A red letter year for mobile A/C

By Steve Schaeber, MACS Technical Editor

In the movie “Back to the Future,” Doc Brown tells Marty McFly that November 5, 1955 was ”A red letter day for science.” Well, I’m not sure about the exact day, but 1955 was a red letter model year for mobile air conditioning science, because that was the first year that Chevrolet offered “A complete, all-weather air conditioning system, the product of extensive engineering research” as a production option. For the first time you could get A/C direct from the factory on all Chevrolet passenger cars equipped with the V-8 engine, except for convertible models.

Certainly there were vehicles prior to 1955 that were equipped with A/C, though hardly any came that way direct from the assembly plant. Back in those days, practically all mobile air conditioning was a dealer hang-on unit or some other type of add-on system. But that doesn’t mean that the factories weren’t installing air conditioners, they just weren’t of the type we are accustomed to today. Prior to the 1955 model year, factory systems were all mounted in the trunk.


Chevrolet was the last of the GM divisions to offer factory-direct A/C, however the Chevrolet system, which was built by Frigidaire, was the first front mounted system in a production car. 3,500 units were made that year, which included several technological advancements in this new type of system. Both the heating and cooling coils were installed in the same housing, and the operator had individual control of the temperatures. They were cycling clutch expansion valve systems and had two dash outlets, one on either end.

If you haven’t had the chance, there’s a website to check out for those of you interested in the history of General Motors. The address is www.gmheritagecenter.com and while you’re there, check out what they have on the archive page. Most of what I’ve written above came from Ward Atkinson, MACS Technical Advisor, but our conversation was sparked by what I read in the “Chevrolet Passenger Car Engineering Features – 1955” book. Its 174 pages describe the latest and greatest features of Chevrolet vehicles, but what’s surprising is how much detail it contains. It’s not your typical sales brochure which you may be familiar with from modern times, describing the features and benefits of new model vehicles. These books actually contain photos, diagrams and technical drawings, not only showing you what they did to make improvements, but in some cases also showing how and why the changes were made. And even though some of the books they have online are approaching 60 years old, it doesn’t mean they’re out of date. Much of the information they contain is still relevant today (spoken like a true tech school teacher, don’t you think). It’s definitely worth the time to read, and if you do, let me know! Send an e-mail to steve@macsw.org and share your thoughts!


About macsworldwide

Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Founded in 1981, MACS is the leading non-profit trade association for the mobile air conditioning, heating and engine cooling system segment of the automotive aftermarket. Since 1991, MACS has assisted more than 600,000 technicians to comply with the 1990 U.S. EPA Clean Air Act requirements for certification in refrigerant recovery and recycling to protect the environment. The Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide’s mission is clear and focused--as the recognized global authority on mobile air conditioning and heat transfer industry issues. www.macsw.org
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