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REPRINTED from dune buggies and hot VWs (March 1989)


by BRUCE SIMURDA

Poptop Revival

Restoring the Westfalia high-rise hardtop

Admit it, deep down inside you've secretly always wanted one. Sure, they might not be the hottest-looking vehicles on the road and you'd look much cooler cruisin' the highway in a squeaky clean Type 1, but for someone who enjoys the great outdoors, the VW Westfalia poptop camper just may be one of the most practical vehicles on the road. Here's a machine that you can economically drive around town all week long, yet on weekends it converts into a full-fledged camper in a matter of minutes. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

This is how our van's top looked before the project, not a pretty sight mind you. While the fiberglass shell was in structurally
good shape, both the canvas and seal were shot! The first thing
we wanted to do was clean the shell. Before starting the
cleaning, we removed the rubber seal from around the outside
and tore off the loose canvas which was hanging down the
sides of the van - a pretty easy task considering mother
nature had taken care of most of it.

Those who already own one of these versatile vans knows just how convenient they can be. They may also know that the only drawback, besides being slightly under-heated and under-powered (features we will be dealing with in futurearticles), is that over time the canvas tent and rubber seal on the poptop deteriorates. This is especially true in areas of bad smog, where both canvas and rubber become brittle and crack. The problem really isn't too bad, however, until you head down to your local VW dealer and check for replacement parts. Believe it or not, our local dealer quoted us a whopping $225 ($375 in 1994) for the camper seal on a '71, and only mumbled when asked about the canvas ... something about a tent maker named Omar?!

Luckily, replacement parts for the poptop are available from several aftermarket suppliers, and for a very reasonable price. We contacted ..., where we found complete replacement canvas kits, starting at only $179 for the early (small top) economy kit in the stock camel color. Large later model and deluxe kits (with two side windows, large rear window with zip- down screen and zip-down canvas on all windows) are also available, as well as custom colors to customize your top. The material used on ... tops is a top grade 10-oz. marine grade duck, with heavy duty zippers. ... makes their windows larger than original for better circulation in warm weather. Besides replacement canvas tops, ... also sells camper upholstery kits, carpet kits and curtain kits.

Potent X-14 cleaner was applied to the front half of our shell, allowed several minutes to penetrate and then simply hosed off. As you can see, it turned our shell from dingy brown to snow white! One word of caution when using X-14. however, as it does contain bleach and other strong cleaning agents.

For the rubber, we contacted M.L. McCulloch (P.O. Box 2533, Malibu, California 90265; 800-248-2719) for one of their replacement poptop seals. These seals are considerably less expensive than the dealer's ($48 for small pre -'68 and $69 for large '68-'91), and are a snap to install. One of the main problems with the stock seal is the exposed inside metal clips which rust and eventually fall apart. The new seals from McCulloch also have metal clips, but they're encased inside the rubber channel to prevent rusting and deterioration.

Before we get into the actual process of installing the new canvas and seal on our '71 Westfalia (other models may be slightly different, but the basic process is the same), we're going to take a little time to get the fiberglass shell back in shape. For shells that are stained and mildewed, ... recommends a product called X-14, which is available at most stores in the bathroom cleaning agent department. This stuff is intended to be used on bathtubs and showers, and does amazing things to a dingy fiberglass poptop shell. But one word of caution when using this product, it contains bleach and other strong cleaners and you should follow the instruction on the bottle when using.

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