Vanagon – kludgy roof rack rail

A while back I made some artificial rain gutter things to quickly get some roof racks on the van so I could carry my son’s kayaks. They worked even if they were ugly. But then this year I found a good deal on an old school Thule ski box.  I think it is a Combibox 250, you know the kind, seemed to be on every Volvo station wagon around here during the ’80’s.

Anyhoo, the distance between the mounting points on is greater than the distance between the mounting points in my quick and dirty solution done for the kayaks. I didn’t want to drill more holes in the pop top to add another pair of mounting brackets so I came up with an another kludge.

I took some 1/4″ thick, 2″ deep 6061 aluminum flat and drilled some holes in it (for looks mostly). The rear end of the strip attaches to the top two bolts of the pop top hinge. Up front I screwed up and drilled holes in the centre line of the strip which did not line up with the holes in thhe pop top that I drilled for the old bracket.

So I drilled a bit of 1/2″ aluminum plate, and pressed in some nuts (M6). The plates then screw into the old holes and the pressed in nuts take bolts from the strip. I beveled the lower edge of the strip to fit the hooked arm of the roof rack. The strip got some rattle can bedliner as a finish.

I have some spacer blocks to go between the front end of the strip and the pop top. Just to prevent branches from snagging. But i ran out of double sided tape so they are not installed yet.

Well it works, no points for aesthetics, but it works.

Now I need to make a ladder to access the damn box!










  1. #1 by famillysyncro on July 27, 2013 - 7:23 pm

    Looks nice, I like those hole int he plate, make a difference right away.
    Not sure why you want to put a ladder, are you planning to use that box?
    I only thought you missed the 80’s Volvo looks….


    • #2 by albell on July 27, 2013 - 7:44 pm

      The holes in the strip is the only redeeming idea I had with this mod 🙂

      Back in the ’80’s I heaped scorn on those Volvos with the ski boxes. Can’t you pack all your stuff in the car? You really want to strap a coffin on the roof?

      Now look at me.

      Yeah I want to use it, for camp chairs, fishing rods, canvas buckets, grills, etc, etc. But now I need ladder or something. Sheesh, it never ends.



      • #3 by famillysyncro on July 27, 2013 - 7:53 pm

        My wife was looking over, laught and said he is damn right… about your last sentence….. it never ends!


      • #4 by albell on July 27, 2013 - 7:54 pm

        I had to think fast and hard when my wife asked what we are going to put into the dammed thing 🙂


      • #5 by famillysyncro on July 27, 2013 - 8:01 pm


      • #6 by oldfussbudget on July 28, 2013 - 7:35 am

        Put the lad in it.

      • #7 by albell on July 28, 2013 - 8:47 am

        The lad is to big now. I should have got one of those boxes years ago 🙂


      • #8 by oldfussbudget on July 28, 2013 - 9:24 am

        I hear they’re soluble in girlfriends and take up less space… 😉

  2. #9 by Pz on July 28, 2013 - 11:15 am

    Very good looking “lightning holes” on the aluminum plate.
    Fire the Bell Lab poophead who utilized that ex-Volvo rocket box…:(

    A Vanagon with a ladder..?
    Gary Lee and RMW make one..
    They must be in demand.
    How about one made of Titanium?

  3. #11 by Pz on July 29, 2013 - 12:41 pm

    A Carbon Fibre ladder would look very very spiffy…
    Would make that ugly ’80s rocket box even uglier..:(

    Cummon, get them lab rats busy perfecting some vacuum moulded
    rocket boxes.. I’ll loan you my post-modern Thule box for a mould..:)


    • #12 by albell on July 29, 2013 - 6:52 pm

      Just you wait Phil, the angular style is coming back. Trendsetters always catch flack 🙂


      • #13 by Pz on July 29, 2013 - 9:20 pm

        Aah-huh… square boxes give terrible wind tunnel results…
        Honda cancelled their Element and the Toyota Scion and variants are on the chopping block.

