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Replacing Canvas

Installed: new 3 window canvas
From: Malcolm Stebbins
Year(s):  1986 - 1991?
Model/Type:  Vanagon Camper serial # after E.000
Bentley Page(s):  75.4 - 75.5
Symptom(s):  replacing bad canvas

Ed Note: Check for some good pics.

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 ery good quality (one or 2 un-even stitches)
Very good fit, very poor installation instructions. Ron should insist on better
instructions for $185!!

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

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

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.

Next is the complete exhaust (ceramic coated) and a few other expensive
goodies and then I'm off.

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

See Comments on this entry (F.W.I.W.)

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