Westfalia Camper Roof Overview
Of all the clever German engineering features employed in the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper, the distinctive raised fiberglass roof is perhaps one of its most ingenious. Providing over eight feet of standing headroom, the poptop allows for the comfortable changing of clothes, cooking and other kitchen tasks, and reveals the two-person upper sleeping bunk. The canvas sides and screened front window of the pop-top roof aid in ventilation, and it provides a dry, safe refuge from the elements.
Many a time have we pulled into a lakeside rest stop or a wayside during a pouring rainstorm, and quickly popped the top to prepare a hot meal while the rain pelts the roof, all while staying dry and cozy—not an easy option for those touring by pop-up travel trailer or tent. After lunch, the whole thing easily retracts to rack up more road miles.
devious previous owner of your Westy was anything like mine, your Westfalia Camper fiberglass pop-up roof is dingy, dirty, and sun-faded, with leaky seals that allow rain to get in and start rotting your canvas. Fortunately, it is a fairly simple matter to spiff it up again, and even to replace rusty hardware and frayed seals.
Depending on the general condition of your own pop-up, you may or may not need to perform the full refurbishment I outline here, so read ahead to determine whether you indeed require all the parts, tools, and other materials listed. The following procedures involving washing/waxing, spray treatments, etc. are best done out of direct sunlight, to ensure even and uniform drying.
NOTE: the condition of my Westfalia popup roof warranted only a good cleaning and polishing, followed by new seals and hardware. For a good tutorial on a full restoration & repainting, see this topic on The Samba:
- Complete set of Rubber Pop-Up Seals: replaces camper pop-up edge seal, luggage rack edge seal, and flat seal on leading edge of popup roof. Also available individually.
- Stainless Steel Hardware: mounting bolts & nuts for hinged pop-up roof and luggage rack, and footman loops (tiedown cleats) for luggage rack. My original hardware was rusted and poorly repainted, so I opted to replace it entirely with stainless steel. Suitable SAE (1/4-20 x 3/4″) or metric roof mounting bolts may possibly be found at your local hardware store, while the luggage rack mounting bolts and tiedown cleats are available from VW-specific online vendors; mine came from GoWesty; optional
- Rubber washers, 1″ (25 mm) in diameter with 1/4″ (6 mm) holes (qty: 6), for luggage rack mounting bolts; optional
- Screen repair patch kit, or a 6×6″ (150×150 mm) sheet of aluminum or stainless steel window screen. Alternatively, screened garden hose washers (qty: 5), for protecting luggage rack drain holes; optional
- Thick, gel-type cyanoacrylate “superglue” adhesive
- “Westfalia” decal(s), available from online vendors, vary by year; optional
- As with most Vanagon repair and maintenance procedures, the Bentley and other manuals will be indispensible.
- Household pressure/power washer will be helpful for blasting off old crud
- Electric dual-action or orbital polisher. There is something like 1/500th of an acre of fiberglass on the Vanagon Westy pop-up roof, so power tools will help conserve elbow grease
- Phillips & Slotted Screwdrivers
- Assorted Combination wrenches
- Rubber Mallet, wood block, sidecutters, and knife; for replacing rubber edge seals
- Old credit card or hotel room key for use as a burnishing tool for applying decals
- Assorted sandpaper
- Quick Fix Gelcoat Patch, for filling in small nicks and cracks in the fiberglass roof; optional.
- Fiberglass Wash, Polish, and Wax: Meguiar’s Fiberglass Restoration System kit includes Boat & RV Wash, Oxidation Remover & Polish, and Pure Wax. These do a great job of cleaning and restoring the popup roof’s original luster and sealing it from future deterioration.
Now that we’ve collected all the necessary stuff, let’s get scrubbin’ …
Refurbishing the Westfalia Luggage Rack
- Referring to Page 75.8 of the Bentley Workshop Manual, carefully remove the screws holding the rear edge of the interior headliner of the passenger cab, then the four exterior bolts affixing the factory luggage rack to the vehicle. Also remove the four screws on the sides and front of the luggage rack. Be sure to keep track of all the bolts, nuts, and the rubber washers which provide a weather seal and prevent chafing of the Vanagon’s paint. If the rubber washers appear deteriorated or unduly squished, replace them. The entire luggage rack can now be lifted from the roof.
- If your Westy spends much of its time loafing under campground trees, you will likely discover a surprising amount of rotted leaves, pine needles, seed husks, and other detritus lurking beneath your luggage rack. I found a veritable terrarium thriving under my luggage rack, and it took a couple trips to the compost bin to get it all out. There’s a preventative solution for this which we’ll get to later, but for now give the Vanagon roof a good washing and hand-waxing to protect the paint. With any luck, this is the first and last time it will see the light of day since leaving the Westfalia workshops.
