VW Pop-up-Top Canvas Replacement
Project Date: 9/28/02
Project Leader: Jim
Totallyillogical Crew: Sharon,
Micah and Daniel
Photos: Jim and Sharon
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
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
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
us a line. We look forward to hearing from you!
to see our second Canvas replacement project: Cactus Jim's bus.