Vintage VW Air Conditioning

FOR SALE: L639 Zenith Blue ’67 Beetle

I don’t know how many hundreds of times I have been asked questions about air conditioning for Beetles.

My experience with air conditioned Beetles has revolved around removing non-functioning units from the 1967 Beetles which I have acquired over the years. Foot after foot of wiring, the condenser, the evaporator and the compressor—any of the above or what was left of it. Mostly, what was left of the system.

The old systems, although reputed not to drain horse power, seemed to do just that. That was one of the main arguments against them. They also disfigured the engine compartment and complicated routine maintenance.

The engine compartment had to be altered in order to allow for the compressor and pulley. The driver’s fresh air outlet on the shroud had to be removed and a modified outlet installed, since the compressor was going to take up space at that point.

The compressor bracket required a further altering of the lower tin so that it could be mounted on a cylinder head exhaust stud. The crank pulley bolt was removed and a second pulley was mounted over the crank pulley using a longer pulley bolt.

Many people spoke of having “factory air” in their Beetles. The fact of the matter, as confirmed by this 1967 brochure from Volkswagen of America, is that air conditioning systems were optional and were dealer-installed. There were multiple makes of systems but all had to conform to VW standards of installation and function.

'67 AC

I contacted a now-retired Volkswagen-trained technician to talk about air conditioning systems in the 1960s. When I read the brochure to him, he began to laugh. He told me that the first systems which technicians were installing at the dealership where he was employed were “terrible”. He told me that they were the worst thing that happened to Volkswagen. He did say that the systems improved with time but not to the efficiency of modern systems.

He also elaborated on installations. He told me that no air conditioning systems were installed in Germany. All components were manufactured in the USA and came in big boxes to the dealerships. Units also could be installed at US ports of entry by trained technicians. He assumed that some people interpreted these “port installations” as being “factory installed air”.

'67 Beetle AC

My friend told me that he and another technician mastered air conditioning installation and could make lots of money. So much so, that they kept quiet about how quickly they could install the units. Then, he groaned again, as he thought of the over heating and damage the systems caused to the engines.

I notice in this 1967 Brochure that the illustrations used are not from ’67 but from ’66. This often was the case with VW literature—pictures and drawings that illustrated various aspects might come from previous years, if year was not pertinent. (note the Sapphire III radio, for instance).

Posted by Jay Salser

My wife, Neva, and I have been driving and working on VWs since 1976. In fact, we raised our family in these cars. Now, we are retired and enjoy VWs as a hobby. The ’67 Beetle always has been our favorite year. We own a '67 Beetle and a '68 Karmann Ghia.

  1. Great story Jay. I agree that those A/C systems did more harm than good in our beloved beetles. I do belive the photo is of a 67 dash though. It has the black rubber knobs and there isn’t a pull knob on the ashtray. Thoughts?

    1. 67 is the only year with a black rubber knob and with no pull on the ashtray this will help you with Knowledge on a 67 vw bug

      1. Thanks! Yes, all of those videos were a collaboration with our friend Chris Vallone in NY.

  2. In my opinion, the best “air conditioning” for the 67 is to twist the wind wings all the way around so outside air blows in your face.

    1. I was going to say the same thing!

  3. Good info Jay! I always wondered about those things.

  4. Jody…I think that you ARE correct–the knobs and the ash tray lead me, as it did you, to think that the dash indeed is that of a ’67 Bug. I focused upon the Sapphire III Radio and that distracted me from the other important details. Thanks for the correction! But…I keep wondering how the 6 volt radio works in a 12 volt car? I have to shake my head over that one! jay

    1. Guys,
      Here’s the deal. The ’67 came with the chrome knobs by default. They were also on the ’66. The safety knobs were a dealer add on. My OG Sapphire V came out of my Grandpa’s basement with the chrome knobs. I changed them to the other because I like how they match the car better. Here’s a good read on radios.

  5. Really don’t want to let the cat out if the bag butt…….I am the inventor of “Chill-Flo” technologies. I have invented a non pulley driven a/c unit that is mounted behind the back seat. A hole has to be cut for a 4″ exhaust pump to push hot air out if the unit. It also requires a pan and drain line plumbed, a 90 amp generator upgrade and a winter jacket on the hottest days. My prototype pumps out 3,000BTUs adequate for 300 SQ ft . I will post a picture soon. I like to say for my 66, “it’s cool in here!”

    1. Hello, Steve…Well…that at least leaves the engine compartment less “violated”! LOL My ’67 Beetle had air conditioning at one point. I completed the removal process. But the Poor Beetle bears the scars of that nasty system. If a person just HAS to have air conditioning–your system sounds less invasive. As Mike says above–kick the vent windows out and keep the ambient air circulating–is my philosophy, too.

