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These days, automatic climate control is found in cars from the cheapest Kia to the priciest Rolls Royce. But it wasn’t that long ago that the tech felt like a true luxury experience. And that got me wondering: what was the first car with automatic climate control? It turns out, it arrived significantly earlier than you might expect, and it was born right here in America.

What was the first car with air conditioning?

Cadillac's Comfort Control automatic climate control system
Cadillac Comfort Control | Bring-a-Trailer

It didn’t take long for the first car with air conditioning, as the 1940 Packard 180 offered a/c as a factory installed option. Critically, that primitive system offered no way to control output. The only way to turn it off was to disconnect the drive belt from the system entirely. Even so, it took less than 50 years from the invention of the automobile to air conditioning in cars, and it wasn’t long before it was a common feature. According to Motortrend, by 1969 over half of new cars came with a/c, and there were aftermarket options for vehicles without such systems.

When did cars get automatic climate control?

It was in this era when automatic climate control came to be. In 1964, Cadillac’s Comfort Control system was the first thermostat-controlled automatic climate control system in a car. A trio of thermostats monitored interior temperature, exterior temperature, and temperature from the HVAC system to keep everything in check. Sure, it was a single-zone system, but it was the first in-car climate control where you set the temperature, and let the system do the work. And that made the Cadillac Deville the pinnacle of luxury driving at the time.

What was the first car with dual-zone automatic climate control?

Rolls Royce Camargue with dual-zone climate control
1975 Rolls-Royce Camargue | Bring-a-Trailer

Discerning which was the first car with dual-zone automatic climate control is an interesting concept. Today, we think of dual-zone climate settings as a split between the passenger and driver’s seat. And if that’s the metric, then the 1986 BMW 7 Series was the first car with true dual-zone automatic climate control.

However, in 1975, the Rolls-Royce Camargue offered split-level climate control. This lets you adjust separate temperatures for the upper and lower vents. So you could keep your feet warm while cooling off your face, or vice-versa. That feature isn’t as common today, though BMW offered a unique split-level system in its cars until 2021.

Split climate control in the Rolls Royce Camargue
The Rolls-Royce Camargue split-level HVAC system | Bring-a-Trailer

Are there still cars with no air conditioning at all?

As recently as 2018, base models of cheap cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and even the Jeep Wrangler came without air conditioning. In fact, the Wrangler was available (via special order) without a/c through the 2022 model year. Now though, every new car has some form of air conditioning, and over 80% of new cars offer a version of automatic climate control somewhere within the lineup.

Related What Was the First Car Cadillac Ever Made?

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