard lines, etc, I still plan to use a newer ubiquitous compressor from something easy to find.

And Dave WM has suggested to me that a newer parallel flow condenser is better for R134 than the original serpentine version. Apparently R134 likes a parallel flow, while R12 likes serpentine. So now I'm thinking I would try to retrofit a newer parallel flow condenser instead of the original.

But all of this still assumes that I actually get back to working on it...   :unsure:

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I hope you guys get your AC working, I got back from a 800 mile round trip thru central AL/GA/FL last week. Mucho hot everywhere, AC (stock R-12 orig compressor) all worked very well made for a nice cool trip. It really helps to enjoy the car. I have the "shadow" brand louvers, no holes in metal type seems to help, esp with not speeding (over 80 and it starts to rattle).

Also I keep a white towel bottom black towel top cover on my dash. Hours of time even with AC on and inside temps comfortable the dash gets VERY hot for the sun. I don't know if it helps keep the car cooler, but my dash is never warm with that combo. You need the black on top to cut glare.

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There's a new clear film that installs like traditional window tint that supposedly blocks 99% of UV rays and up to 43% of the heat coming through the glass. Also supposedly, it is legal to put it on the windshield because it is almost completely transparent. I'm going to be looking into this, and if it is in fact legal I may have a tint shop do all my glass with this stuff. It's also anti glare.

Might replace your towel solution.

Edited by Matthew Abate
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