    2. It’ll be interesting Steve to know how a VW beetle can be cooled especially not draining the limited hp of the engine
      I ‘ll be happy to learn more about your chill flow invention for beetles.
      A picture will be apriciated via email of is there any web sit that you can direct me to?
      Thanks for sharing
      Tunde Tomori

      1. Hey Tunde! I have a provisional patent but I enjoy fellowship with vintage VW brothers! My prototype is actually a 5,000 BTU window unit I have stripped down and built a sheet metal box. I have separated the chambers so when the heat exchange occurs I have a 6″ booster pump that pulls the heated exhaust air and dumps it via a vent under the car. The cold air is directed through a vent that collects all of the cold air 63 degrees Fahrenheit into to cabin. The unit is designed to cool 300 sq ft so it can dramatically drop the temperature on the hottest of days in my “Rusty”. It has a remote control. The unit sits on a sheet metal pan angled to drain the condensation water through a drain and dumped under the car. I have replaced my 30 amp generator with a 90 amp Boshe Unit that redirects ( propriety electronics ) adequate amperage to power the unit, the exhaust pump and amps to spare. If you aren’t bored by to much info I will send photos. I have many inventions and my family don’t share in my vision or are unable to keep up with the mind of a mad scientist!

        1. Hi Steve,
          Thanks for your response.
          Please send the photographs via email….
          Looking forward to your reply

        2. Mr Donohoe, I’d like to know more about your ac system for VW beetles. Are you currently selling them? If so, for what price? Are you satisfied with how well the system works? Etc

    3. Steve I assume your unit can be installed in street rods etc.? How much is your unit? Thanks,

      1. Hi Jim, how easy will this invention be easy to fit & at what cost
        Please bear in mind that my VW is located in Africa & only option is a diy fitting

  6. First if all thanks for not kicking me out for having a ’66! I moved from Cali to NC in the winter of ’98. If it would have been in July I would have turned around and headed back to the Napa Valley!! Who would think it’s OK to wait till the hottest day of the year and force an I innocent 1300-1500cc motor to squeeze out “only 1 1/2 HP” to spin an extra pulley and compressor? The guy who wrote that to sell me a system for $1,700 is lucky I wasn’t feeling my Josie Wells at that moment! Let me create an account, put up cute pic and figure out how to upload a shot of my system. I’ll be back!!

    1. Ha, ha, ha, Steve. We love all Beetles here! Just partial to the ’67s. I DO understand that the heat keeps some people from buying and driving a VW. So…for those who wilt under t he extremes of heat which a lot of us encounter–having a cooler alternative to Life-in-a-Beetle-Steam-Bath is a great idea. jay

    2. Hey Steve Donohoe I’m interested on your idea of a/c with out the compressor. Can you e-mail me with more info.


    3. Any luck with the photos or details?

  7. The compressor really takes up a lot of room in the engine compartment. It would be very difficult to get to that rear spark plug!

    1. Todd, I have tuned many VW w/ AC. I drilled a 11/2 hole under the fender, fire wall so I could get the #3 spark plug. I dead centered it the first time and from then on. It paid .10 an hour more for a tune-up w/AC. The other mechs would curse if they had to work on AC VW bugs but I smiled to my self. I never told anyone what I did and no customer ever found the hole. I covered it with black dum-dum that came with the installation kit to wrap the low press pipes.

    2. Todd, I drilled a 11/2 hole under fender in firewall opposite #3 sparkplug. It was then easier to get plug out than the others. I filled the hole with supplied Dum-dum that came in the AC installation kit to cover low pressure pipes. I was never caught and never told anybody til now.

  8. Might be easier to drop the engine to get to it.

    1. Air Conditioning Reality check! Just removed all air/c components from my 70 BUG that was owned/lived & restored in Arizona(I am in PA). Did not work very well. Yes, the system is currently available new, but! There’s nothing better than bugging down the road in whatever year BUG you have with the vent windows blowing fresh air in your face and enjoying the sound of that 4 cylinder purring away. Nostalgia I guess as I owned a black 62/red interior that got me through those tough years of college(no $$), surviving through 3 engine failures and 2 transmission changes while living in humid Fla. and bigger and hotter Texas then moving on and never complaining it was ever too hot! If you want air conditioned recycled beer pharts, that is for those new cars, not classics. As a further response to justify my position here I now have a 67 in my garage for improving upon, so the Savannah Beige 70 may have to go allow my responses here. Keep the FUN meter pegged.

