Vanagon – pop top canvas swap

Long weekend here in Canada, and it was a warm one. Others might laugh, but out here on the wet coast hitting 30 C is warm. What better time to put in a different pop top canvas. The one I had on was from my old ’82 westy and it had seen better days. My wife had patched it up and replaced zippers but the time had come to give it some rest. Last summer I helped my friend do 2 canvas install and one of the old canvases was in pretty good shape. All it needed was a new bug screen in the window. My wife sewed in a no-see-um proof screen last year so it has been ready to go for a while. Why not put in a brand new canvas you ask? After all it is a pain in the ass to install the buggers. I am storing a brand new (Just Kampers brand) 3 window canvas for the aforemetioned friend, why not whip that in? First of all I think he would notice, secondly I like the way the stock VW canvas fits, the cotton material looks better than the Sunbrella versions inmy eyes (Sunbrella tops often drape like elephant legs). I guess the third reason is that the top was free.

As I was trashing the old canvas I went at it with a knife. Easier than dealing with the lower screws with canvas in place.


After hinges and lifting mechanisms disconnected, I rolled the top back on a long dowel laid across the van. Neighbour was called in to help lift the top onto a worktable beside van.


A couple of years ago when I painted the top, I installed what I thought at the time was a great idea, a fabric covered foam pad on the ceiling of the top. Well, this innovation was a dud, didn’t stay up, dropped, sagged, looked like ass. The idea of having a foam pad up there still appeals to me but I have to figure out a better way of attaching the foam (removable way). This time I went the expedient rote and bought some cheap indoor-outdoor carpet from Canadian Tire. It is very thin carpet, but it’s a not unpleasing texture and colour. The length is just enough to fit the top.


Just a matter of cutting to rough size and spray gluing it down, in stages, to the top. Went pretty well except towards the end (and I foolishly started at the rear) and the limited stretch of the material and my lack of skill created some wrinkles.


But if you squint, and have another drink, the wrinkles disappear.


In the little space between the canvas and the ceiling I ran a strip, on all four sides, of LED lights.


I swear I tested them before I installed them, honestly. Little things like this really pisses one off. The photograph of the lit strips doesn’t really do them justice. It does make a good light up there, and the LEDs are on a dimmer so it doesn’t need to look like the Blackpool Illuminations all the time. I’d show you the wiring and controller but I’m not really happy with the wire routing (down the lifting mechanism) and I want to tidy it up.


Not a bad job, perhaps a little loose at the back, but sides and front are tawt.


One more thing… a little thing to hold a flashlight.


  1. #1 by Francis X. Watts on July 1, 2013 - 11:50 pm


    It is Francis from Canada now Germany). I was just taking a closer look at your Pop-Top refurbishment and have to say, LOOKING GOOD.
    I also noticed that you have special brackets to hold the awning to the side of the van (it is bolted to the Roof, instead of being somehow attached/clamped to the rain gutter). Could you please make several photos of that and maybe give me some dimensions? Where did you buy that or is it home made.
    I have a system that clamps to the rain gutter, but don’t really like that solution (it shakes too much) and am now thinking of building some special brackets myself.
    Cheers and hope you have a great day.

    • #2 by albell on July 2, 2013 - 6:06 am


      Yes, the brackets bolt, well screw actually, to the van roof. They came with the ShadyBoy awning. The fact that you scrrw the brackets to the van is one reason why some folk don’t want a ShadyBoy πŸ™‚ I will take some pics and measurements today.



      • #3 by albell on July 2, 2013 - 7:06 pm


        here is a quick sketch and pics of the bracket. See the screw used to affix bracket to van? One of these days I will install Nut-serts or similar and use machine screws instead of the sheet metal ones. Mind you, the originals are doing the job fine.

        Oh and note how the bracket rests on the lip of the gutter. This gives the bracket added support.


        bracket installed

        hope this gives you some ideas.



  2. #4 by Francis X. Watts on July 2, 2013 - 11:41 pm

    Hi Alistair,

    Thank you very much for the drawing and the Pictures.

