There’s no question that, in most tangible ways involving performance, efficiency, and comfort, modern cars are far, far better than what came before. This is pretty much indisputable. To get to this point, though, modern cars had to give up something wonderful and significant: the unexpected. Modern cars are built in ways that generally make sense, and while that’s great and all, it’s also boring as hell. It’s also why the automotive world will never encounter an object and design as unexpected and shocking as the optional air conditioning system installed in Opel GTs. So spread a dropcloth under your chair so you’re ready when I show this to you.
First, let’s make sure we’re all up to speed on two things, starting with the Opel GT itself. The Opel GT, built (in its original form; I don’t care as much about the 2007-2009 one, which was basically a Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice) from 1968 to 1973 was a charming and curvy little sports car that resembled a Corvette that had been injected with that shrink serum they use to make baby corn. There are a lot of interesting and charming details about the Opel GT (the hand-cranked, sideways-opening headlamps, the weirdly long rod used to actuate the brake booster, etc.) but the one pertinent design quirk I want to be sure you know about is just how densely the little car is packed with stuff. Look at this cutaway:
See what I mean? It’s like they took the drivetrain and all the other components and just wrapped the body around all that stuff as tightly as possible. It’s a front-mid engine design, with the either 1.1 or 1.9-liter inline-four positioned aft of the front axle and just about barging into the passenger compartment. So there’s just not that much room in there for anything else, like an AC system. But that didn’t stop Opel.
People get hot. They don’t like being all hot and sweaty, especially when crammed into a little sports car, so if Opel is going to sell these things in, say, California or Texas or Florida, AC is pretty much a must. Now, lots of cars back in the lat 60s to early 1970s didn’t come with AC standard, and optional AC units were common, and were often clunky add-ons, which usually consisted of a compressor in the engine bay and then a vent/duct/control unit mounted under the dash. For example, the old ’71 Super Beetle I had in high school had an AC unit that looked like this:
So, that AC unit just bolted up under the dash. Sure, it took up a lot of knee room, but there was plenty there, so it’s a worthy trade-off for cooled, conditioned air. This type of solution was common on lots of cars, though American cars, which were more likely to have AC optioned from the start, would usually have a more integrated AC solution.
Okay, so we have the background we need: the Opel GT general packaging situation, and the general state of most add-on AC units. Have all of that absorbed? Good. Now look at what the Opel GT AC system looked like:
Holy crap, look at that thing! It’s a huge unit that lays over the transmission tunnel, perforated with cavities for the parking brake, gearshift, and the manual headlight-opening lever, culminating in a huge pyramidical Mount Vents over there. I’ve never seen an AC unit that, um, exuberantly shaped! It’s a whole temple back there, a towering ziggurat of cool air (our own S.W. Gossin suggested the ziggurat shape, though I always thought of ziggurats as having a stepped design, like the Ziggurat of Ur or something, but I think it works anyway) that’s even taller than the gearshift!
There was a compressor, too, of course, and while it’s pretty bulky, it does fit in the engine bay:
Delco made these units, and it looks like there’s another design that’s a bit more symmetrical, though no less bulky; that one mostly seems to be used with automatic transmission cars, and you can see it on the right here:
It sorta looks like a gray sheet draped over some furniture on the center tunnel there. It’s so incredibly strange.
I hope this thing worked well, at least. I mean, it better, considering how much of the interior real estate of the car it gobbled up. That center console relief map/middle school volcano project/vent and control assembly was just part of it: the whole thing was T-shaped and also devoured some of the cargo room behind the seats:
I know it may sound like I’m mocking the fine Delco engineers that developed this AC system, but I promise I’m not. I’m impressed, pretty genuinely. The GT was an incredibly tight, unforgiving package, so they had to be incredibly creative to figure out how to cram in all the necessary components for an AC system, and they did. Lesser engineers and designers would have just given up, but not Delco, and not Opel. They spread AC equipment all over the interior of that car and let the stuff already in there push through as best they could.
Was it elegant? No. Hell no. Is it amazing? Absolutely. And, I think it’s pretty safe to say there will never be another AC system designed like this ever again, so drink in the majesty, friends.
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.