        Personally.. I like the teutonic look… having owned 5 Volvos over the years…)
        My last ’83 244 was a box…

        Otherwise that acrylic box will be dust before long…
        Cummon… cast one in carbon fibre…
        Only cost a grand $$$ and weigh less than a couple of Kg..
        Then, you will feel like a trendsetter.:)

      • #14 by albell on July 30, 2013 - 8:11 am


        oh yeah, Ih’ll worry about the subtle aerodynamics of a roof box perched on a vehicle with a Cd between 0.40- 0.50 and a frontal area the size of a sheet of plywood 🙂

        But I did think about making my own box.

        I did make these…


        soapbox 2 - construction

        soapbox 2 - final

        I still have the shape pattern (actually a slightly modified NACA airfoil section) for the second soapbox, the fully enclosed one. Would be a slipper shaped box.


      • #15 by Pz on July 30, 2013 - 8:22 am


        Now all ya need to do is miniaturize the Syncro and install it into the NACA airfoil..
        Where will the dogs sleep?

        Ps Looks like ol’ UVic days in the photos..?

      • #16 by albell on July 30, 2013 - 7:23 pm

        And another thing Phil…

        the box is very well made. I think it is double walled. Will hold up to “real syncro action” better than the metrosexual type boxes you seem to prefer.



      • #17 by Pz on July 30, 2013 - 7:28 pm

        Troche …. you bad ass!

        Double walled my ass?


      • #18 by albell on July 30, 2013 - 7:46 pm

        You have a double walled ass?

        I guess it comes in useful when you get your ass kicked in arguments.

        Ha! 🙂

        I’m pretty sure the box is double walled, apart from the molding clues, the damned weight is an indication. It is substantial.


      • #19 by Pz on July 30, 2013 - 8:02 pm

        Now careful boy… at my tender age and health… I’m happy my ass still seals most daze.:)
        Double walled or else..

        The newer rocket boxes are thin and flexible while weighing next to…. air.

        So… you admit defeat… your boxes’ aerodynamics suck and it weighs a ton..
        What’s not to like eh?

      • #20 by albell on July 30, 2013 - 8:14 pm

        “The newer rocket boxes are thin and flexible while weighing next to…. air”

        oh I see, flimsy and insubstantial. Fine for carrying nothing of importance to and from the mall.

        But if you want to carry important cargo, like camp chairs, fishing rods, and god help us – skis, through bad weather, rough roads and “leaning over the road” alders, then the Combibox 250 is the one to have.

        If you don’t see the ball in your court is is because it has bounced passed you while you were hitchng up your shorts



      • #21 by Pz on July 31, 2013 - 10:52 am

        Eeek.. that Thule Combibox 250 was first produced in 1984.
        That poser is older than your Syncro Alistair!

        I will admit, does have some real steel in it.
        Prolly needs steel to keep the plastic box from splintering into pieces
        when it hits that first Alder sapling…:-(


      • #22 by albell on July 31, 2013 - 6:37 pm

        That plastic won’t splinter. How do I know? Well the box was leaning against the barn when I was grading/scraping the driveway gravel using the back blade on the tractor. I backed up and kinda tagged the box with the blade. Oh darn, I said. But no damage to the box. Try that with your flimsy, eggshell thin, used bar of soap shaped rocket box.

        This box is tough, tough I say.


      • #23 by Pz on July 31, 2013 - 7:37 pm

        I have little uncertainty around the strength of that Thule Combibox, while in compression force.
        As your example posits.. or was that a boast?
        While on the roof of your Syncro and smacked with an Alder sapling, loaded with your stuff..?
        The hard parts, where attached to the roof rack, explodes into infinite particles.
        Tension forces surprise the most incorrigible engineers…

        Thule has learned legions since that box was built..-)
        Light and flexible while still carrying their load of 150#


      • #24 by albell on July 31, 2013 - 9:21 pm

        Thule learned that they didn’t have to make the boxes as strong as the CombiBox 250 as most people use the boxes for light duty chores. They could save money and increase profits by making flimsy lightweight boxes.



  4. #25 by famillysyncro on August 1, 2013 - 3:13 pm

    Do you really need to put stuff inside?
    My wife thought you could make your wife happy and let her have a flower garden when you go on a trip…… I know it sounds silly, must girl’s stuff, we cannot get it.


    • #26 by albell on August 1, 2013 - 6:39 pm

      Now that’s an idea. A big window box up top 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: