A cool invention from a time before AC.

Before air condition became a normal feature in cars, there was the clever Thermador car cooler. This unique device used airflow from a moving car, a set of sponges, and evaporation to provide cool air for drivers and passengers. Today we get to see this forgotten device in action and learn to appreciate the marvel of in-car air conditioning.

It's easy to take cars with dual-zone climate control and perfect air conditioning for granted but for car shoppers, before the 1970s it was a luxurious dream. In-car air conditioning was introduced as a factory option by Packard in 1940 and saw a slow adoption rate by other manufacturers. By the 1970s about half of new cars were offered with an AC option, which left many drivers to sweat it out.


The Thermador Car Cooler was an aftermarket cooling solution mounted on the window of your car or truck. It looked like a jet engine thanks to its cylindrical shape and front air inlet meant to channel air through the cooler’s chamber. Distilled water was added to the tank, which was then used to wet pull chord operated sponges. Your car was cooled thanks to the water evaporating off the sponges from the rush air as you drove down the road.

As the presenter points out, this system has some key limitations. First, the Thermador Car Cooler only works in low humidity environments since it relies on water evaporation. Second, you need to be moving for this Thermador to work leaving you hot and sweaty if you got stuck in traffic. Finally, the cooler air you get isn’t really that cold, so even at its best, the Thermador was mildly effective.

This unique part of automotive history shows us just how far car comfort has progressed. From a time when a drive in the summer was a sweltering journey to the finely controlled cars of today, we’ve seen massive improvements.