      1. W.J….I am sitting here at the desk, chuckling at your story. As a family, we Salsers drove in all kinds of weather and thought nothing about the heat nor the cold. We were committed to our ’67 Beetles! Long Live 1967 Beetles! Thanks for reinforcing this commitment! jay

  9. Hello. I own a ’67 with a/c and agree that’s it’s a pain to work on that side of the engine. My question is does it hurt the value of the car if a/c is removed. Thanks

    1. Thanks for the quick response. I removed the compressor already to do a tune up but was hesitant to remove the rest of the system. I guess I can patch all the holes where lines ran with black tape? BTW I traded a motorcycle for the car and some cash. I gave $3500 in trade value for the car. It runs and drives excellent.

      1. May I buy the ac units off you?

        1. I don’t believe they are made anymore. We don’t sell them, nor would I advise anyone install a unit in their vintage VW.

    2. Hello, Nick…It won’t hurt the value of your Beetle to remove the AC. You’ll need to do a bit more than patch the holes, however. Most of the ’67 Beetles into which AC was installed had the driver’s side “snorkel tube” on the air breather cut off–necessitating the replacement at least of the bottom part of the breather. As well, the fan shroud driver’s side was fitted with an off-set fresh air outlet–that needs to be changed. I sold an unaltered shroud to a customer just this past week so that he could repair his altered shroud. As well…the bottom tin was cut to allow for the compressor bracket to attach to the cylinder head exhaust stud–that tin will need to be replaced. In my not so humble opinion–given all of the alterations to the Beetle in order to install an AC system–the value of the car was lowered. Comfort doesn’t always equate to increased value. LOL BTW–the systems were add-ons at the dealerships–they were not “factory” installed as many believe. jay

      1. Air filter is not factory. I am gonna be replacing some other parts such as window rubbers,carpet. Should I buy replacement tin or try to find original. Same with fan shroud. Can I use the one that’s on there and just repair or do I need a complete shroud ? Car is pretty solid. What aftermarket company would u recommend for the parts? BTW if you saw the James Brown movie “Get on up” my car is in the first 5 min of that movie! It’s in the parking lot front and center during one of the scenes!

        1. Hello, Nick…There is no exact replacement for the air breather–you can find used original ’67 air breathers on or at a salvage yard. They can cost from $30-$50 each plus shipping. There is nothing like the original stock air breathers! Shroud–you prob. will find it easier to find an original shroud to replace the one which has had the fresh air outlet removed and the converter outlet installed. If you are good with cutting and welding–you can reverse the process by finding a donor shroud of any model. I use for lots of parts but especially for rubber parts–they have a life-time warranty on their rubber parts. I also use wolfsburgwest for many parts. But..Eric Shoemaker can supply lots of these same parts through his Site Store: No matter whom you use–buy quality parts so that you aren’t doing replacements 6 months or a year down the road. I have not seen the James Brown movie, unfortunately. Good job–getting your car out there into the public eye! jay

    I just picked up my first 67 for total resto project. I’ve had a (let’s start with earliest to latest)…
    58,59 bug. 71 squareback. 70 bus. 70,71 bugs. 58 pan with Shala kit. (Dick Dean’s kit) and now my 67. Oh, and I’ve got a 70 in the garage That WAS going to be a resto but, let’s face it…there comes a time when that ONE GUY who had it did WAY too much ‘custom’ crap that it’s gotta go the Baja route. (working on that now). This is not to mention the ‘non-VW’ water things I’ve had.
    The complete 67 I purchased did/does have an AC on it but no engine…no compressor. I think it’s just a matter of getting rid of it BUT am kind of thinking of keeping the interior part of it…just for show.?!…However, the rear coil sitting on the vents just below the rear window is a bit hideous.
    Thanks for all the info. It’s been quite a while since I’ve ventured into anything remotely close to what I’m about to venture into.

    1. Hello, Chris…I second the motion to rid the car of the extraneous air conditioning parts. But…as you say, it would be neat to keep the under-the-dash parts (I think that you mean the blower-vent-knobs-kit). I never saw a radiator installed by the back window–the dealerships placed them beneath the front of the cars. Stay with–the Readers certainly will enjoy seeing your project. jay

  11. My wife’s father, who passed away in 1965 in his early 40’s, produced and sold some of these systems (Los Angeles). Harold Altman. I’d love to know if anyone has a brochure for his system.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, William. Please refer to the personal e-message which I sent for, hopefully, some pertinent Ad Sales which I discovered on eBay. Also, go to for more possibilities. I hope that you find some of the information which your father-in-law created. That would be a wonderful legacy! jay

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