An Ode to the Vent Window

It’s 95 degrees in mid July. You’re cruising down some two-lane byway on a Saturday afternoon in your recently restored 1969 Camaro RS/SS. It’s a factory restoration, not numbers-matching but date-code-correct. You’re proud of having your Camaro in the same condition it rolled off the Van Nuys, California assembly line, but wish that it came with air conditioning. Sweat rolling down your forehead, you downshift and speed up. Engine noise rises, the wind gets louder, but you don’t feel any more breeze than before. In the distance, you see a familiar shape. It’s your friend from the local muscle car club in his 1967 Camaro. Your car is more desirable, since his is just a base model 327 car, but he has something you don’t. And it isn’t A/C. You slow down a bit and wave as he drives past. His face is decidedly more cheerful – and less sweaty – than yours. You watch in the tiny circular side mirror as he fades into the distance behind you, eyes fixed on that little triangle sticking out from the sleek lines of the first-year production Camaro. “Man, I wish I had vent windows,” you mumble to yourself.

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This is the only picture I have of a 1967 Camaro Hardtop. See the vent windows poking out on each side.

Nothing beats air conditioning, but most classic cars didn’t come with it from the factory. Sure, companies like Vintage Air have supplied the aftermarket with high quality solutions for sweaty brows and soaked-through shorts for years, but not everyone can shell out the additional dough for them. Not to mention the additional work A/C creates for classic cars’ already taxed brass radiators and shroudless mechanical fans. Long before air conditioning began spoiling the general population, automakers came up with with hinged windshields that opened a few inches to let precious fresh air in from outside the car. This solution was a bit rudimentary, and before long, a snazzy scoop began appearing on the cowls of vehicles to bring in some air without bringing in the rest of the outdoors with it. Sometime later, manufacturers put vents in the floor or dash to bring in air in a less conspicuous manner. This was a way to finally allow air into the passenger area of the vehicle while keeping water out of places it shouldn’t be. All of those things are nice, but none compare to the glorious vent window.

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This ’69 Camaro is a Z/28, but you get the idea that the lines are a lot cleaner without the vent window.

What could be so great about a little triangular piece of glass that lets air whistle through when it’s closed? While that may be irritating, that glass will never be closed when the temperature starts to rise; unless, of course, it’s raining. Vent windows, or “quarter” windows as they are more generically described, are the next best thing to good old fashioned R12 air conditioning. Rolling down a window will obviously bring relief from the stifling heat of a summer drive in your classic car, but even the horrendous aerodynamics of most muscle cars won’t direct air toward your body as it begins to stick to the vinyl seats. That’s when you reach for that little lever at the bottom of the vent window, if you’re lucky enough to have them. Pop it out and spin it into the wind, and ahhhhh… sweet relief. If you’ve ever wondered why dogs stick their heads out the car window, now you know. There’s nothing like having the 50 mile per hour wind funneled through the small opening and directed right onto you. Sweat dries almost immediately and your body is again able to function as it was meant to, despite the oppressive southern humidity. Without going into unnecessary levels of detail about maximizing the cooling potential of the vent window, I’ll just say that you can get even more relief by directing the wind into specific areas.

They may not be the most aesthetically pleasing component of a car, but vent windows are a functional masterpiece. In some of my personal experience in classic cars, I know their value well. My dad has a 1968 Camaro that I have spent some summer days in, and it is a toaster inside due to a lack of vent windows. Rolling the windows down helps, of course, but the benefits are limited because you usually need both hands to drive the manual steering, 4-speed equipped Z/28. If it was automatic, you could more easily rest an arm on the window for a slight increase in cooling. The ‘67 Camaro was the only year of the model to have vent windows, a feature that gave way to cleaner styling lines for the second year of production. Enough talk about Camaros. My 1965 Pontiac GTO has vent windows, and they are a glorious achievement of simplicity. On Hot Rod Power Tour this past summer, I drove almost 2,000 miles in mid-June in the Southeast with no air conditioning. Aside from time spent in Power Tour’s infamous traffic, I stayed as cool as reasonably possible thanks to a couple triangles of glass.

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My GTO, vent windows set into the breeze, next to my friend Chris’ 1965 Malibu, also with vent windows. He’s installed A/C, but the that’s not the point here.

I say all this to state my case that these antiquated devices need to make a comeback. They make driving with the windows down pleasant at much higher temperatures than modern aerodynamics allow. Most cars slip through the air so well now that only backseat occupants get any air from the windows, then it’s often enough to beat them senseless. A vent window would cut into this slipstream, directing a swift dose of outside air to the driver and shotgun passenger. Not only should vent windows come back, I would love the ability to tell my climate control system to bring in fresh air from outside. Sure, you can turn on the fan and turn off the A/C, but that isn’t outside air. It’s a lukewarm sigh of stale air that the vents puff out with apathy. I just want to bring in a manageable amount of 60 degree outside air without egregious wind buffeting from a partially rolled-down window. Oh, and vent windows too.

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