(not) to repaint a Westy Top. (Let it all Load..)
(Cool! White Walls BLETCH!!!!)
the more common issues I see with Vanagon campers is the fading of the Westy
top. After doing several head scratches and Google searches I found an overall
lack of good data on how to tackle such a job. Well, let me say this, I found
no data on how to do it *cheaply* and *fast*.
forewarned, this article will go against every body shop rule of quality
workmanship. However, the end result was (and still is) quite stunning given
the cost and time involved.
I was amazed (as well as everyone else!) just how much a clean looking top
changed the whole look of the van. It went from “beater” to “nice” in 24
hours. To do this right you’ll want 48 hours of dry sunny warm weather on hand.
Step 1 – Observe the
issue at hand. How faded is the top? Has it ever been repainted
before, and if so with what? Has it been damaged? What about the
decals? Is it just dirty? What shape is the rubber in? Get a
step ladder and check it out.
My Titan red top was beat.
While the van is still very “red” the top was almost identical to a red printer
dull clay color. There was a nice layer of thin green algae on the center
sections. I had a few things against me as well. The PO had “glued” the rubber
trim around the perimeter of the top back up with some awful-super strong
fiberglass “patch”. It looked like crap, was gray, and done poorly. The
factory rubber had a metal (steel, duh..) channel that clamps to the lip of the
top. The metal had rotted away and so the rubber fell off – that’s where the
glue came in to play. My decals were faded and shrank. If I was going to
paint, they had to come off..
Dull, super dull.
Step 2 – Clean and
Prep. You’ll need a shady place, a hose, a bucket, car-wash soap, WD-40, Heat
gun, Palm Sander (optional), Goof-Off <tm>, Rags, 3 Hours.
So I cleaned the top first,
I used a heat gun to soften the old decals. The top of the Westy is made out of
some super durable resin, and I was suspired at how WELL it withstood heat. I
used a wooden stick (paint stirrer) to scrape off the decals. Once they were
off, I sprayed WD-40 on the surface (several times) to get the gunk off that was
left behind. You can see how much the top faded. (Side note of interest, the
color “red” is IDENTICAL to most “red” primers!).
I had to use a grinder to
get off the fiberglass "glue" from the PO. Tuck in the tent fabric, and
I used 3M “Blue Masking Tape” to cover areas that I didn’t want to get debris
into. I just ripped off of the old rubber around the pop-top. It fell right
off, and we’ll talk about the luggage rack later..
grinding, note how the trim is falling off - the gray stuff is the "glue", after
the white base of the top is visible. I had to grind to get the "glue" off
I then washed the top with
soap and water; I used car-wash liquid and Fantastic/409 to clean the algae
off. I also used a soft scrub brush to scrub the top. Take care NOT TO LET THE
SOAP DRY ON ANY SURFACES! If it does dry paint damage can result, and if you
can, do this in the shade.
Oh, I also stripped off the gutter rail
trim. It was cracked, I used self adhesive door-trim (in a 40' roll) from
JC Whitney. Perfect Fit and finish.
Hose everything off, and
then wash the entire van top to bottom with the car-wash soap. Wash off the
entire van, it will help the tape stick better (see next page). Let it dry
you’re done for today.
Next morning, - I
broke EVERY rule in painting. I painted outside, on a humid windy day, with
lots of bugs, pollen, and direct sunlight. I found that the dull top finish was
*perfect* for getting paint to stick. No sanding here! The natural top texture
covers a lot of beatings.
WIPE DOWN THE WHOLE TOP
WITH THE GOOF-OFF!
Tape up everything you
don’t want to get paint on. I like the 3M “Blue” painters tape. Home Depot
sells it in various sizes. Avoid the “Duck” brand “Pink” tape - its too loose
for this job and does not handle wind well at all.
Get some news papers; cover
up the upper half of the van.
Make sure you stuff paper
into the cracks of the top and the canvass. The paint will not come off the
Oh! The tippy top! Phht,
forget it, who cares!? You can’t see it when the top is down anyhow. I used
the tape to make some straight lines about 3” in from the top “curve” on the
outer edges. Thus I have a big “unpainted section” in the middle of the top.
Like I said, this is a budget job. Park that side toward some trees when you
Paint in sections;
carefully shake the cans to make sure they will blend. Test spray the can to
make sure it’s the right color and shade before it hits the van.
I did 3 nice coats on each
section. Follow the directions on the can and let the paint sit for about 15
min between coats. Humidity and colder temps increase the drying time. Even
though it was humid, it was warm and sunny. Paint was dry to the touch in 12
hours, and hard in 48 hours.
My super Tape Job.
Note the crap on the ground.
Sends shivers down the spine of most body men..
You can see the front and the
back - and the difference between the dullness and the hot redness. At
this point I knew I was doing things right.
The Luggage Rack
Remove the front luggage
rack, ewww! 15 years of rotted leaves and gook! This also gives you a chance
to take the rack and work somewhere else (in the shade) to remove the old Westy
To remove the top, undo the
4 screws around the rack, and then undo the 4 bolts with the top up. Take care
not to loose or damage the “nut covers” as these (I think) help keep the front
tent fabric from rubbing against the sharper nuts and bolts on the rear of the
I was lucky and the nuts
didn’t fall into the van while I was working on it. If they do add some
dumb-dumb (black caulk stripping) to them to hold them in place while you put
the rack back on. (See the hacks section for a cool
I did the rack install and
removal with 1 person - me. But I am tall, and two people might get the job
I used 1 full can on the
front rack. I sprayed it on a table in the garage, oh yea, don’t forget to
spray the exposed 4 screw heads too. When you put them back on, cover the tip
of your screwdriver with electrical tape to protect the paint.
The paint you see was my
“test” patch that I just sprayed on there - to see that it would stick and hold
up. That was months ago, and I knew it was cool… Keep a tab on the rubber
insulators on the insides of the rack - they tend of pop off while your not
Don’t fret about the lowest
edge, remember this gets covered up by trim.
Go Westy has some stuff that seems
to be better quality than stock. I had some stuff for the front rack from
www.poptops.com that I was not as happy with once I saw the
I didn’t replace the “center lip” that covers the rack and pop-top - mine was
ok, so I just did the pop-top and the rack. Use a soft mallet to fully seat the
trim in place once the paint is dry.
Wow! Look at the edge! (Note the gutter trim)
A days later I got my Westy
decals from some dude on E-bay, they are decent quality. I tried real hard to
locate the original mate-marks left by the original decals. I came close.