Pop-Top Project

VW Pop-up-Top Canvas Replacement

Project Date: 9/28/02

Project Leader: Jim Huston

Totallyillogical Crew: Sharon, Micah and Daniel

Photos: Jim and Sharon

The Pictures

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The Story

When we bought our ’72 Westphalia Campmobile several years ago, the canvas in the pop-up-top was worn and already had several areas of iron-on repair. We knew that eventually we’d be replacing it, but as with most folks, keeping the original parts as long as possible seemed to outweigh having a hole-less, new replacement.
Midway into our 6,000 mile trek across the country in July of 2002, with nightly roof-raisings a necessity (sometimes several times a night if wind or storms occurred), we were well aware that before we undertook our next camping trip, new canvas was going to be essential if we actually wanted to pop the top. No longer could we cover the ragged tears with Grateful Dead flags (for esthetics) and towels (for flying insect deterrents). It was sad, but true, the 30 year old canvas needed to go.
Jim and I decided to make the replacement a weekend project when two of our sons, Daniel and Micah, would be available to help. According to the instructions that came with our brilliant yellow replacement canvas (from The Bus Depot), this project was estimated to take 4 – 8 hours. The paperwork also suggested that it would be much easier to remove the pop-up-top with four people, but at the bare minimum, three would be required. We debated off and on whether or not to remove the fiberglass top, or attempt to install the new canvas without removing the fiberglass top. Over the years, we have heard stories of both types of replacement…roof on, roof off. At least two people I spoke with who had left their roof on swore that if they ever had to do it again, they’d remove the roof.
On a gorgeous autumn Saturday morning, I pulled Sunflower (the Westy) out from under the carport and onto a shady section of lawn between the tool shed and the house (kitchen = food and drinks and keeps hungry, thirsty men happy = happy men work much better). We had time to wait for the arrival of ours sons, so we decided to start the project by removing the old, weathered canvas. After popping the top, removing the upper folded cot and gathering the tools needed (screw drivers, electric screw drivers, drill, staple gun, staples, square-nose and needle-nose pliers, Cutto knife with very sharp blades, socket wrench and coffee) we began by taking the many screws out of the anchor stripping track attaching the bottom of the canvas to the bus top. There certainly was no shortage of screws! And very small screws at that! Most came out very easily – only a few were stripped or had a broken head. Not bad for thirty years old!
Next we began to detach the top that was stapled on, twice. The first layer was a plastic stripping that was stapled to a wooden strip that was attached to the fiberglass top. At first I tackled it very gingerly, hoping to save the ‘original’ canvas…for what, I do not know! Just that same old “it’s original, must be saved” philosophy! But, within minutes, as we pulled out staples, the canvas began to shred rapidly - leading me to believe that we got through the lengthy camping trip by the grace of the VW gods! Soon we had nothing in between the outdoors and us, with the exception of the fiberglass roof and the metal hinge supports. Rather skeletal looking, it was.
The first part of the process, removal, took us approximately an hour. Perhaps a little more. With the canvas off and no children in sight yet, we decided a coffee break was in order. I also decided it was a good time to scrub the newly exposed roof and the areas where we had removed the attached strips. Jim decided to finish a painting started on the bus at Crazy Horse in July. We spent about an hour cleaning, painting, drinking coffee – still debating: top on, top off.
Once Micah and Daniel arrived and were ready to lend a hand, they joined in on the debate: roof on, roof off. The decision was finally made: roof on. We couldn’t see any real benefit to taking down the entire roof…although we were prepared to find out! Jim, Dan and Micah did unscrew the hinges and replace them with two shorter wooden poles, lowering the top enough to work on restapling the top of the new canvas in place. The new canvas had a nice, heavy bead of black fabric to staple into. They started by stapling the middle of the highest point in the back to the wooden strip. Working from the middle, at the highest end, they each moved towards a corner. Once the corners were tacked back in, the hinges were replaced to make the roof more stable. The next step was to continue stapling the fabric in place along the roofline, on the wooden stripping. A minor amount of gathering was necessary as we approached the front center. Ultimately, we did not replace the white plastic stripping. The black bead looked very nice and we didn’t see the purpose in double stapling and adding the plastic strip back on. However, we also weren’t entirely convinced that there was NOT a reason, so the plastic stripping is safely stored in our other VW, the 1971 transporter. If we determine it is needed, we will have it handy.
Screwing the metal track back onto the bottom of the canvas and onto the roof was the most challenging part of the project due to the corners. The instructions indicated the four corners would have to be cut to make the turn around each corner a snug fit. We really didn’t want to cut into the fabric and we also found the canvas was ‘slightly’ larger than the old canvas. Personally, I feel that large is always better than small. Loose is better than tight. We were able to make the corners by gathering the fabric and not making any cuts. Jim had a small wooden tool (half of a clothes pin) to push the fabric under the track and Dan and Micah pulled the fabric through and under the track from the inside. Once properly lined up, the screws were put in.
The entire project took less than four hours of labor. We were all also quite happy that we had made the decision not to take the entire roof off. We are still not sure what the benefit to that might have been, but we are very happy with the results. I left the top up overnight, with the screens open. Next night I left it open with the screens up. And on the evening of day two, I put the top down for the first time to see how it folded into place. Just beautiful! It certainly was nice to view the interior without the old canvas pieces hanging into the bus, or extra strings dangling from the ceiling! No ‘remnants’ had to be tucked into place. In fact, we didn’t need to tuck any parts of the canvas in from the outside as we lowered the top either. Everything worked just fine!
It definitely was a project that required multiple hands, but it was not too difficult for a group to handle. Now we anxiously a wait our next evening of camping – without the elements or bugs joining us!
If you have any questions, comments or experiences to share, please drop us a line. We look forward to hearing from you!

Click here to see our second Canvas replacement project: Cactus Jim's bus.

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