Southwind Heaters, Toasty Warm in 90 Seconds

Model T Ford
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Most folks take climate control in newer vehicles for granted, until they stop working that is. Drivers and their passengers can only realize how valuable air conditioning is when it fails while under a blazing Arizona sun, or heating on a frozen Chicago morning.

In the early days of motoring, staying warm consisted of multiple layers of clothes or portable gas lamps. It wasn't until 1930 that GM pioneered the now-standard heater core that uses a radiator that gets hot coolant from the engine and sends heat into the compartment using a fan. Only thing was back then, it could take up to thirty minutes to get the cab warm on a winters day.

Unhappy with the inefficiency his car heater, Canadian-born Chicagoan named Harry J. McCollum invented a car heater that burned raw gasoline, the Southwind Heater.

According to,

"Two things made it amazing. First, it didn't blow up. Second, it made the interior of his old Chrysler toasty warm in just ninety seconds.

Here's how it worked, gasoline drawn from the carburetor float bowl by engine vacuum was piped through a thin copper tube into a firing chamber, where it was atomized and ignited by a glow plug. The resulting horizontal flame could be adjusted with a knob that controlled the fuel orifice. The flame warmed a finned oven section inside the heater, and an electric fan blew air over the oven and into the car.

Combustion gases were drawn back into the engine intake manifold, again by vacuum. Thermostats made sure that the glow plug turned off after ignition and that the fan didn't come on too soon."

In the early 1930's McCollum took his invention to Chicago's Stewart-Warner plant and demonstrated it to the chief engineer. The company had made speedometers that were first used on original Ford Model Ts, and subsequently became established as a leading supplier of automotive instruments.

Over Three-Million Sold by 1948 

By 1948, Stewart-Warner had sold over three million of McCollum's Southwind Heaters, they were that good.

Southwind Heaters were used by the US military in planes and vehicles during World War II and the Korean War. They could be found in buses, motor homes and as pre-heaters for large diesel engines. But as heater core technology improved in production vehicles in the 1950's, the need for Southwind Heaters dwindled.

Fast Forward to Today 

Today, Stewart Warner still makes Southwind Heat Exchangers for Aerospace, Defense, Transportation & Energy Production. But trying to find a refurbished unit to fit into your 1930's classic and a mechanic who knows how to install one is tough to find.