In this edition of our “Ten Questions With…” series, we sit with Jack Chisenhall — one of the best known, highly respected hot-rodders and entrepreneurs in our great hobby. Jack started Vintage Air back in the seventies to fill a need for adaptable hot rod AC systems. Once he got going, he never looked back. During the last four decades, Jack has built some amazing hot rods, driven over 200 mph and is the epitome of cool in more ways than one.
RideTech: What inspired you to start your business and when to start?
Jack Chisenhall: When I was 13 years old, I thought I needed a car and all I wanted was an old car. I ended up finding an old Model A sedan for $100. First thing I did was drove it home and put a flathead Mercury in it. That’s what got me into hot rods. Then I went into the Air Force, got out in the Vietnam Era, worked in a couple of manufacturing plants and then decided to follow my true passion of building parts for hotrods. Since it was hot in Texas, I decided to build air conditioning for hot rods.
RideTech: Did you go to College?
Jack Chisenhall: Yes, after the Air Force, I went to school for industrial design because of my passion for hot rods. This certainly helped with my future in designing and building hot rod parts!
RideTech: What did you do in the Air Force?
Jack Chisenhall: I flew for a little bit and I worked in other jobs. I was just in the end of the Vietnam era and they were giving early outs, so I was in for 2 and a half years and then got out.
RideTech: What was your first product?
Jack Chisenhall: First product was an AC system for a 32 Ford. I had to build a condenser because there were no vertical condensers for the 32 radiators. Then I had to build an evaporator to fit behind the dash of a 32 ford, as well as to build a small block Chevy bracket.
RideTech: Who is your most famous customer?
Jack Chisenhall: First off, all my customers are famous but I gotta say my most famous customer is Ford motor company. I feel very privileged to be able to develop some systems for their super cars. We did the first Ford GT in 2005 as well as the most recent second generation Ford GT. As far as individuals, people like Jay Leno, Billy Gibbons and Eric Clapton all have Vintage Air products on their hot rods.
RideTech: What were the top 2 or 3 challenges in the early days of Vintage Air versus now.
Jack Chisenhall: The biggest challenge early on was figuring out exactly what I wanted to build. That problem was solved when I saw a home made AC system at the 1976 Street Rod Nationals in Tulsa. I knew I could build a better one! These days, the main challenge is trying to continue to innovate and stay on top of the market. We have an excellent engineering staff here, including my daughter who is a chemical engineer.
RideTech: If you wouldn’t have started your company or not gotten into hot rodding what would you be doing?
Jack Chisenhall- I would still be developing products and making them my own way. I think that’s what hot rodding is all about — Doing things your own way.
RideTech: What do you consider your greatest professional experience so far?
Jack Chisenhall: The greatest experience so far is being a part of this movement, the hot rodding industry and the people in it. I didn’t have a lot of people I could relate to growing up and now I can go to these shows and I can talk to everyone and enjoy it. Specifically…running 240 mph at Bonneville in my Studebaker with the AC on was pretty cool stuff!
RideTech: What’s your next new product or product line that you can talk about?
Jack Chisenhall: We’re right now in the middle of raising the bar on our evaporative systems to up the level of performance and quality. The system will include electric fans to do a better job of cooling. It will be evolutionary and revolutionary in some ways. It’s all new technology in old cars.
RideTech: Is it still fun & do you have any plans to retire?
Jack Chisenhall: I’m 70 years old and I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. All my buddies keep asking me when I’m going to retire, and it’s like “retire from what”? If I retired, I’d have to start over because I’m not just going home and watching TV.
Click HERE to visit Vintage Air’s website.
It’s grainy, but this pre-internet, vintage video of the Cool 200 Bonneville project is fun to watch.