951 AC Conversion

My dyno-sheet-or-it-didn't-happen Goal

I have had a 944 of some sort for 15 years – none of them had working AC.  My summer 2018 goal was to get both of my two P-cars to perform as well as any modern car and that means outlet temps as low as 30f. I want to use R134A so I can more easily maintain my cars. So my metric was get outlet temps of about 32 degrees Fahrenheit on a typical Missouri summer day (88f ambient and 75% humidity). There are lots of internet stories out there of how all I needed was a drier and a can of gas. When I see these stories, I always look for how success was measured. I know that good goals always have good metrics and the in this story I've learned that the "freeze your fingers off" thing really doesn't mean very much. So, I try to think of my outlet temp metric as a dyno-sheet-or-it-didn't-happen type of thing.

One other thing about my goal - I didn't reach it (yet). You’ll have to jump to the end of the story for that.

And so it begins... I bought this crimper – it is Chinese and appears to have fairly good overall quality and made consistent and good-enough crimps.  It doesn’t leak fluid and easily reaches crimping pressures of steel fittings. I had the tool shipped to me from China and I suspect it is made in the same factory as those marketed here in the USA by Master Cool. I bought the hydraulic version with pump because I wanted to avoid pulling the hard lines from the engine bay (a task that could require removing the engine). This meant that I would need to crimp at least two fittings while situated in their normal location. 

 


I’m particularly interested in using the low-cost parallel flow condensers that are now on the market.  I think that is the key to getting R134A to deliver. I pulled the old condenser and right away see rust or some kind of debris inside it. I wasn’t too surprised – I’ve had a few hard lessons in the AC efforts of the past. This old condenser is contaminated and has to go. I ordered up this parallel flow condenser to replace the old OEM condenser – it half the weight. These condensers are available at countless AC suppliers. It actually seems to be made with pretty good quality.  

 

At first I wasn’t sure this would fit but mounting this new condenser worked out well.  I have the bracket patterns and hardware sources so you can copy/improve on my effort if that’s what you want. The hardest part was accepting that I had to cut out the original mounting pins. Once those were gone the whole mounting issue fell in to place.

  

The vibration  thread into an existing hole (one on each side) that has a plate nut already installed. Just be sure your radiator is centered to avoid contact/damage with the isolator.

 

Here is the brackets sketch, I cut these from hand. The steel was very thing perhaps .06" sheet (the new condenser is very light). If you use this, you might want to mark the small holes directly from your condenser.

  

This PF condenser rejects a fantastic amount to heat but introduces some downsides too. First, it’s passageways are so small, it can act like a filter and be easily clogged. Also, I've read that this type of condenser cannot be flushed.  And last, I’m convinced it is physically smaller in capacity and that alters the ideal amount of oil and refrigerant prescribed for this car. That OEM prescription will have to be adjusted downward to use this condenser.  Keep in mind too that oil is not compressible and that any more oil than is needed for the compressor’s long life takes away from the overall efficiency of the AC system. The point is that I don't want to go overboard on the amount of oil I use.

To adjust the OEM prescription of refrigerant and oil, my plan was to slowly add my R134A gas while watching my outlet vent temperatures. This method is fairly common because people are always having to guess a little about how much oil is in a system when a system is refilled.   I think we tend to assume more oil is good but well, there are downsides too.

So with the condenser mounted, I started planning the new hoses. Some of the hoses have new fittings at both ends but those that attach to the compressor are using the old compressor fittings (more on this later). 

All are to be fitted with new reduced outside diameter barrier hose.  Why reduced OD barrier hose?  I like it; its more flexible, has some tolerance to twist into a tight space and has a much smaller bend radius.  Maybe there are downsides but I haven’t found them yet. Besides, of the seven die sets that came with my crimper, the ones for #6 hose are limited to reduced OD hose. And since both of my cars use #6 hose, accepting this hose was a forgone conclusion. I ended up using reduced OD barrier hose for ALL of my hoses – and (so far) with no regrets.

