The Studeblogger

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lark Heater rebuild, Part 1: Disassembly

Here we begin a three-part series on how to R&R your non-functional Studebaker Lark Climatizer (Studebaker's term for their temperature-maintaining heating system). There are of course variances between years, but your Shop and Parts manuals (you do own them, right? If not, get them from Studebaker International or one of the other Stude vendors, either printed or on CD-ROM) have year-specific exploded diagrams and parts lists. Since I have a '63, this series will be specific to '62 - '63 Larks, but the procedures are pretty much the same for all years.

Barney's heater didn't work from the day I bought him. The PO had disconnected the heater hoses because the water control valve had failed, then leaked and frozen in a partly-on position; the continuous drip had also corroded the control cables and frozen one of them solid. Besides that, the heater fan would not operate; not only had the hacked wiring harness caused a power feed to the blower circuit to be disrupted, the core had leaked and let water into the fan motor itself and corroded the bearings. So nearly every part of the heater system would need to be replaced or refurbished.

The pic above shows the blower case and core assembly, which is located in the cabin underneath the passenger's side of the dashboard. On earlier Lark models, the core and blower are located in the engine compartment, on the passenger's side fender, and fresh air is fed through a hose connected to the vents inboard of the headlights. With the advent of the four-lamp system in 1961, the core and blower were relocated inside the cabin, but the water valve was still in the engine compartment on the firewall. In 1962, the valve was mounted under the dash as well, which means when they leak (not if, when), you'll know it immediately. Ranco valves can now be obtained again after a long time out of production; I obtained a used one from eBay and had it ready to go in.

The first order of business was to remove the old core and blower assembly. This isn't too hard, as it's held into the dash by four nuts and studs. the top of my core had been the nesting place for a rodent at one point, and though I'd vacuumed out as much of its bedding as I could through the filter slot in the engine room, there was still a lot of organic matter on top when it finally came out, as you can see here. The core is a tight fit in its hole, and even once the nuts are off the studs it requires some finesse to get it out, especially since clearance with the firewall is minimal.

In my Lark, the old core was sealed to the dash opening with some sort of dum-dum or black caulk; either that or the original rubber seal had simply turned into goo after 45 years. Either way, it was sticky and reluctant to let go, but once it was broken, the assembly came down the studs and was sitting in the floor of the car. Since the motor was seized and the wiring harness about to come out, I nipped the motor's power leads and the core was free.

As you can see, there are three major three major pieces to the heater/blower assembly: the heater core itself, the blower motor, and the fan case. The core is the first piece to remove; it's held onto the blower case with a sheet-metal screw on each side. Once removed, the core comes right out.

With the core removed, I found four pieces of ossified white crud in the four corners of the case. Careful inspection revealed these to be preshistoric plumber's putty, put there by some line worker decades ago to hold the core safely in its case.

I then disassembled the blower case by removing the short #6-22 machine screws that ring the clamshell's flange. Well, actually I had only one #6 screw - the rest had been replaced at some point by a motley assortment of wood screws and coarse sheet metal screws. Opening the case exposes the "squirrel cage" blower fan, which has to be removed before the screws that secure the motor to the case can be accessed.


With the fan exposed, I couldn't resist trying to make it spin, so I hooked the leads up to a 12-volt drill battery. At first, nothing happened, but after freeing it up by hand, the fan took off with a loud squealing of dry, seized bearings and I knew for sure that a new motor was needed. Luckily, they're easily available; I got mine from SASCO.

With the blower/core out of the car, the heater diverter box is held on with just one screw, a big one that also holds a clip that keeps the wiring harness from falling on the floor. It's a good idea to remove the control cables before taking out the screw; they're held on by small spring clips that clamp the cable's spring-wound sheath and keep it from moving as the actuator is moved.

If your clips are broken, bent, missing or go flying off to Never-Never land when you remove them, don't fret. Apparently AMC used these clips as well, and they are readily available from Studebaker vendors; they are part #1331825. Some models require just one; my Lark needs two and one was missing and was one of the new parts ordered from SI.

After removing the heater box, the defroster ducts are usually hanging free from the outlets. These hoses were originally made of black paper wrapped with a spring-coil substrate; mine deteriorated long ago and the inventive Previous Owner had fixed the problem by wrapping what was left with duct tape. The black paper then crumbled away entirely, leaving the ducts a sort of automotive fossil part. I discarded these archaeological objects and bought the new rubber ducting with nylon inner-spring sold by SI. The outlets themselves are pressed steel and are held on with a nut on each end, which (with the heater out of the car) were easily accessed with a socket and extension.


Working on the kitchen table, I cut the new hoses to fit using the old ones as templates, and secured them to the outlets using a method not available to Studebaker line-workers back in the day: Zip ties. Slipping the hose as far over the outlet necks as possible and tightening down the Zip ties secures them beyond any loosening, yet enables me to remove them down the road if needed. Since I had the instrument cluster out for the re-wiring project, it was even simpler to reinstall the re-hosed ducts, but it's not bad even with the cluster in as long as you have a good flashlight.

Now the that heater box was out, it was obvious that it would need refurbishing as well. Looking at the two air diverters (one to close off outside airflow, the other to select between heater and defroster mode), I could see that the rubber sheet that was originally stapled to their surfaces to facilitate sealing was long gone. Well, like I said - every part would need refurbishing!

The next installation will cover rebuilding and refurbing the various heater sub-systems. Stand by!

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