    Did you install some sort of backing plate behind the sheet metal of the roof, or is it just screwed to the metal of the Roof?

    Did you have to modify the bottom edge of the Pop-Top to accommodate the width of the bracket, or is there enough Play in the rubber seal?

    I know that other Pop-Top-Roof owners with clamped on brackets have the some issues I am having. Do you mind showing your brackets in the forum so others can see what they look like and maybe offer some ideas how it could be improved. Maybe some one would be interested in producing a small series and sell them in the form. It is just an idea.

    I am looking for someone here in Germany who can make me some brackets, someone with a cutting and bending machine.

    Thanks a lot and hope you have fun 4-Wheeling,


    • #5 by albell on July 3, 2013 - 6:45 am

      Hi Francis,

      the bracket does extend far enough so it sits under the pop top seal. I don’t find it to be a problem, no leaking into the tent when top down and the rain comes. No, there is no backing plate. In places on the roof there seems to be thicker sheet metal (perhaps 2 or more layers?) and I think I hit one of those spots on at least one screw. You would think that a backing plate would be a good idea, but the brackets are holding firm. In any case, you can’t get a backing plate in there very easily, I think the screws go through in the area of that box section where the roof joins the walls. I d think that a nut-sert threaded insert would be an improvement though.

      The shadyboy awning is like a big sail when deployed and I have been caught a couple of times not using the tie down lines (or poles) when the wind gusts. I’ve had the awning blow straight up and back onto the pop top but that caused no damage to awing or brackets.

      Oh hold on, I’m wrong. Once I had the wind blow the awing down towards the ground (again, I hadn’t put up the down draft poles) and I think the brackets were bent ever so slightly. But enough that that sliding door would rub on the bottom of the awning box when you closed the sliding door. I took the brackets off and bent them back into shape (in a vise, closing the angle a little).

      Feel free to share the pics etc on the IG16 forum. You can explain better in German πŸ™‚



  3. #6 by famillysyncro on July 5, 2013 - 5:04 am

    It looks really good Alistair, especially the carpet inside the top (thanks for the link, it looks better inside your top than on the CT website by the way).

    Sad for your led strip. If it is not the model “silicone covered”, you can buy those led’s chip and fix it yourself….

    We are thinking about an awning after our last trip but I didn’t have time to look for it now, I guess that will be a winter project.

    Good job as usual.


    • #7 by albell on July 5, 2013 - 7:13 am

      I got into one of those “get the damn thing done already!” moods and bought the CT carpet rather than order some boat hull liner fabric. The hull liner stuff is similar but does not have any backing at all so it stretches to fit much better. Yes, the LED strip is naked. I’m not that annoyed about the element failures – they are at the far end and it is not that noticeable with bedding etc up there. I might crawl up and see if pressing here and there will make any difference (might be a bad solder joint on LEDS or resistors).

      I like my Shadyboy awning, it is handy when it rains and of course it shades the entrance to the van when it is sunny (keeping the van a bit cooler). But it seldom gets that hot out here that the shade is a lifesaver πŸ™‚ But we’ve become so used to the awning that it doesn’t seem like we have arrived at a camping spot until we deploy the awing, ha!



      • #8 by famillysyncro on July 6, 2013 - 6:29 am

        I guess I won’t make the awning thing a winter job after all.
        I looked at my options and since our van isn’t a Westy, I didn’t want to have something higher than the roof itself on the side and I didn’t want to spend a fortune.
        As you said, even here, it seldom gets that hot (BTW 25C is my “max”) so I ordered a EZY awning from the Skylight guy in BC after watching their instalation’s. It will take more time to setup than yours but it is light and doesn’t take that much room inside the van when packed.


      • #9 by albell on July 8, 2013 - 1:43 pm


        It was windy this last weekend on out little trip so the Shadyboy had the poles and guy lines deployed. Was used as a sunshade, no rain πŸ™‚

        I’m curious how the EZY awning does in the wind, let us know.