  

There are some need-to-know things about crimping. The basics are available on U-tube for new-hose-to-new-fitting and I can show you how I did the new-hose-to-old-fittings. 

My old compressor was junk so next, I bought this compressor from Rock Auto. It is rebuilt by Denso and I think that is important.  These compressors look so nice that I would guess they are new old stock, rather than rebuilt. Cost was about $440 and comes with a warranty.

 

I also bought a new filter drier and a high/low pressure switch from Paragon-Product.com. My model year (87) has a dedicated high pressure switch and a low pressure switch as well. The Paragon switch is meant to replace them both. I put in the new switch and retained the old high pressure switch anyway. I figured I could jumper it if it gave me any problems. I should also mention that the 944 drier is a universal model but the one I got was slightly smaller than my original mounting clamp. I cut a small piece of radiator hose to insert under the clamp to fix this fitment issue. 

 

I also got 8 oz of PAG-46 from Amazon.  PAG-46 oil is required for the compressor’s warranty and is stipulated in both the Toyota Technical Service Bulletin and the Porsche Technical Bulletin for how to convert to R134A. Both documents include  systems that use my compressor model but the Toyota TSB (AC002) prescribes a no flush method.  I wanted to avoid flushing, if possible, because it can be so difficult to get the last of the flush chemicals out of an installed evaporator. So anyway, that is how the Toyota TSB got onto my reading list. The Porsche procedure (TB 9501) assumes I have a working R-12 system and can run it to stir up the original mineral oil and thereby extract/drain it easily. Not true in my case. My system has been dead for years.  

More on fittings - The fittings and hose that I needed I got from Coldhose.com.  There are hundreds of supplier’s but Coldhose has a nicely organized ordering system that helped me visualize/identify what I needed. These fittings are complete fittings with integrated beadlock ferrules.  This general type is used on the 944 but perhaps not as robust as those on the original 944.  In my case, I chose  steel beadlock fittings because I wanted to use steel, rather than aluminum, and I wanted to use reduced OD barrier hose as mentioned earlier. See the cold hose site and "Fittings/oring/female oring" for a selection table. 

So to start on the hoses, I needed to determine what size hose is needed. The 944 uses #6, #8 and #10 and I fell into using this AC hose lingo rather than keeping track of the actual inside diameters. Hose is cheap; er, I mean inexpensive. I bought 4 feet of each and that was plenty. More details on hose length will emerge when I later mocked-up all of the hose placements.  

I suppose you can buy the compressor fittings and maybe the compressor fitting adapters too but I did not locate a source for those. So, I used the old fittings. For the crimps to the old compressor fittings and for the hard line fittings,  I had to cut the old ferrules off to get the old rubber separated (using a grinder and small, thin abrasive cutting blade) and then clean-up the remainder of the fitting to remove any grit that might damage my new compressor.

So on the compressor fittings and the two hardline fittings, I’m keeping the core of the old fitting but I have cut off it’s crimped ferrule. That means I needed new ferrules. I got these from an EBay seller in a variety pack. I used the hose to find the correct ferrule (the hose should fit within the ferule with a snug fit). Then I had to work with the fitting and the ferrule to get the ferrule to just barely fit over the bead of the fitting. A few of them I had to open the hole a little by drilling.  

I haven't read anything about this but I think the idea is then to do a little extra work to get the crimped ferrule to fold-over a bit of the bead and thereby lock the bead of the fitting.  This idea of crimping the ferule over the bead is something I could/should look into more. There’s probably some trick here that escapes me.  I didn’t really explore this much on my 951 but got into it a little more on my 928. === ferrule variety pack===

Below is a pic of how I tried to lock the ferule to the 928 compressor fitting. All I’m doing here Is making my first main crimp of the ferule. Then I release the jaws of the crimper and slip the jaws over about an eighth inch (toward the fitting) and make another light crimp, this creates a 4th set of divots that hopefully locks the ferule to the fitting. This is not a perfect solution, just all that I’ve come up with so far. ====Add ferule to old fitting pics, locking collar to fitting ====

Back to the cleaning... of course there many tedious details along the way too, like making sure the old fittings are cleaned-up and have nice flat, smooth surfaces for the orings to seal to. I accidentally dinged one compressor fitting in a vice and had to order a replacement from PlyhammersParts.com. The fittings are made of very soft steel.

