The MGA With An Attitude

This air conditioning installation comes from Gene Gillam in Mississippi, USA. ON March 22, 2013, Gene wrote:
"We bought our 1960 MGA Coupe in October and added A/C to it. We live near Gulfport, MS, where the summers are hot and humid and knew we'd never be able to drive the car without it. We bought a Vintage Air Universal Gen II Mini Heat Cool & Defrost Air Conditioning System from eBay - this is a small unit that fits up under the dash and we were able to connect it to the defrost vents and three under the dash vents.
We used a Sanden 505 compressor and a 1991 Saturn alternator, the MGB bracket sold by Vintage Air for mounting them (modified slightly to clear the shock tower), a universal condenser and dryer and a pusher fan. We also opted for an MGB radiator and water outlet to give more room in the alternator/compressor area. To make radiator installation easy we swapped the mounting brackets between the MGA and MGB radiators so all six bolts are used.
We stripped the guts out of the MGA heater unit, used 90 degree turns inside of it so we could run the heater hose through it to the new AC unit. Not sure when we'll ever use the heater but it's there. The MGA heater control switch energizes the compressor and the slide bar still controls the heater. Switches on either side of the heater control panel control the AC fan speed and vents. I added a small LED to remind me to turn the unit off before I start the car. You may also notice that there's two Choke pulls - I need to order a new Starter pull because the cable was too short on the original one after we had to reroute it. Here's some photos of the installation.

Passenger side -- Driver side -- Alternator and compressor

A/C hoses -- Condenser and Drier -- Radiator

Finished engine compartment and under dash pictures

We switched to an MGB bonnet holder also. The 4" hose that used to route air to the heater has been opened on bottom at the front to conceal the hoses passing between the condenser/drier and the compressor. It also nicely hides where they go into the passenger compartment. It's not as uncluttered as it looks but it is definitely doable. The only things missing in the center photo at bottom are the two heater hoses that also hook up to the plugged pipes below the fan.

It is a coupe, and it's very effective - at least right now. Our outside temperatures are in the mid-60's and I can now drive around with the fan on low and the windows rolled up. Before I had to have the windows down unless the temperatures were in the low 50's. Now what it will be like in the summer I'm not sure but I think it'll be worth the effort that has gone into it.

When the compressor comes on I can't even tell it - the Sanden 505 is very small and efficient. The engine has a 3/4 race cam but that's the only modification to it that I'm aware of. As for MPG, I don't know. I haven't driven it enough since the install to get a feel for it but I don't think that it will affect it too much since the car should be more efficient with the window shut than open.

I'm 6-foot even and the installation didn't impinge on me at all. I was worried about the vent on the driver's side and we were looking at different ways to mount it, but when we tried it where it is I didn't have any problems at all. We did set the center vent back so your hand won't hit it when you're shifting gears, but after driving it a bit I'm not even sure that was necessary. There's very little impact on the passenger side either. I can get in without hitting anything and I'm not the most limber person in the world anymore.

The under bonnet temperature is higher now. Before when I was driving 65 or so the maximum temperature I saw on the gauge was between 190 and 200. After the installation it was going up to 212 degrees, probably because of the condenser in front of the radiator. I tried bending the slats out to allow more airflow, but that didn't drop it very much, so I removed the slats and replaced them with stainless mesh. The temperature now stays around 205 at speed. I don't know what it's going to do in the summer heat so I'm investigating the use of twin cam louvers in the wheel wells to help exhaust heat when I'm moving. Strangely at idle it seems to stay below 200; fingers crossed it remains that way.

On Nov 9, 2015, Gene Gillam wrote:
During the summer months I had to keep my speed at 60 mph in order to use the A/C without the engine temp climbing over 230dF. I've recently been doing some experimenting. I ordered and installed the inner fender louvers from and have been really pleased with the result. The cabin temperature, especially around the transmission tunnel and feet area, is almost comfortable now and I can run 65 with the A/C running without overheating. I also installed the thermostat blanking sleeve but that did nothing to lower the engine temperature. I'm now investigating swapping out the radiator for either an aluminum one or a high efficiency core from Maine Auto Radiators.

On Nov 22, 2015, Gene Gillam wrote:
"I ended up ordering a new high efficiency core for my radiator. Maine Auto Radiator says it should be 30-40% more efficient than the new Moss MGB radiator in there now. BTW, couldn't believe the difference in weight between the MGA and MGB radiators. I took an original MGA radiator to the shop along with the MGB radiator to show the owner, because of the cell construction AND the soldered fins on the MGA: it weighed about 7 lbs more than the MGB radiator with the 'modern' core. Not going to be able to really test it out until the spring/summer".

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