Vanagon - Air Conditioning

Aftermarket A/C Installation Project

So I've decided to put a new aftermarket air conditioning system into my 1984 Westfalia Vanagon. This will be no small project but I'm willing to do the work and part with the money for many years of comfortable driving in the California heat.

Here are the steps I went through to determine what type of A/C unit I wanted.

  • At first I was open to all options of A/C systems. Rear overhead, front overhead, in-dash, and rear under bench seat.
  • The two overhead installations are the only units that come from the VW factory. Since I have a Westfalia I would have difficulty installing a front overhead unit because the poptop cutout leaves you with very little to support the evaporator over the driver/passenger seats.
  • The rear overhead unit was the next factory option. After reading about how the rear a/c systems seem to be less than capable of cooling the front passengers I wasn't real impressed. Since my wife and I are usually the only ones in the van, cooling for the front passengers is the most important to us.
  • Behr is the company that provided the only aftermarket in-dash A/C system for the Vanagon. It uses recirculated air. The Behr unit is installed in-dash beside the exisitng heater air handling unit.
  • There are a couple of companies that still sell new aftermarket universal in-dash A/C systems. Vintage Air and Hot Rod Air are two companies I investigated in depth. Typically these units will only recirculate air inside the cabin and not accept fresh air from outside.

 I opted for an in-dash A/C system from Vintage Air The system has a heater core and an evaperator coil in the same air handling unit and it only recirculates air.

Here are pictures I took while I was doing the project.

Here are some details on removing the dash. A/C Project - Remove Dash

This is a copy of the invoice for the parts with part numbers that I purchased from Vintage Air.

Questions and Answers - As people email me questions I will post them here for others to read.

Q1:  Besides having to re mount the radio, would all of the stock panels fit in place?

A1:  Yes the radio does have to be remounted and the plastic panel that directs air to your feet was lost. It mounts to the bottom of the heater box in the dash. The dashboard was unaltered. I did have to take a small notch out of the left rear corner of the glove box, about the size of a silver dollar. The glove box still holds just as much as is did before.

Q2:  Do you miss the fresh air feature that you lost ,or is it a non issue with the air ?

A1:  Your right this installation has no fresh air vents. I thought I might miss them, but not at all. The original fresh air holes were blocked off and insulated. I was amazed how much noise reduction came from this simple modification. During the summer I don't miss the fresh air. I now don't have to smell the exhaust fumes from other cars. Usually on the freeway the windows are up and the A/C is on. I roll the windows down around town if it's not to hot. The winter presents the biggest problem. I that window fogging becomes a problem when the windows are cold. Vintage Air suggests turing the A/C on and the heater on at the same time and this is the defrost mode. This condenses the water on the evaporator coil which is supposed to drip outside and then the heater reheats the air to blow onto the window. This system works like a charm, however I feel a little silly driving with the A/C on when it's raining outside. If you turn only the heater on it takes a little longer to defog the windows but it does work.

Q3:  What did the entire kit set you back?

A3:  OK. Here are the tough numbers to swallow.

  • $1050 Vintage Air Equipment (Evaporator/Heater/Blower, Dryer, Hoses, Fittings, Condenser, Control Nobs, Air Ducts, Vents, Electrical Wiring) 
  • $300 Sanden 508 Compressor (New)
  • $50 Compressor bracket off ebay (Used)
  • $700 Polar Bear Auto & Truck (A/C shop to crimp all fittings and charge system with R134, also includes a warranty for leaks)

$2100 Total installed cost. This doesn't include my time for labor. I'm sure a spent another $100 on miscellanious parts to get everything installed.

Q4:  Also, besides the obvious (that it's new and likely more dependable)
how does this compare with the Behr unit?

A4:  The big difference is the Behr unit mounts directly behind the glove box and provides only cold recirculated air. This Vintage Air installation replaces the original heater box, provide heating and cooling and is new. There are no levers on this system. Everything is electronic and servo controlled.

Q5:  What model did you go with?

A5:  I chose to use the Vintage Air Super Gen II with defrost functionality. This unit fits perfectly. They have a larger unit (Gen IV Magnum) but it was to big.

Q6:  Does this system provide heat as well? Or are you just relying on the rear
heater box from now on?

A6:  Yes there is a heater core in there. One of the knobs on the dash controls the heater water flow just like on the original heater. You can connect in the existing heat hoses directly to the new unit. No additional hoses needed. The rear heater is still fully functional.