View original topic: Changed Westfalia canvas tent in 5.5 hours (with photos) Page: 1, 2, 3  Next
Sodo Mon Jul 28, 2008 11:11 pm

This is a first-timer's installation story changing the canvas tent on a 1990 Westfalia, which has the Aluminum strips top and bottom. The aluminum attachment (since 1985?) was fairly easy to deal with. I did it solo, because a 3 hour window opened up and I just got going and kept at it.

I had bought a new canvas from GoWesty. It was the German 'original replacement' version (except has 3 windows), It was the most expensive one. They said it fits the best, and they said it will be easiest to install if it fits perfect, and that sounded reasonable to me. Well it does fit perfect, and was reasonably easy to install. I worried that if it turned out 'loose' that it might flap in the wind and make noise at night, but that is certainly not going to be the case here.

At the first 'pop' of the top, could have done a concert on my van. At first it was so tight it sounded like it might split a seam. It took significant effort to push it overcenter, I thought it would split right away. But the window flaps & zippers all worked perfect, zippers/flaps are not stressed at all but the screens are taut & resonant like a drum. I left it up overnight, and (it rained a little) and it was pretty normal in the morning. Taut, no wrinkles, but not like a drum anymore. Perfect, actually.

The fabric is kind of.....light and thin, very similar to the original (which lasted 18 years). If I had to do it again I would choose the acrylic, which really feels a LOT tougher than this material. Not because 18 years is insufficient, but because acrylic clearly would have lot higher capacity for accident or abuse. I worried (before) that carelessly unzipping the front window might rip the fabric on the original. Then it happened - it rippedat the zipper - which is why I had to buy a new tent.. Well that feeling is still there with the new tent. I wish I had the forethought to re-inforce the new tent (sew on a doubler!) to withstand the leftward pull on the screen-zipper! But now, it's installed it's too late.

I took some photos along the way. This website helped a lot to get going and it has a generous description of the process: They did not mention whether they lost some screws in the grass but I bet they lost a few!

I removed the poptop from the van and flipped it upside-down because I have an overhead crane. Without a crane, removing the top would be an EASY job to do with 2 or 3 helpers, it does not weigh much (~100 lbs?). There are only ten M6 screws holding the fibreglas top on the van. After all the bottom tent screws are removed, it only takes ten more minutes to remove the whole fibreglas top.

Remove/re-installing the canvas on the upside-down top was just so easy, and easy to do it perfect..... that I would NEVER try to do it overhead (on the vehicle). I am certain that in trying to do it 'on the van' you'd lose a bunch of screws. There are a LOT of screws holding the fabric, and two different sizes!

Started by removing my current most favorite upgrade, the 'jackbombay air assist' kit. I've only been driving Westies for 10 years, but I've always had cargo on top, and 10 years was too long to go without this simple enhancement.

Of the six bolts at the rear hinges, remove FOUR of the bolts, leaving the middle 2 bolts in place. Then go to the front struts and remove plastic caps and loosen the nuts, leaving the nuts on a few threads. Then lower the top.

Tie these springloaded supports like this. Be sure they are securely tied, and the tie-wire cannot slip down the shaft and let it go. The spring force is not very high, but would knock some teeth out if it hit you at full speed. On Limbobus, they describe using plastic zip-ties, which seemed to be sufficient, but at some point let go and hit a guy in the head!!!

Then remove the 4 front nuts. Have help to angle the poptop up to gain access to the remaining 2 bolts in at the rear hinges. Remove those, and lift the top off the van. I read somehwere on the internet (vanagonauts?) that one guy can stand inside the van, walking it rearward while others are at the rear of the van, walking it off. But I used an overhead crane.

Here is a photo of the corner. Notice the 'cuts' in the beading at each segmented corner.

Here is a photo of the OLD corner removed. Notice the 'cuts' in the beading. I did not pre-cut my beading because I did not know where the corners would end up. I cut out the beading with a knife as I formed it to the corner (during assembly).

To speed this job up you will benefit from power tools!

The fibreglas top is now upside-down, sitting on the ground, on sawhorses. Looking down at how the canvas is attached to the top, little wooden blocks in the corners and at several midpoints probably made it easier to install the canvas. I pulled them off the old canvas, and stuck them back in their holes, but I did not have a stapler to re-use them. So I ignored them. Actually, installing the canvas onto the 'top' was very easy and only took about 30 minutes, and it came out perfect. The front and back were perfectly aligned. The left and right sides had to STRETCH 1.5-2 inches to fit. But it's tight and looks nice.

While the top is upside-down,,,,,,tape the hinge together with Duct tape across the hinge where the "X" is. I did not do this.

The arrow points to the location where I scratched the crap outta my rear hatch on each side of the van because the hinges fell down, (I had not secured them with Duct tape)

Here it is at the 3 hours point. Ready to start screwing the bottom beading of the tent which took another 2.5 hours.

This 1/4" drive air tool cost $12 at harbor freight, and was very useful to get into the corners. It doesn't spin very fast, and I did not lose a single screw.



floggingmolly Tue Jul 29, 2008 11:14 am

Nicely done and well documented. Looks great!

msinabottle Tue Jul 29, 2008 11:57 am

Thank you very much for the information! I could wish you'd done it with an acrylic tent on an '84 (I've only got rails on the bottom of Winston's tent), but thank you for taking all this time and trouble.


binger59 Tue Jul 29, 2008 12:59 pm

nice job I think stickie!

