Of course, it goes without saying that all of us hot rod guys are tough as nails, and don't require any wimpy, comfort amenities in our cars. It's just that our wives or girlfriends are much softer than we are. Somehow, they persuade us to install things like air conditioning, heating, and perhaps a big mirror on the passenger-side sunvisor. On cold rainy days, if it were just us rugged men, we could get by with many layers of clothing and tough it out-so what if the windshield is fogged up, seeing your breath inside the car just lets you know you're still alive.

Whatever your reason for installing a heating/defrosting system, you have several options. For those cars with enough room behind the dash, you can install an aftermarket heat and A/C combo unit, and have it all tucked neatly out of sight. If your ride is an open roadster, it's practical to install a small aftermarket heater. These are usually square metal boxes with a compact core inside and a 12-volt fan, and provide welcome relief when your hands feel like they're going to freeze right to the steering wheel.

We can't blame the girls for this, but for some of us a heater that works isn't enough. We dream of one that exhibits both functionality and nostalgic design, a vintage car heater that doesn't need to be hidden away, but rather is an integral part of the interior design and a conversation starter. Yet many rodders shy away from some pretty cool-looking heaters from the '30s and '40s, fearing they would cost too much to restore.

This is where we can dispel that assumption. There are only two components inside the basic heater: the core (a small version of a brass radiator) and an electric motor with a fan. Hot engine coolant circulates through the heater core and back to the engine. If you want heat, you turn on the blower motor, which forces air over the hot core and into the car's interior. You turn vents on the front of the heater unit to direct the airflow. Flexible ducts from the side, rear, or top of the heater case bring hot air to the top of the dash to defrost the windshield. It couldn't be simpler.

After scoring a promising vintage heater at a swap meet for $25, we went to a radiator shop to see about making it functional. We were warned that the radiator guy was grumpy but knew his stuff. One look at the heater and he said, "You bought a piece of junk! If you want me to build a new core for it, it's going to be $150 to $300." We were floored, but recovered enough a few minutes later to ask if he had any kind of "universal," in-stock core that would fit inside our case; never mind whether it looked exactly like the old one. Without another look at our heater, he walked over to his inventory area, packed with shelves and pallets of radiators and heater cores, and picked up a box on one of the stacks. We had the back plate off our heater and he dropped the new core in as if it was made for the application! The cost was $36.81, plus dealing with a guy as crusty as our old core.

The lesson here is that when you find a heater you like at a swap meet, just buy it. You're only going to use the case. Inside, the heater core and the blower will be replaced, ensuring many years of trouble-free performance. Don't even bother to flush out the original core or have it repaired. For the low cost of a new heater core, it's silly to retain a suspect old core. Remember, this baby mounts inside your car; it's not something you want to have leaking hot, smelly antifreeze all over your carpeting, or much, much worse, on your lady's shoes!