Tech: Vintage Heat for your Vintage Car

This is for our new category: Tech Archives. If you want to read just tech articles you can go to the right side column and click on desired category.

I like to fix, repair and refurbish old things when possible as opposed to buy new stuff.
Old American products are usually of very high quality and all they may need is a cosmetic restoration and some inside updates. Some items look great with original patina and some lend themselves to refurbishing. Only YOU decide what direction to go…not your buddies, not the current trend, just use common sense.

This article is about how to stay warm in your vintage car or truck while still looking old-timey.

Washington state offer some great summers for vintage car cruising but we do get a fair amount of lousy and wet weather as well. While some hardy folks can drive an open roadster in the middle of the winter…I am NOT one of them. I like to be comfortable so a heater is high on the list. You can hide a modern heater unit under the dash or seat but I think a good looking vintage heater is the coolest. (No pun there…) I find these at swap meet and sometimes at garage sales. Up to the late fifties new cars and trucks did not come with heaters but there were many manufacturers that stepped up to produce add-on heathers. Allstate, Firestone, Southwind, HaDees and others made aftermarket heaters and many of them had beautiful designs.

1937 Ford HaDees Heater

This Hadees Junior is sporting some serious art-deco design and it will look great restored.

 

1937 Ford Cabriolet heater grille installed This one is part of a larger assembly out of a Ford and I like the crest and simple design. I just kept this rectangle box and it will contain the element and fan. I am debating what color it will be. In the 40’s brown or black wrinkle finish was used. Another favorite coating is the hammer paint. I found the stainless grid at an elevator interior company of all places. It looks like an old radio cloth. Love it! There will be a tech article on this unit down the road.

Today we are going to restore a Tropic-Aire heater:

1930 Ford Model A heater 1

 

Let’s go to work: 1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 2 First order of business: Dissasemble.  Most firewall heaters are rather deep because they have the fan assembly behind it and also the tubing usually designed to go straight thru the firewall. I usually eliminate that by installing a compact brushless fan or small cooling fan similar to the ones you see on small transmission coolers.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 3 This heater contains a round element with the fan motor in the center. This makes for a compact unit and I will duplicate this set up.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 4 I want the heater core as deep as possible in to the unit so I removed this ridge.

 

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 5 I also flattened out the louvers on the side and welded them up.

 

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 7

I welded a stud to the outside louver to keep it in place..

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 8

Test fit…looks good.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 6

After some bodywork and hammer coat paint we got ourselves a nice looking heater body.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater 9

A good coat of a maroon color and some polishing yielded a nice looking louver.
1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater Tropic-Aire

I polished the stainless trim piece and painted the letters in gloss black.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater Tropic-Aire 2

Hubba-Hubba !! (technical term) That looks pretty snazzy. Let’s attend to the inside components now.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater Tropic-Aire 10

This is a 12V clip on fan from that big box store. It set me back a whopping ten bucks.

 

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater Tropic-Aire fan

I removed anything that did not look like a fan from the clip-on fan and I made a back shroud based on the diameter of the fan blade.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater Tropic-Aire11

This is the mesh from the fan I bough. I welded it to the back shroud to protect any toes that may find themselves behind the heater.

1930 Ford Model A hot rod heater Tropic-Aire 12 Here it is, all ready to go together. The fan motor squeezed in very nicely inside the core. I used some silicone glue to keep it in place.

1937 Ford Cabriolet heather valve

I use a stand alone heater valve from any parts house. I like this kind with the cable bracket in the same unit. That way you can attach a remote cable without having to secure the heater valve to anything. It can just be in line with the hoses and cable operated without tugging on anything.

 

1930 Ford hot rod heater

…and here it is. Installed in our latest project build, a 1930 Ford Model A Hot Rod.

Note 1956 Chrysler gauges, custom sub dash and vintage style Euro square weave carpeting. Look for this car at the NSRA event in Ridgefield, Washington, June 28-29th.

 

Vintage heaters

“I like to be comfortable”

That includes not being cold! Cars did not get heaters installed from the factory until the late fifties in most cases. They showed up even later in trucks. Our Project 1937 Ford Cabriolet did not come with a heater and while top down cruising in eighty degree weather is…FABOULUS…but…it is NOT fun to be cold in a car. What’s the point if you are not comfortable in your favorite ride?

I really wanted a roadster next but here in Washington state you have few days when you can be comfortable without side windows. The 1937 Ford Cabriolet with roll up windows changes all that. Go with top down when you feel like it but top and windows up when it is nippy or wet out there. The best of both worlds. So how are we going to heat the cabin on those cold days?

With a cool (actually warm) vintage heater of course. These can be found on swap meets starting around ten dollars. They usually comes with a 6 volt fan motor and thru the firewall plumbing.

1937 Ford Cabriolet heater Corvette core

This is the actual heater box from a mid fifties Ford truck. I cut off everything that did not look like a heater and ended up with just the box. The heater core I also found at a swap met and is supposed to come from a Corvette. I paid fifteen dollars for it and it appears to be new and never installed.

After trimming off the tubes the core fits nicely in the old Ford box. My initial though was to install a flat brushless fan in the back but I think I need more capacity knowing this is a convertible. I will probably use an external “turbo” fan. More on that later…and when I find one.

This heater and many others needs a nice grille of some kind. I was looking on-line for some sorts of expanded metal or grid that could be polished. Nothing…so let’s put the thinking cap on. Where do we see cool materials used? Mmmm. Elevator interiors have always fascinated my as they have such cool material and a lot of it is stainless, that may be something to pursue?

I found a company close to work that makes elevator interiors. How about that?

1937 Ford Cabriolet heater grill

A quick drive and a box of doughnuts later I had this in my hand. It is a stainless wowen grid. How perfect! It reminds me of the cloth used on the front of old radios.

Let’s give it a try:

1937 Ford Cabriolet heater grille installed

Oh Yeah, Baby! That works! Looks like the material was made for this project.

Now I have to figure out what color to paint the box and front trim. I am thinking a mix of hammer paint and wrinkle. Stay tuned and you will find out.

More on this later…