1979 Holden VB Commodore Wagon Aircon - Our Shed

By: Glenn Torrens, Photography by: Glenn Torrens

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Glenn Torrens sorts out his 1979 Commodore wagon's air-conditioning

Air-conditioning is awesome in any classic car. In fact, I wouldn’t have bought my brown 1979 VB Holden Commodore SL wagon if it didn’t have the optional factory air-conditioning. But… it didn’t work.

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Cool! The factory air-con works! Plus, everything looks shiny because while we were rebuilding the air-con, I restored the engine bay, too

I’ve been playing with cars long enough to not trust the ‘Air-Con Needs Re-Gas’ spiel in many for-sale ads so when I handed over the cash, I expected to spend considerable bucks rebuilding the air-conditioning system. Rumbling bearings in the Commodore’s now-beltless compressor was just one hint as to why the cool had escaped. As I did for my Pajero recently, I spoke to Mark ‘cool-man’ Ostermann, who specialises in putting coolness into classic and custom cars so I organised some time with Mark to discuss what was required for my Commodore’s air-con.

| Fixing an oil leak in Glenn's VB Commodore wagon

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Thanks to its use in many GM cars, plus industrial machinery, the old-design compressor used in early Commodores remains available

Mark advised the car’s original – so 40 years old – air-con hoses would need to be replaced and the remaining components flushed and checked to ensure the system would be 100-percent reliable. Thankfully the 1970s-type air-con compressor used in these early Commodores remains available, re-configured for use with new-type air-con gas, and Mark had one on the shelf.

| VB Commodore wagon broken fan belt

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The old lines were replaced with pro-made new ones so this system should work well for another four decades

I disassembled most of the air-con as part of an engine bay restoration (more about that in a future issue) so I arrived at Mark’s workshop with the air-con lines, components and compressor in crates, ready for inspection, replacement and re-fitting. With the equipment out of the engine bay it was easy to flush the condenser (the radiator-like component at the front of the car) and the evaporator (the cold-giving part under the dash) to remove any old lubricant and check for internal corrosion.

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The car’s in-cabin evaporator unit was flushed from within the engine bay without the need for removal

With those two components checking-out OK and the replacement compressor installed, Mark measured and made the new hoses using all-new pipe and end-fittings to almost replicate the factory original system. A new filter unit was installed, too, and by hot-wiring it to the battery, I checked that the front-mounted electric assist fan was working.

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My car’s front mounted condenser checked-out OK after flushing, too

As a fail-safe upgrade, Mark also suggested a second pressure switch to better protect the system (especially the compressor) in the case of a leak and a new service port was piped-in, too.

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After the rebuild, my Commodore wagon’s factory-fit air-conditioning pumps plenty of cold air into the cabin. Less than 5C is almost unbelievably cool!

Thankfully, with the system rebuilt and recharged with modern enviro-friendly refrigerant, my classic Commodore’s air-con system now pumps out icy cold air at the twist of its dash-mounted dial, just as Holden’s engineers intended.

Cool! 

 

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