A Roof Rack over the Long Style '68-up Bus Poptop
by Ron Van Ness
November 11, 1998

     The search for a suitable rack to use above my '71 poptop Westfalia began after I acquired an old 15 foot Grumman canoe. The small, stock "luggage rack" on the rear of the '68-72 (front of the '73-79) full length poptop Westfalias is inadequate for such items as canoes or other loads with large girth. Researching the type2 and vanagon archives I found other poptop owners either used aftermarket racks or fabricated their own to suit their needs . The large poptop Westfalia is a special case when it comes to adapting an aftermarket roof rack. The extra height of the poptop necessitates taller feet to mount on the rain gutters, and the curvature of the feet must not conflict with the top as well. As I was investigating the possibilities and weighing my options, I was blessed with a generous gift from a local friend and type2 listmember, Greg Kriss. Greg has a '71 hardtop Westfalia patiently awaiting resurrection and had recently dismantled a '68 poptop Westfalia that came with a roof rack. He acquired the rack unmounted to the '68, but noted that it was tall enough to clear the poptop. Here's a photo of it mounted on my bus.

canoe mounted on rack

     It's a stock tubular steel rack that was offered as an option for 68-79 bus hardtops (and split window buses). It came in 1/3, 2/3 and full length varieties, with 4, 6, and 8 feet respectively. This one is a 2/3 version that was modified with extenders just above the feet to clear the poptop. Greg and I originally thought these extenders might have been an optional kit to modify a hardtop rack for use over a poptop bus, but from my subsequent research it seems more likely that this was just a wonderfully fashioned addition made by the DPO (in this case, Dear Previous Owner!). The six feet were cut three inches up from their base and a 4 inch aluminum rod extender of the same diameter as the feet tubing was added between the foot and the rack (4 inches between foot and rack tube--the extender itself is about a half inch longer on either end but these sections were turned down to fit within the tube so they do not add height to the rack). The nice touch was that each extender was bent exactly the same to match the contour of the rack as it ascends the roof line. It appears the ends were turned down on a lathe so they fit snugly into the steel tubing and the extender was then secured on either end with a stainless steel bolt and nut. The nicest part of this modification is that although the rack was cut for this operation, it was done cleanly, and by removing the spacer the foot can easily be welded back to the rack to re-establish its original height for stock use on a hardtop bus.

wishbone style clamps

later style clamps

     I consider the tradeoff of eliminating the functionality of the poptop for the cargo capacity of the rack to be a good one, though I realize other poptop owners find this odd or unacceptible for their own circumstances (see the other options below). To understand the factors influencing me (aside from a free rack and the desire to bring my canoe to a river as soon as possible!), consider that the '68-'72 poptops have notoriously uncomfortable cots. The other function of the top, to provide overhead space when camping, is not particularly important to our camping needs. Often we're in a rest area where we don't pop the top, and under more typical camping circumstances we don't mind the lack of head room. The fantastic benefit to the rack is that it easily carries the 50 lb canoe (and plenty of other gear at the same time) and it is extremely sturdy with plenty of locations for tying items down. Another benefit is that a 15 foot canoe is mounted high enough on this rack so that you can open the rear hatch completely without worrying about hitting the door or its glass against the overhanging end of the canoe. Aside from losing poptop functions, the only other drawback is reduced clearance. Without a load, I can clear 8' 6" overhangs with about 3 inches to spare. I now share the concerns of a hightop camper owner in that I must be cautious about low overhangs and parking garages (but unlike hightop owners, I can remove my rack if I needed clearance on a regular basis).

     I'm using 2 different styles of stock clamps that I modified to use with this taller rack. Six of either clamp would work, but I had 3 of each type so I used the items at hand and mounted three of one style on one side of the bus and the three of the other style on the opposite side. Here are some photos of the clamps I adapted to use with the taller than stock rack. Neither the rack or the clamps were physically modified, I simply added hardware as pictured to compensate for the height difference.

wishbone clamp close-up

     For the wishbone style clamp, I just used two pieces of threaded rod, one passing through the eyelet on the rack, the other threaded into the clamp. They meet parallel at the center (thanks to coincidence or masterful planning in calculating the necessary extender height by the rack's previous owner) and I attached them via a thick piece of metal and nuts. Before this rack was modified with the extender, the rack would normally sit on a hardtop bus so that one threaded rod can pass straight from the clamp to the rack eyelet. The change of height changed the relative position of the eyelet. Also due to good planning or coincidence, the bolt head and nut used to secure the extender to the rack and foot just clears the clamp.

later clamp close-up

     For the tall clamp with the rubberized foot I bought the longest off the shelf threaded eye bolt I could find at Home Depot. I had to extend this a bit on the threaded end that meets the clamp. On the rack side I bent open the eye end and hung it off the outer tube on the rack, then bent it back and welded it together.

Other "Real Roof rack" Options for '68-79 long poptop Westfalia Owners

     Here are some other options I investigated that might better suit other poptop owners' individual needs for an additional rack:

     Yakima and Thule make "artificial raingutters" that bolt to the poptop and the feet that bear the load bars mount to those. For a poptop camper bus, Thule recommends feet #300 for use with their #542 artificial rain gutter brackets and 58" load bars. This requires you to drill holes in your fiberglas top and back the holes with a reinforcement plate. The good: the poptop can be raised with a load (albeit with extra effort) to use the upper bed since everything is attached to the top and not the rain gutters. The Bad: verify that the hardware securing the poptop to the bus roof is in good shape as this could become a weak link now that the poptop is bearing extra weight. Also, the Thule catalog mentions not to mount a load greater than skis or two bikes with this setup, but the type2 archives show that in practice people have carried more than that.

     Thule Super high feet #953 will mount to the bus's rain gutters and will extend over the '68-72 poptop (despite what their catalog indicates), allowing the load bars to clear. The good: the poptop doesn't require modification and using the top requires only removal of the load (canoe, etc.) and one load bar. Without a load the clearance isn't reduced by much since the load bars are so close to the top of the poptop. The bad: super high feet are typically back order items and the feet alone are $130/set (doesn't include locks or load bars).

     With the Thule racks (and probably the Yakima) you can use the 65" load bars or if you're carrying two canoes, the 78" bars (cut down to a bit smaller size as needed). When I was shopping for Thule and Yakima racks in the summer of '98, I found that Agee's Bicycles had the best prices on the Net at the time.

     You might also custom build a rack, a task which bears its own special rewards and allows you to explore your own creativity. Just engineer it well!

     Of course, if you're carrying something like a canoe on a one time basis, you could just buy the inexpensive foam pads that fit to the gunnels and lash it to the roof by wrapping the lashing through the windows and around the bus. It might not be very elegant and takes time to secure properly, but if you're on a budget, it might serve temporary needs affordably.

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