5 Minutes with Jack Chisenhall
Jack Chisenhall has been making cars cool since he was 13 years old. Although he’s best known for bringing air-conditioning products to the street rod industry through his San Antonio-based company Vintage Air, Chisenhall has been drawn to cool cars since he was 10 years old and went to his first USAC Midget race.
“They looked like kiddie cars, so I thought they couldn’t really be that exciting, but when I watched those cars race, I was amazed – those things were really haulin’!” Chisenhall remembers. “After that, we went into the pits and saw the cars close up. That was probably what got me moving forward toward cars.”
Three years later, Chisenhall purchased his first car – a Model A sedan – from a junkyard. The cost was $100 – “a ton of money back then,” says Chisenhall – which he earned by cutting grass and making grocery runs for neighbors. From then on, his goal was to make cars cooler.
We chatted with Chisenhall about his collection of cool cars, as well as the time he rode alongside “Easy Rider,” and his love for yoga!
Goodguys Gazette: You’ve built a lot of amazing cars. Do you have a favorite?
Jack Chisenhall: Well, to be a favorite, they have to have A/C, of course! I have that first Model A, so that is always going to be special. I also have a black 1939 Ford sedan that I drove all these years on road tours. I would take my two sons along, so they kind of grew up in that car, beating each other up in the back seat. Another special one is my ’53 Studebaker. It’s a street car but I ran it at Bonneville and the first time we were there we exceeded the record of the class we were in! It went 241mph out the back door on the course, averaged 219mph in that car.
GG: When’s the last time you remember being really starstruck?
Chisenhall: We were at a show in Daytona Beach, and at that time I was involved with the CadZZilla build. There was this big parade and we were riding in the backseat of CadZZilla and Billy Gibbons was driving. All of a sudden Peter Fonda and Dan Aykroyd ride up on Harleys, one on each side of the car, and ride with us. I was just kind of in awe of the whole thing!
GG: What drew you into the air-conditioning business?
Chisenhall: I have an education in industrial design. After working for a few companies, I felt like I might want to start a business. I knew I couldn’t make parts for hot rods right away, because you needed equipment and tools and money. A friend of my dad’s was in the A/C business, so that’s how I started out. We installed, repaired, sold and distributed them for cars, and I got to be pretty knowledgeable. This guy, Milton Jones, was my partner and was really smart. I learned everything I could from him.
GG: What kind of response did you get when you first introduced Vintage Air products to street rodders?
Chisenhall: I went to the Street Rod Nationals in Tulsa the year I started the company, in 1976. It was August and it was HOT! We drove a van up there full of A/C parts and people saw our name on the side of the van. As we were unloading, we had a line of people waiting. No one was doing A/C for these cars. I had developed a condenser for the ’32 Ford. I also had a purpose-made evaporator for ’32 Fords, and a ’32 Ford kit that would fit on the radiator of the original car. It was just what hot rodders were looking for, apparently, because it was a madhouse! People lined up and we pretty much sold out of everything we had.
GG: We understand you also have Tom Medley’s famous ’40 Ford?
Chisenhall: Yes, that’s one of my favorites also. We were really good friends. When he passed away, his family asked me to buy his burgundy ’40 Ford and I’ve driven it all over. A lot of people probably know the car caught on fire at the garage [in 2011] and was destroyed. Me and a bunch of guys got together and rebuilt it for him. Randy Clark rebuilt that car and it drives like it’s brand-new. Tom and I spent lots of time in it, and we always listened to basketball games or big band music while we drove. It’s very special to me.
GG: What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Chisenhall: People would probably be surprised to learn that I do yoga every day! My son’s a yoga instructor in New York City and every day he calls me and trains me. I was having problems with leg cramps and could hardly walk at one point. I noticed that a lot of what they were asking me to do in [physical] therapy was in line with what my son was doing in his yoga classes, and I knew my son could train me a lot cheaper than a therapist! It helped me so much that I have never stopped.
GG: What’s one hot rodding trend you’re happy to see happening?
Chisenhall: I like fast cars, so I love how they’re doing AutoCrosses at these events now. Goodguys was instrumental in making that happen. I think doing something with the car besides parking it is huge, and it needs to keep happening. Finding different ways to use and enjoy your hot rod is what it’s all about to me.