There are also fitting adapters for the compressor and those have to be cleaned up and made as perfect as possible. The compressor warranty papers made a big deal of this, showing pics of a damaged compressors that were not covered by their warranty. A gun cleaning kit was my tool of choice for cleaning.   ====Gun cleaning kit pic==== 

The crimping part is fairly easy but a few practice runs are a good idea; easy to do since I miss-ordered a few fittings.  Before I made any real crimps I got my condenser mounted and compressor (with fitting adapters and fittings) in place and the old filter drier mounted. I also had the coolant reservoir removed so that I could see the two hidden AC hoses. This way I could mock-up the hose placement to be sure I had the right hose length.  I could also mark on the hose with a witness mark so the rotational orientation would come out right. I think I avoided some errors with patience in getting a good look at how everything fit together.=== another layout pic=====  

For most of the hoses I clamped my crimper into a vice but the two hardline fittings had to be crimped while working within the engine bay.  This is really what I had in mind when I bought this hose crimper. It may have been the best option but still it’s hard to do with just two hands. ==== crimper in vice, crimper in engine bay====

I mentioned contamination earlier and so want to get as good a look at each fitting in the system to see how far it had progressed. I was still in a quandary about the evaporator flushing. To me it seemed like I either had to  pull the dash or not do the flushing.  So next I opened up the fittings for the expansion valve. I found it was clean. So I changed the orings and put it back together. I bought the correct insulating tape to recover the expansion valve - of course it comes in a roll that is 10 times more than I need. ====exp valve, tape up of exp valve====

So finally, I’m putting the whole system back together.  Now I used the new filter drier which I had kept sealed up so as to safe guard the desiccant beads from moisture. Also I used new orings and carefully oiled each one using the PAG-46.  My AC books are adamant on this, I guess it helps the oring to slip into sealing position.

Next was my AC system’s first vacuum test.  That went fine although I was thinking that just because the system can hold vacuum doesn’t mean it will hold pressure. ===Pic of vacuum gauge====

I filled and burped the engine’s cooling system and took care of a small wiring problem associated with the 12 vdc compressor on signal.  I thought I was all ready to go for refrigerant charging but what I should have been thinking about was things I should have on-hand to troubleshoot when the charge-up doesn’t go as planned.  A laser thermometer would have been good. Short shut-off valves for the manifold hoses ( I had them but one of mine leaked and one of my hoses had a worn-out seal). A review of the seals in my old hoses and maybe a plan on using the mandatory R134 quick disconnect fittings for the high and low side fill ports would have been good things to do too. All stuff that came back to bite me on both of my summer 2018 AC projects (my 951 and my 928).

I actually did expect some charge-up problems but I didn’t get far with them. With about 200 psi on the high side I suddenly realized I had a big leak. And naturally, per Murphy’s Law, it was at a fitting that is the most difficult to access - the in-situ crimp that I made for the drier hose to evaporator hard line. It’s the little one under the coolant reservoir. ===Leak pic=====

I made a quick visual estimate of how much oil I lost in that leak and set about getting the coolant drained - again.  Once the leaking fitting was exposed, I theorized about what went wrong and spent some time thinking about how I could go forward.  My failure theories aren’t worth much but I knew this was a serious threat to my fix-the-AC-or-else project.  I could order new fittings and I could crimp up a new hose as a basic re-try or I could pull the engine, remove the hard line and have a pro-AC shop crimp it for me – an almost certain fix.

Or maybe, there was another way. There had to be because I really didn’t want to pull the engine and my faith in this budget crimper was waning. This is one of those moments when I felt I had to take time to review everything. 

