Upgrading a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS:
Air Conditioning Part 1

July 3, 2013 Comments (0)

In 1995 I bought a 1978 308 GTS Euro spec Ferrari with a rebuilt engine and 13K miles on the long non-functioning odometer. It had had a serious accident on the right front corner. This is the Eighteenth in a series of short articles about how we repaired and updated it.

Air Conditioning – The Teardown

As mentioned in the recent Wiper Blade episode, I bought the car in Chicago and drove it home to Boston. I had read, since youth, that Ferraris don’t come with radios because “the factory believes that the sound of the engine is music.” As a result, I was surprised to find a radio in the car but not too disappointed to learn that it didn’t work.

The air conditioning was another matter. Though it blew air about the cockpit with great gusto, unfortunately, none of it was cold or even cool. It was also that point in our automotive history when the government had legislated a change in refrigerants to a more ECO friendly version. Fortunately, John Tirrell at IFS in Easton, MA had stockpiled the old refrigerant on which our system ran and once the system was properly charged it did its job quite well.

Like all older A/C systems it eventually died of a slow leak, which we learned, when we took it apart, was actually a cracked fitting. By that time John’s supply of the old refrigerant was gone and the new refrigerant was not compatible. I simply resigned myself and my lucky passengers to the joys of travelling in a warm black car. Make that a hot black car.

Once we determined that we would make changes to the cooling system and that it required taking the A/C condenser off the front of the rad, we began looking for a replacement A/C system as well.

As in all of our previous upgrades to the 308 adventures, we were far less concerned with authenticity than effectiveness. Because, most suppliers of any upgrade or replacement unit for these older cars cannot duplicate all the factory changes and upgrades over the model period, it is important to go into these projects recognizing that compromises will need to be made. We chose Retro-Air of Addison, Texas, to be our supplier. Rock Browning was a tremendous help. His company makes replacement units for Porsches, Jaguars and Ferraris. The kits are far more complete than I expected, and, while the compressor looks and is different from the original, the cosmetics in the cabin are identical. But you should be aware, and Rock will point this out, the parts going in may not be exact duplicates of the parts coming out. Though, as I said, in the WASRED 308 case, no changes were visible in the cabin.

Old and new compressors

We did the work in the MMR Garage & Art Gallery and Spencer Guder, of Spencer Restoration in Canterbury CT, did the heavy lifting. Once again I was the sometimes helpful hand. Parts of this are a two-man job. I am pleased to have someone who is familiar with the systems and unafraid to tackle a job which would require patience and ingenuity, not to mention strong forearms to hoist and place the compressor, and, small thin fingers to get in all the places you need to place washers and nuts.

In removing the system we learned where our future problems may lie. The first issue would be fitting a different confirmation of pump with a slightly different mounting system that requires shimming for alignment. The second was the removal and replacement of the hoses running from the rear of the car, through the passenger side rocker panels and to the condenser and receiver–dryer. The evaporator airbox under the dash and the blower motor needed to come out. Removing the radio was also essential. The original evaporator box is made of a brittle plastic. It was cracked and broken and no OE replacements were available. It was probably broken during one of the numerous adventures in radio installation. Spencer needed to remove it, bring it home and reconstruct it completely. He used a perforated aluminum structure to re-create the broken and missing bits and used a two part epoxy, as used in the repair of plastic bumpers, which he bonded to the aluminum substructure and then sculpted and painted it. When done, it was a far better product than new and I had no regrets that an original replacement wasn’t available.

The replacement receiver-dryer unit is both of a higher quality and far more attractive, but slightly smaller, than the original. Spencer built a spacer-collar to slip over the R/D to allow it to sit properly in the original bracket that locates it for connecting hoses.

New Receiver-dryer

As we began dismantling the old parts we discovered several things. The condenser is bolted to the radiator and the space between them is about 3/8 of an inch. A significant number of leaves had somehow found their way between both units and that could not have been helping air flow to the engine coolant in the rad. You can see from the images that the original unit is pretty tired.

Old and new condensers

So that is the background. Next week in Part 2 we will discuss installation of the things you can get to make the job a little easier: O-ring lube, two spark plugs, and split heater core hoses.

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