So you’re planning to install a Pop Top Canvas Replacement on your Vanagon Westfalia? Here’s some advice from some experts in the field:

Curtis Long created this installation video of Kris installing the canvas:

Chip (Dad) and Kris Knight
Fine Auto Trim
4109 Glenn Street
Boise, ID 83705-1423
(208) 367-1411

Photo Tutorial from Limbo

Here’s a great photo tutorial courtesy of Limbo that shows you how to install your Pop Top Canvas Replacement.

Here are some installation tips from our friend Ken Wilford, owner of VanAgain.com:

On the day you are going to do it, park the van in the shade and start early in the morning. Even a little bit of sun will make the top into a sauna.

Take pictures before you start. If you use your cell phone to take pictures before you take anything apart, you will always have a reference when you start again and forget everything. BTDT as well.

Use a box or piece of wood to prop up the top to about half open while installing the bottom edge of the canvas. This will allow you to install the bottom edge more easily than if you were trying to do it with the top up (I would say that would be impossible) or the top just laying completely on you while working (horror show).

Use a magnetic dish to hold all of the screws. There are almost 100 small screws holding the top and bottom of the pop top canvas in place! Imagine putting them into a coffee can or something similar and as you writhe around in the heat and sweat you knock that can over and the screws go every where. BTDT. Use a magnetic tray to hold all of the screws that way when you kick it or bump it you still have everything you need to put this thing back together.

Use a hand screw driver of the proper size. I know it is tempting to use a power drill screw driver to whip these bad boys out. However the screw heads are small and tend to strip out or sometimes the shank will break if you put too much pressure on it. Doing 100 screws with a battery drill is taxing on your arm even more so than just doing it by hand. I recommend using a small screw driver that is the proper size for the screw removal and also replacement. Poking a hole in your brand new canvas with your power drill bit is an event that will make a preacher curse and throw things. Of course I have never done this
myself :-) Putting things back by hand will prevent puncturing the canvas and slipping off the screw heads less likely.

Words of wisdom from  active Vanagon community member Malcolm Stebbins:

I checked the archives for “new canvas installation” and I found only a cryptic message from Ron (BusDepot) so I thought I’d share my experience. The short story is: “excellent quality canvas + my excellent work = great looking new canvas.”

Here’s the installation/experience story:

As you may recall the PPO of my van had an engine box fire and the canvas was ruined. The PO had a canvas shop sew up a “new canvas” but he saw no reason to put any windows in it. I am now about to ship the van to Cairo (I picked up a job there) and I wanted more air up top, so I bought a new grey 3-window canvas from Ron at the BusDepot.

Re: Ron’s canvas IMHO it is very good quality (one or 2 uneven stitches). Very good fit, very poor installation instructions. Ron should insist on better instructions for it!! [Note: Malcolm is referring to the installation instructions that come with the OEM Westfalia Pop Top replacement canvases.]

OK. This installation report is for my Canadian 1991 Syncro Westy. My van has screwed-in rails holding the canvas to the pop-top and not the million staples mentioned in Bentley and Ron’s instructions. So the instructions were nearly worthless for me, but my installation was simpler in many regards.

I’d suggest that you begin on a day when you are feeling good about yourself and the world, as you will need all of the patience that you can muster. I am a university professor (finance) and it took me about 8 to 10 hours (over 2 days) but I was not in any hurry, in fact I loved lavishing the attention on my van.

First I popped the top and, with an electric screw-driver, I un-screwed all of the screws holding the rail holding the BOTTOM of the canvas to the van. This was EASY. I labelled the rails as to front & back; right-front & left-front.

I then began un-screwing the rails that held the canvas to the pop-top. I used a step ladder for the sides and stood in the luggage rack, I also laid down on the top bed and was able to reach around outside to easily unscrew the rails. This step is also Easy!! I’m really good at taking things APART!!! Care should be taken to NOT let the weight of the canvas bend the rails.

One might be able to wiggle the old canvas up and over the top, but I didn’t. I took the pop-top off the van as I thought that putting the new canvas on would be easier with the pop-top off the van and on the ground. In retrospect, I think I did the right thing.

To remove the pop-top: At the front of the pop-top I un-screwed the 4 nuts/bolts that hold the “push-up bar” to the pop-top. BE CAREFUL as the “push-up bar” is spring loaded, so prior to finally un-screwing the 4 top nuts/bolts, close the roof and use some heavy wire or zip-straps (I used one of each) to hold the “push-up bar” closed (hog-tied) for when you take the weight off the “push-up bar”. This would be like tying your wrist to your armpit to keep your elbow closed.