I actually enjoy these outside the box opportunities – too much I suppose. Many times my Dad and I have stumbled into these situations and the crazy ideas were fun to laugh about. His perspective on innovating was molded by growing up during the depression and later in the Navy where every idea was on-the-table.  People don’t seem to think like that anymore and I wonder sometimes how the Wright brothers would handle the internet eye-rolls of today. I’m getting carried away. My shop IS kinda like a bicycle shop but I’m NOT the Wright brothers and this is just a leaky hose problem.  Anyway, I looked again at the crimp quality and along the way, it occurred to me that with the thin wall of the reduced OD hose and the relatively small outside diameter of this #6 hose that there had to be some sort of clamp that could do this.  This is what I tried - a cluster of mini t-bolt clamps. And it worked and held at pressures as high as 350 psi. It worked so well I used the same fix in the same place on my 928 (drier hose to evaporator hardline). ===Add mcmaster PN of clamps===>

So I’m ready for system fill round 2. I had a new set of Chinese gauges that I wanted to try but there were difficulties so I used my ancient Robinair setup that I inherited from my Dad.  I should know a lot more about vacuum readings but I know I’ve had success if I can get the gauge to hit the lowest measurable point – see pic. I think that is -28 psi.  My pump run time was about an hour (my cheapie HF vacuum pump) and it held overnight. ===pic of vacuum on gauge====

I started the fill using the suction port on the compressor - all went well right from the start – sucked in the can slowly, ambient was 80 to 85 and humid. There was some cycling which I don’t understand as I had the new low pressure switch jumpered.  It gradually stopped over the course of about 5 minutes. I started checking the temperature at the main outlet with the blower on high but forgot to put the recirc on. Outlet temps were in the high 30s – which seemed really good. Max pressure was 180 and I stopped filling after just one can (11 oz). It was an easy place to stop and review. The condenser was definitely radiating heat! The rebuilt Denso compressor is like new and quiet. Even the DME auto adjust of the idle speed is working. My pressures were 180/30. I used my new Chinese sniffer to look for leaks but found none (but remember, experience level is low on doing this). I was feeling good but knew there had to be more problems ahead.

Well, it only took six weeks to get to this point - my first test drive with AC.  I had some little things to clean-up like adel clamps for the compressor to condenser hose a permanent repair of the compressor electrical connector problem. I found a little oil on the outside of the compressor fittings so cleaned that off thinking I could check it after some use. I put on the under-pans, batwing and aft aluminum pan. I got the car down off of the stands/ramps. I backed it out and the AC seemed really cold.

I drove it about 30 miles that day. Ambient was 82 and humid enough to not be comfortable. Idling outlet temps were just south of 40. That seemed very acceptable.   As soon as I got rolling (40ish mph) my outlet temp came all the way down to 30f.  It’s hard to get a good pic of the tiny thermometer when moving. The outlet temp cycled a little between 30 and 38 but as soon as I turned on the re-circ it would hold at 30 as long as I was moving. Now I know its early but Damn, this feels like a win.

There is one thing though that bothers me (beyond the using only one can of R134A) and that is the question of why hasn’t my freeze switch disengaged the compressor – the compressor runs constantly. And it’s a pretty big load on horsepower too. According to my thermometer, I’m reaching 30f so perhaps my freeze switch is bad. After several days of driving the car I decided I would adjust the freeze switch and maybe get it to kick off the compressor at 35f. I tried that but no change. More time went by and I was feeling pretty good. Days passed.===freeze switch pic====

The 2018 Missouri summer heat was steady and at one point I used the car to run an errand. In the process the car was parked in the open and the interior got heat soaked. When heading back home it took a good 15 minutes for the interior to cool down. I knew then that something wasn’t quite right. It turned out my thermometer for measuring outlet temps was way off. With another thermometer, my low 30’s temps turned out to be 42f.  I wrote in my notes… So it turns out that it’s a good thing I didn’t tell anyone about my miraculous low temp AC system.

So you might think I would jump right back in to this project and get on with tuning whatever needs done to get my outlet temps lower but by this time I was way down the road on my other car and summer was turning to fall. I also had a new milkshake problem on my 951 and that took all of my focus. I had to get that behind me before it got cold. So anyway, to this day my 951 is just as it was in late September of 2018. Its freeze your fingers cold but really only it only gets down to about 42f.

PS  So, what to do next?  I’m thinking I need to do more analysis of my system. Obviously the single can of refrigerant that I used is a red flag. But before I make changes I want to know more about what is wrong. I bought a book, Just Needs a Recharge by Rob Siegel. This author is a BMW guy and covers the bases of bringing back your long dead AC system.  Hopefully, Rob will help me get to the next level with my AC conversion. ===pic of Robs Book=======

 

Project Magnitude

For really serious projects I try to get my self psyched up as much as possible. This AC effort was one of my three projects for the summer of 2018. I planned all through the winter on how I was NOT going to go through another summer without AC. In the end it took about six weeks of jack-stand time and something close to $800. I went in telling myself the worst case included pulling both the engine and the dash and I got close to both of those.


My dyno-sheet-or-it-didn't-happen Goal

So my goal was to get outlet temps of about 32 degrees Fahrenheit on a Missouri summer day (88f ambient and 75% humidity). There are lots of internet stories out there of how all I needed was a drier and a can of gas. When I see those stories, I always look for how success was measured. I know that good goals always have good metrics and the "freeze your fingers off" thing really doesn't mean very much. I try to think of my outlet temp goal as a dyno-sheet-or-it-didn't-happen type of goal.

One last thing about my goal - I didn't reach it.  At one point I thought I did. The outlet air felt great, the car cooled down quick and my little thermometer said I was there. I was so anxious to claim victory but with a little more driving I found that when the cabin was heat soaked it didn't cool down so well at all, taking upwards of 15 minutes. It turned out my thermometer was defective.

So my basic plan included these things:

  •  Parallel flow condenser
  • Crimping tool
  • New barrier AC hoses and fittings
  • R134a refrigerant
  • New dryer
  • A working, leak free compressor 

 New Parallel Flow Condenser Selection and Mounting

So, yes I got my condenser from EBay. I'm sure its Chinese and I'm thrilled with its performance and price. Here's pic showing the comparison to the original and how I mounted it. 


 



Here is the brackets sketch. I cut it from .06 steel sheet (very thin, the new condenser is very light) by hand. If you use this, you might want to mark the small holes directly from your condenser.

The vibration isolators thread into an existing hole (one on each side) that has a plate nut already installed. Just be sure your radiator is centered to avoid contact/damage with the isolator.


The hose clamp above attaches to existing bracket (no drilling).

Drier Install and Related

Compressor Install and Related

Contamination Concerns

So hopefully you can see how this is all coming along. But I've skipped over a few headaches that I need to talk about. First is the contamination. Yep, when I disconnected the lower fitting (goes to drier) from the original condenser - I found some pretty bad contamination. It looked like bits of rust but it may have been dried-up old refrigerant oil. I'm not sure how serious this is but I wanted to evaluate/eliminate it as much as I could. It seemed to me as though any sort of contamination could find its way through the system and block the tiny passageways of the new condenser. I found it present at only the  original condenser and drier; not the expansion valve/evaporator.   

I also feared for the state of the evaporator but purging it without leaving debris or purging chemicals behind seemed like a big risk. I could pull the dash and with the evap clear, I know I could get it clean. But I chose not to do that. 

I also did not remove/replace the orings for the evaporator fittings at the firewall. I would have to pull the engine to access them and again this was a huge add-on of labor. On these two things I wimped out and got lucky.

I did have contamination at the fittings for the compressor and spent a lot of time scrubbing those clean. They are very soft metal and I manged to damage one of them. I was able to get a salvaged fitting though from Mark Plyhammer. 

 

Expansion Valve and Related

The expansion valve was super clean, so I jut put it back together with new orings and cork tape. I also cleaned out old deteriorating foam and debris from the evap fins. I used strip calk to get the cover resealed and it was all back together in a couple of hours. 

To Be Continued

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