  4. #10 by dan on November 23, 2013 - 10:50 pm

    Hi there fellow Van Islander!

    I just checked out your pop top remodeling work, it looks like a very nice job / result, thank you for sharing it! I think I am going to go the same route with that Canadian tire interior / exterior carpet. I just had a few questions if you don’t mind? How is it holding up since you’ve done it? Would you do it again / recommend it? What type / brand of glue / adhesive did you use and how did you apply it? And lastly, how did you go about cutting it to size so accurately?

    Thanks very much, much appreciated,


    • #11 by albell on November 24, 2013 - 8:51 am

      Hi Dan,

      Whereabouts on the island are you?

      The carpet is holding up nicely, not falling down πŸ™‚

      If I was to do it again I think I would have used some hull liner fabric. But I was in one of those bloody minded rush states and I just wanted to get done. The carpet does not have a lot of 2 way stretch so it is not as easy to install as hill liner. I used 3M spray adhesive (contact cement, I think I used “super 77”. If I had a choice I would have used 3M “high strength 90”) one coat on the fibreglass, 2 light coats on the fabric. I did it in stages, about a foot and a half at a time. I rough cut the fabric to size, laid it out on pop top, then folded it back, more like rolled it up, so I could glue it down section by section. I used a roller to make sure the fabric was pressed tight to the pop top. I pushed in at the sides with a put knife. After it was in I left it for a while then trimmed it with box cutter to final size.


  5. #12 by garviesdan on November 24, 2013 - 9:07 pm

    Hi Alistair,

    I live in Comox in the Comox Valley, 3 years here now (South Africa originally) and enjoying it!

    Thanks very much for your detailed & informative reply, it’s very much appreciated. It all sounds good to me – a cheap and relatively straight forward solution, one of which I’ve been trying to figure out for a while! I will go ahead with as you have suggested – I bought the carpet today and so hopefully I will get a chance to get cracking on it soon. I bought my van (1982 Westfalia) about a year ago now, and the poptop interior ceiling was completely covered in mold when i took possession. I did the bleach & water application to kill it, and, along with many laborious hours of elbow grease / scrubbing upside down, I managed to do it. Unfortunately though, the byproduct of the job was a heavily discoloured & worn away liner – which leads me to another question; do you know of a good way to remove the existing / original liner prior to the new carpet install?

    Thanks again,


    • #13 by albell on November 24, 2013 - 10:37 pm


      I’m guessing the snow on the mountains up your way is earlier this year, seems to be down here (looking towards Heather mt).

      I tried heat, sanding, scraping to get the fuzz off. Then I tried furniture stripper. The “safe” kind, water based, jellied stuff. Not the methylene chloride based stuff. It worked best of all. Painted on, left to work for an hour, the putty knife to scrape off. Hose down and dry, yer done.

      I think I took a pic, yup, here:

      I’m happy to answer your questions, keep them coming.



  6. #14 by garviesdan on November 25, 2013 - 11:52 am

    Yes the snow on the mountains here has definitely arrived early, I would say that they had their first snow falls around a month ago, and have since had quite a bit more. The glacier is certainly bulging with fresh snow again now, which is quite the contrast to the ‘sag’ effect that is a result of the Summer sun / heat. I checked the Mt. Washington webcams the other day & it’s starting to accumulate there but still quite a way to go before they can open for the season. I love to get up there and in it with snowshoes / x/c ski’s & snowboard, how about yourself?

    The furniture stripper sounds like a great way to go, thanks very much! I’m replacing the poptop tent at the moment too and so the timing for this job is good.

    I’ll definitely let you know if I have any other questions, much appreciated! Thanks again for sharing your experience, time and knowledge, it’s very kind of you.


    • #15 by albell on November 25, 2013 - 7:53 pm


      Be sure to use the citrus strip kind of paint remover. Apart from it being nicer to work with there is a chance the harsh solvent type would damage the pop top.

      Good luck


      • #16 by dan on November 29, 2013 - 8:45 pm

        Ok perfect, will definitely do that! Thanks very much,


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