I then had a choice of un-screwing the rear of the pop-top from the rear hinges (leaving the hinges attached to the van) or un-screwing the rear hinges from the van (leaving the hinges attached to the pop-top). I might have made a mistake here, your choice. I un-screwing the rear of the pop-top from the rear hinges (leaving the hinges attached to the van), and the re-
installation was a PITA as there are 4 little plastic washers that impossibly go in behind the hinge plates & the pop-top. Be sure to collect these plastic washes during dis-assembly if you go this route. Also there is some adjustment room where the pop-top fastens to the hinges and in removing the pop-top, I lost this fine adjustment. It might have been easier to re-install
the hinges to the van, but one runs the risk of scratching the paint. I needed about 5 minutes of help to lift the pop-top off the van. The van sure looked funny with that star-gazing bed up there.

I then had dinner and slept for 8 hours. Next day, up-and-at-em.

Nice sunny day and I had not much else to do today. After washing the underside of the pop-top (I used Clorox bleach & water) I turned the pop-top up-side-down on the grass, being careful that the skylight did not rest on the ground (might break). As per Ron’s directions I measured the middle of the front canvas panel (left to right for the top and bottom) and the middle of the rear canvas panel (left to right for the top and bottom). My pop-top has a screw point dead center across the front and dead-center across back of the pop-top so getting the center of the canvas centred on the pop-top was easy.

Check TWICE or you will begin screwing the canvas on up-side-down. Be careful when screwing the canvas back on, as I STRIPPED one of the plastic “nuts” with the electric screw-driver. I did all the remaining screws into the pop-top by hand. I screwed in the center first, then each end. My new canvas had no slack in the ends and it was a bit of a stretch. I did the same
for the rear – center and then each edge. I then did the same for the sides, with ZERO slack in the canvas, it lined up perfectly. I lined up the top part of the canvas under the rail so that the black-edged border was totally on the outside of the rail, just touching the side of the rail. I didn’t know if this would leave enough room at the bottom but it ended up being just right. I did NOT put in all of the screws at this point as I wanted to check the fit of the canvas top to bottom on the van.

So: I again needed about 5 minutes of help to lift the pop-top back on the van, being VERY careful that the canvas did not catch on anything as I only had it held on with 12 small screws.

It was easy to re-attach the front “push-up bar”. I could then remove the straps that were holding the push-up-bar “elbow” together. The rear hinges were much more difficult. Remember that I took the pop-top off the hinges, 4 nuts/bolts on each side with plastic washers between the hinges and the pop-top. Two of the nuts/bolts/washers went on OK, but the other 2 were
impossible for me. So, being a university professor, Ithought I’d try some “thinking”. I cut up some similar thickness plastic I had in the basement and left a long tongue on the plastic “washer” so that I could hold the plastic washer in place as I slipped the bolt through. I tried to align the adjustment to about where it had been, but I think I got it to tight, so I’ll have to re-adjust
it soon.

I was really happy to see that the canvas was nearly perfect in its fit to the bottom where it attached to the van. I spot checked the fit with the bottom rails and it was going to fit OK. So I began screwing in the rest of the TOP screws, again being careful that the black edging was constant around the outside edge. I did all the screws by hand so as to not strip any of the plastic “nuts.”

Contrary to Ron’s instructions, I started with the front part of the bottom of the canvas. I wanted this part to look perfect and if there was any gathering to be done, I wanted it to be in the rear. So I found my center mark and screwed that right under the center hole of the rail, pulling the canvas under the rail to made the canvas tight. I used the electric screw-driver for these
metal screws. I then worked my way out from the center watching the canvas so that there were no wrinkles. The corners were taut as the canvas fit so tightly, it was difficult to get the canvas around the rail. This is NOT a criticism of the canvas quality (I wanted a tight fit) just a statement of fact. I used a pair of pliers to pull the canvas tight under the rail.

I then put on the side rails and screwed in ONLY the front, middle, and rear screws on both sides. This was easy. The rear rail was a PITA, really tight and difficult to work back in there (and the sewn-in bungie cord pulling in the wrong direction), but I was able to get it with a lot of effort and a few naps :-)

I then went back along the sides and pulled the canvas tight under the rail and screwed the canvas down under the rail. I had to re-do the center of the front rail to get it a bit tighter. The most canvas that I pulled in under the bottom rail was an inch. The cut of the canvas was nearly perfect.

I can tell you that the canvas looks every bit as good as “factory new”. It is tight all the way around and no wrinkles and 3 windows. Ron, I am 100% satisfied with the canvas.

Hope you enjoyed the story and I hope that this might help you. Malcolm

Looking for a Pop Top Canvas Replacement for Your Vanagon Westfalia?

Check out all the different Pop Top Canvases and Tents we offer for all Vanagon Westfalia models 1980-1991.

Pop Top Canvas Replacement

 

About Erin

Erin is The Skylight Guy's marketing & communications manager and is a recent Westy convert, thanks to Trevor and Cheri! If you see her come up to you at one of our Westy campout events, don't be shy -- she probably just wants to ask you about your awesome van. :-)