Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Avanti Project - Or If at First You Don't Succeed

About six or eight months ago I received a call from a gentleman named Jim.

Jim had an original Studebaker Avanti he was restoring and he wanted the AC to work. He wanted his compressor rebuilt and his drier replaced.

The Studebaker Avanti was a sports coupe built by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, between June 1962 and December 1963. It was designed by a team of stylists employed by industrial designer Raymond Loewy. The Avanti was an all new design with radical body changes. Avanti is Italian for "forward" or "advance." While Jaguar began offering production-car disc brakes in 1957 on the XK150, the Avanti was the first American mass-produced car to feature standard disc brakes. The Avanti's emphasis on safety, with seatbelts available as an option, safety door latches and roll-over protection bar, was also very advanced.

The Restored Avanti's Engine Compartment.

Well, the compressor was relatively easy. It was the original York compressor which had the vintage 1960's housing. Because we had all the necessary parts in house we were able to accomplish that in short order.

Now, the drier was a whole other story. After much searching I realized that there was nothing readily available that would drop in as a replacement so I began to look for someone to rebuild the old one. There were a few people around but none whom I would be willing to attach my name to their work.

The Plan

Not one to accept defeat gracefully, I embarked on a mission to come up with a solution. My first efforts were directed at finding a suitable inline drier and fabricate the necessary fittings and mounting studs to attach to it. I found a few driers that would work and I laid out the necessary materials to make it work. It would definitely work but it looked like a pile of junk. Jim was doing a complete and proper restoration. I couldn't do that to his project.

Views of The Interior.

A Giant Leap - Past The Point Of No Return

I decided to rebuild his old drier. This would require disassembling it, removing the old desiccant, cleaning it and reassembling it. Sounds easy.

It wasn't.

My first task was to get the thing apart without destroying it so I set out to find a shop with an induction welder. For those of you who don't know, induction welding is a form of welding that uses electromagnetic induction to heat the workpiece. The welding apparatus contains an induction coil that is energized with a radio-frequency electric current. This generates a high-frequency electromagnetic field that acts on either an electrically conductive or a ferromagnetic workpiece. In an electrically conductive workpiece, such as steel, the main heating effect is resistive heating, which is due to magnetically induced currents called eddy currents. In a ferromagnetic workpiece, such as plastic doped with ceramic particles, the heating is caused mainly by hysteresis as the magnetic component of the electromagnetic field repeatedly distorts the crystalline structure of the ferromagnetic material. In practice, most materials undergo a combination of these two effects.

The plan was to undo the brazing by using the uniform heat you could get from an induction welder. Heat the end of the drier red hot, draw out the molten solder with the heat and "pop" one of the end caps off. Unfortunately, after about 2 weeks of calling around to local shops whom I thought might have one, I realized I was not going to have any luck finding one locally.

Plan B

Undaunted, I decided I would do it in house. After all, Jim was patiently waiting so I had to deliver.

I got out the huge Oxy-Acetylene torch and began to heat the brazed joint, figuring I could heat it and methodically tap it off without destroying it. Well, after about 2 hours of varied methods of attack I realized it wasn't going to work.

So I thought to myself, "Self, your not a professional welder. Stop being stubborn and send it to Robert." Robert has a welding shop and has been a pal for about 25 years. Surely he'll know how to get this apart. No such luck.

I began to realize that when they brazed stuff together in the sixties, they were serious about it not coming apart. There was no way I would be able to get this apart without mutilating it, in which case I'd never get it back together.

Taking Out The Big Guns

I reasoned that the only way I would be able to rebuild this drier is to cut it open neatly so I could weld it back together with minimal difficulty. I had done this before with aluminum accumulators and with a few steel driers. The Avanti drier was different though. It was too long to fit in my lathes three jaw chuck and turn true reliably and I did not want to risk wrecking it.

Sal is another pal I know for about 25 years. He and his wife Kathy are like part of the family. Sal owns M&S Precision Machine and has a shop full of CNC's as well as some conventional lathes and mills. He is one of those people who can literally make anything. If anyone could cut this open nicely, Sal could do it.

Off I went, part in hand to see Sal. He took the drier, studied it a bit and chucked it up in the 3 jaw on his lathe. Even though his machine was much larger than mine the drier fit was still a bit unwieldy which made it necessary to clamp down on it with more force than we wanted to use. He cut the part open and I had a nice clean "V" shaped seam to weld. Piece of cake now, right.


The body of the drier had 3 small dimples where the chuck had held it. Thinking those blemishes could be easily covered with any filler, I took the drier back to my shop. There I removed all of the insides, glass beaded everything, inserted the desiccant bag and proceeded to weld it shut. Finished at last! All I needed to do was pressure test it for leaks, fill the dimples with epoxy or some other filler and paint it.

I pressurized the drier with 350 psig of N2 and submerged it in a tank of mineral spirits to look for leaks. Sure enough one of the dimples made by the 3 jaw chuck had a small leak. This meant I had to start all over again, fix that leak and re assemble the drier. There was no way you could braze on the body of the drier without burning the desiccant bag and causing it to rupture.

After 3 tries I realized that leak would not go away. Apparently the metal body was so old and weakened from the internal rust that even though it looked useable it was not. Disgusted I thought to myself, "What now?"

Sal To The Rescue

I drove over to M&S to find Sal setting up a job on one of his CNC's. I showed him the pile of pieces and said, "Any ideas?"

Without missing a beat the answer was "I can make that."

We needed a piece of seamless tubing, I had to remove the fitting from the old drier and Sal could make the two end caps to seal off the tube.

Unfortunately, seamless tubing could only be purchased in 18 or 20 foot lengths and was cost prohibitive. What I did was purchase a length of regular ("seamed") tubing, weld a flat plate on both ends, one with a 1/4 male flare access in it and pressure test the seam on the tube. No leaks and we were in business.

I took it back to Sal where we cut it to size and he gave me the end caps he made. They fit perfectly and had a nice chamfer on the edges to facilitate the flow of the brass.

I took it back to my shop where I drilled the hole for the body fitting, brazed the mounting studs to it and brazed the second fitting on the appropriate end cap. Next I brazed all of this together, let it cool and after inspecting the welds, inserted the dessicant bag. The only thing left was to braze the other end cap on, pressure test and paint it.

It was not without some anxiety that I pressure tested this drier. As I connected the fittings I was trying to will the thing to not leak. At 50 psig I submerged it. Good so far. Then 200 psig, and finally 350 psig. Success, no leaks! But wait. This can't be. So much had gone wrong on this project I thought I had better do it again to be sure. Success again. No leaks.

I removed it from the tank, wiped it down with some wash thinner and brought it to the spray booth. The nightmare was finally over and I had a part I could ship to Jim that would be appropriate for the restoration he was doing. Plus, Jim had the patience of a saint. He understood that I could not simply drop all to do this and that I had to squeeze this in when I could. After all that I could not let him down. Thank you Jim.

The Drier (Left) Mounted on the Condenser

Jim, being the consumate gentleman he is sent me this wonderful thank you note and the pictures used in this blog.


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I also have a Studebaker Avanti with a broken AC. It has been broken for years and I never got around to fixing it. Now my son wants the car and that has reinvigorated me to get the AC fixed.

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