We want a camping rig that we can stand up inside of while hiding out from bad weather. That’s one of the primary reasons we’re moving away from the old 40 Series Land Cruiser Troopy. When we bought ROV we had no idea that there aren’t any companies currently manufacturing tops for the 3rd generation Econoline vans. After weeks of researching online it became apparent that we would need to custom make a top. The prices from van shops that do custom pop tops are outrageously expensive when compared to the $3k purchase price of ROV. So we’re going to make our own top.
Planning a camper top is a an interesting challenge. How much interior height do we need/want? How tall can we make the van?
Mark’s tall. In an ideal world we would have at least six foot six inches of interior height between the finished floor and ceiling. The stock interior floor to ceiling height of the 3rd gen Econoline is 56″. The ROV is 7’6″ tall from the ground on the current tires and suspension. It would be great if we could add 22″ of interior height to get to 6′ 3″ finished inside height when the top is down, but that’s not in the cards for us.
As it sits now, the ROV is six inches taller than our garage door so we can’t bring the van into the heated garage to work on it (yet). To remedy this situation, we’re going to add another panel to the door and enlarge the opening to give us 8′ 9″ clearance. (The ceiling in the garage is 10′ 6″.) The design parameter that determines everything for our custom top the is the garage door height. It’s important to us that we can fit the ROV in our garage to work on it and store it while we’re not traveling.
No Need to Reinvent the Wheel
While there’s a ton of innovation going on in the vanlife world, there’s really not much that’s truly new out there. Someone somewhere has likely already figured out something that’s very similar to what we’re doing. Mark is decent with metal fabrication and has no experience with fiberglass or other composites. So our custom pop top will be made from aluminum. We will borrow design cues from these three different approaches.
Colorado Camper Vans Pop-top
We really like the Colorado Camper Van E-series pop-top. We got to see one last time we were in Baja. Unfortunately they only make them for the 1992 and newer 4th Gen E-Series vans. CCV will do custom pop-tops for the 3rd Gen E-Series but the cost of just the custom top would be almost as much as we plan to spend on the entire project. I’m sure their tops are worth every penny, but we don’t have that many pennies.
The things we like about the CCV approach: increased interior height, removable bed platform, automatic lift system and the flat back wall for mounting rear-facing lights.
Mark recently discovered ModVans. Their design and lifting system looks good.
The things we like about the ModVans approach: increased interior height, the lift system is on the outside of the enclosure.
Land Cruiser Aluminum Tilt-up Tops
There’s a few companies out there that make aluminum camper tops for off-road overlanding rigs. Here’s a sample image I found on @landcruiserphil‘s Instagram feed.
This type of aluminum top is well within Mark’s design and fabrication abilities.
Where to from here?
Our custom top will be a combination of the three designs above. We’ll end up with an overall height less than 8′ 9″, an increase of ~15 inches. The finished interior height when the top is down should be around 68″. That’s not enough for Mark to fully stand up, but it’s enough for Steph. It’s enough to move around comfortably without crawling on our hands and knees like we do in the Troopy.
An aluminum top will offer strength and weight savings vs. a comparable fiberglass design. We’ll be able to walk on the top without worrying about damaging anything. We’ll be able to easily plan for surf board racks, solar panels and hopefully a mobile Starlink antenna someday.
We’ll try to mock up something in Photoshop and do another blog entry with more details about our custom top.
Have you done a custom top for your van project? Let us know in the comments below. We’d like to learn from other people’s experiences too.