Meanwhile, in the UK and continental Europe, all but the most expensive and prestigious cars made do with no form of in-car heating and ventilation control at all. Crude aftermarket accessory systems by Smiths, Tudor, K-L and Heat-A-Car were all that motorists could hope for throughout the chilly post-war winters of the 1950s and early ‘60s.
By the mid-1960s, however, consumer demand for standard heaters in cars was becoming more commonplace, especially after the ‘Big Freeze’ British winter of 1962-63, one of the coldest winters on record in the UK with 20ft-plus snow drifts. Rivers, lakes and even the sea froze over, thick enough, even, to enable a car to be driven across the frozen River Thames in Oxford on 22nd January 1963.
At the October 1964 London Motor Show at Earls Court, Ford stunned the mass-market car buyer with its revolutionary new ‘Aeroflow’ flow-through heating and ventilation system for its improved Mark I Cortina models. These were the first ‘regular’ cars to have recirculating air with adjustable air vents at either end of the dash panel, along with air extractor vents incorporated into the rear C-pillars to help remove stale air.
Most other British and European car makers soon followed this system, becoming the norm by the early 1970s, but with air conditioning and climate control still the preserve of ultra-exclusive and expensive cars only. Rolls-Royce introduced the world’s first dual-level climate control system for its costly Pininfarina-designed Camargue coupe in March 1975. Ahead of this, the fine Swedish pioneering marque Saab introduced heated front seats and heated door mirrors to help keep drivers safe, comfortable and alert in 1969.
Even into the 1980s, most ‘mainstream’ cars still had a basic (but logical and effective) slide heating and ventilation systems, using a clearly labelled sliding lever that would move left (or up) into the red zone for more heat and right (down) into a blue area to distribute cooler air. While one- or two-speed booster fan switches were the norm, they were often noisy (think an aircraft taking off) and ineffective, making a misted-up windscreen and steamy side glass still a common driving hazard.