- Place the luggage rack on a workbench or a pair of sawhorses for easier working. If your footman loops are badly rusted, drill out their rivets and remove them; if the rubber edge seal is deteriorated, remove it. Pressure-wash the whole works, and remove stubborn rust stains with very fine abrasive pads and Lime-Away, CLR, or similar product. Inspect for surface cracks or nicks; repair these with Gelcoat Patch.
- If replacing the front or side “Westfalia” decals, carefully measure or photograph the locations of the originals. Gently scrape the decals off with a putty knife or razor blade, using acetone to loosen them.
- If your fiberglass gelcoat is very dirty or is badly oxidized, clean it now, but do not polish or wax it yet, as your new decals will not adhere to a waxed surface. Once cleaned and de-oxidized, use alcohol or acetone to strip any residual fiberglass cleaner from the areas in which you intend to place the decals. When dry, apply the decals and burnish down with an old credit card.
NOTE: For those concerned with authenticity, Westfalia-Werkes placed the large “Westfalia” decal on the rear of all Vanagon Westies, and evidently began putting the additional “Westfalia” decal on the front of the vans sometime during the 1985 model year. As far as I know, the small ‘prancing horse’ Westfalia decals were never used on the Vanagons, and were applied only to the pre-1980 Busses.
- Follow the package directions of the Meguiar’s or similar fiberglass products to polish and wax the luggage rack, being especially careful not to damage the new decals. Install the new footman loops and carefully hammer on the new edge seal. This is not intended to be a watertight seal, but only to protect the edge of the fiberglass and prevent it from chafing the paint from the steel Vanagon roof. If your new seal has a round ‘bulb’ portion, either remove it from the edge seal or be sure to cut a couple sections of it away on the corners of the luggage rack after installing, to allow rain water to properly drain.
Starting at one end, press the new seal onto the edge of the fiberglass and work your way around to the other end, tapping the seal firmly into place with a rubber mallet. Trim the excess.
NOTE: Both the luggage rack seals and the main roof edge seals tend to shrink and shorten over the years, leaving small gaps at the ends where they abut the wide upper seal. To compensate for this, you may consider trimming both edge seals about .5″ (12 mm) too long, and distributing the slack along their lengths near the ends so that as they shrink, no gap will form.
- To prevent leaves and other debris from collecting beneath your luggage rack, you can add small screens to the five drain holes. Cut the aluminum or stainless steel window screen into sections of about 1.5 x 1.5″ (35 x 35 mm). Turn the luggage rack upside down and use sandpaper to roughen the surface immediately surrounding the underside of each drain hole, then clean with acetone or alcohol. Glue the screens over the holes with the gel superglue, being careful the glue doesn’t plug the drain holes. Use sections of waxed paper and small weights to hold the screens in place while the glue sets.
Because the mesh on these screens is so fine, they sometimes plug-up with debris before all the water has drained out; if necessary, periodically blast them with a garden hose or gently clean them with an old toothbrush to keep the water flowing through.
- Loosely re-install the luggage rack, being sure to replace the rubber washers on the roof brackets and bolts. Wiggle the whole thing around a bit to settle it properly, then give all the bolts a final tightening. It is probably a good idea to check them again after you’ve driven 20 miles or so at highway speeds.
Refurbishing the Westfalia Popup Roof
- As on the luggage rack, if the old seals on the main popup roof are deteriorated, remove them. If the interior metal clips molded into the edge seal have lost their grip and the seal is loose, try slipping a section of it off and re-crimping the clip with pliers, then reinstall. Pressure wash the entire roof to remove old grime and mold.
- If the large “Westfalia” decals are in good condition and you intend to save them, be careful to avoid damaging them with the pressure washer or scrub brushes. If replacing, remove the old decals using the pressure washer or a citrus-based cleanser and a mild abrasive pad. Deoxidize the gelcoat on the entire popup roof, rinse, then replace the decal. Polish and wax the entire popup roof.
- Replace the rubber seals, starting with the upper leading edge seal, followed by the main popup roof edge seal.
NOTE: See note regarding seal shrinkage Step 6 above.
- If your roof mounting hardware is rusted, consider replacing with stainless steel hardware. It’s perhaps best to replace only one or two bolts at a time to avoid any major alignment issues along the way. This is also a good opportunity to clean the pivot points on the two rear hinge mechanisms; clean with WD-40 and lubricate with light oil or a silicone spray lubricant. Do the same for the front latch mechanism.
Periodically applying a fresh polish and wax will preserve the essential oils in the fiberglass gelcoat and prevent oxidation, and also help dirt and grime easily rinse off. New stainless steel hardware will avoid rust stains, and new rubber seals assure that your tent canvas will remain dry and intact. In fact, now may be a good time to wash and seal your popup canvas.
With ongoing care, your Westfalia popup will continue to serve as the proverbial roof over your head while camping and roadtripping for many years to come.