Sodo Wed Jul 30, 2008 8:18 am

msinabottle wrote: Thank you very much for the information! I could wish you'd done it with an acrylic tent on an '84 (I've only got rails on the bottom of Winston's tent), but thank you for taking all this time and trouble. Best!

It wasn't that much work compared to what I save by having access to the good folks of Samba. This is a great list, one of my favorite and mostly because the tone is always steered towards positive and fun.

I was glad to have the aluminum rails on top. But most of the job would be the same for '80-'84. I bet dealing with staples on top would be just as easy, I think, with the right tool in hand. (and with the poptop upside down on sawhorses!) but maybe someone with experience can add value.

I read somewhere of folks discovering that regular spring-powered staple guns did not have enough ooomph to punch thru the doubled fabric and into the wood. It was concluded that the job was going nowhere until a cabinet-maker arrived with his air- powered stapler. Maybe you can rent one of those. If you can pull out ONE of the staples, and then use that sample to find the appropriate air stapler....

Maybe someone will post a photo of a 1980-84 staple,,,,, and a photo of a proper air-stapler for this job.?

Ryan Alfonso Wed Jul 30, 2008 8:11 pm

indeed, bravo. wanna come do mine? :D

Tiiconaut Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:07 pm

Well done Sodo, now im not afraid and will install a new canvas instead of patching my holes with funky patterned cloth stolen from grandmas sewing room.

Phil 84' Westy

MrPolak Thu Jul 31, 2008 5:30 am


Thanks for the excellent writeup! It came just in time as it looks like I'll be replacing the canvas in my Westy this weekend. I'm going to pick up a right-angle driver today. I've already removed the old canvas and all the aluminium strips, so I hope to get done in around 3 hours (fingers crossed).

Sodo Thu Jul 31, 2008 8:39 am

Ryan Alfonso wrote: indeed, bravo. wanna come do mine? :D

It was kinda lonely doing it solo. I would enjoy supervising this job for a steep fee of handmade food and beverage, on location at a nice remote campsite near a water feature for the kids..... and a large magnet so no screws are lost..... ooops there i go dreaming like old times when I could go camping and chase homebrew at the drop of a hat!

riceye Thu Jul 31, 2008 8:47 am

Sodo, your install obviously went better than this guy's:

Although, his only took 9 minutes 51 seconds.

woggs1 Sat Aug 02, 2008 4:52 pm

Has anyone installed the sunbrella tent that they sell over at bus depot? I want to know if the install is easy

woggs1 Tue Oct 07, 2008 2:43 pm

I guess not.

Raynor Shine Tue Oct 07, 2008 3:48 pm

Excellent writeup. Looks great. I like how tight the tent is showing in the pic. You deserve beer!

parishollow Tue Oct 07, 2008 4:17 pm

Very nice job! Wish my first one had gone so. I got a replacement from Bus Depot and it was too small. Had to argue to get a refund, not good times even after sending photos of the not fitting corners. It wasn't as good a product either in weight of canvas and workmanship.
However, I did get one from GoWEsty and it fit like a charm. Got it done in no time at all after all the practice I had with the previous one. Even tried that one upside down to make sure I wasn't goofing it up.
I have heard the arcylic one is a bear because it doesn't stretch like the canvas one does.
Boy, that corner tool would have nice. I spent more time getting those back corner screws in than anything else! and made less easy with old eyes.

hippiepilot Wed Oct 08, 2008 4:54 pm

Nice good, I need to change my 83 out but I haven't quite got the nerve to do it just yet :roll:

westylife Tue May 12, 2009 9:02 am


Thanks for posting on my thread!

Now thatís how a tent install is supposed to look. I like the gray tent on your Bordaeux red westy. I will defintaly go with the gowesty kind the next time around. I have a feeling that the "Just Krapers" one that I bought is going to anoy me so much that I might replace it again. :shock:

?Waldo? Tue May 12, 2009 10:01 am

Westylife, I also appreciate your thread. I would certainly opt for the GoWesty tent after seeing the difference. I'd have a hard time not returning the Just Kampers one.


wasserbox Tue May 12, 2009 10:13 am

Sodo wrote:
To speed this job up you will benefit from power tools!

Nice write up! When I did mine, I had no power tools. In fact, I had very few manual tools. It took a long time with one of those shorty 5" phillips screwdrivers... and I think I lost a couple of the wooden blocks.

I dunno what the extent of damage is to everyone's tents, but I couldn't afford a new canvas, and ended up getting a new nylon screen sewn in, and some reinforcement / patching done to the sides for about $50 at a local tent-repair shop. Threw it in an industrial washer and it's been good ever since.

914 mike Tue May 12, 2009 11:13 am

When removing the pop top, do you need to pull down the rear headliner to access the nuts that hold the pop top hinges to the roof? For vans with AC, would you need to drop the rear AC unit to access these nuts?


westylife Tue May 12, 2009 4:42 pm

914 mike wrote: When removing the pop top, do you need to pull down the rear headliner to access the nuts that hold the pop top hinges to the roof? For vans with AC, would you need to drop the rear AC unit to access these nuts?


Mike the bolts are accessed from the outside. Pop your top and go to the back. There should be six bolts, three on each side. There are no nuts.


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