Aftermarket (only) Roof Racks


New member
I am looking for the best way of attaching a rack to an 1988 Westfalia pop-up. I imagine the rack will have to be either drilled into the pop-top (saw this in a parking lot once - it looked like it was cobbled together with both Yakima and Thule parts) or affixed to the body and removed when we want to raise the popup. I have checked the Thule and Yakima sites and I leaning toward Thule but I want to make sure what we do is safe and wont ruin the pop-up. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!! We are sea and WW kayakers if you are wondering why it won't fit inside.
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Capt. Mike

My basic recommendation is DO NOT, under any circumstances, use a rack that mounts to the fiberglass pop-top. It's not designed for it, being held on only by a couple of sheet metal screws in stamped sheet metal hinges at the rear, and the single latch at the front. Use a gutter mount system that bridges the roof. If you need incentive, go price a replacement roof at your dealer.


New member
Why not a hybrid system with the roof racks mounted on the fiberglass pop-top, but for any serious driving at highway speeds, attach straps to the rack towers and tighten to brackets that hook around the bottom of the rain gutters? To pop the top, loosen the straps and unhook the brackets.


New member
I ended up with the Thule super high towers attached to the raingutters. They clear the pop top and are easily removed and replaced.
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Capt. Mike

Transferred from another post to cosolidate like topics

Roof Racks (again)

alaskajohn, Junior Member, 09-28-2000 01:10 AM


I've checked the archives and still am not sure what to do about mounting a roof rack onto a VW Westfalia. I definately agree and take to heart Capt. Mike's comments about drilling into and loading the fiberglass top. But try to find tall enough racks - it is tough! The Yakima racks with the double extensions may work, I am not to sure. I tried the Yakima 1A Highrise towers, which would be a single extension, and they ran into the side (and scratched the top! uuugghh!). I tried to judge what the doubles would do, and I still think they'd hit the top. Does anyone know of the model and manufacturer of a rack that will work without drilling into the top?

josh, Junior Member, 12-16-2000 04:03 AM

Hey hey,

Hows it going? If you go to it tells you exactly how to modify an OEM rack to go over the pop top. Good article it is under the exterior heading. Anyway, I just got me an old ladder rack that is looks like an "A" when viewed from the front, and it has a tube that bolts the front and back rack together on each side. Total cost will basically be having three inch spacers welded into the gutter mounts. Works well for me and it is sturdy as all get out too. hope this helps. That article gave me the idea for modifying my rack.


Capt. Mike

Transferred from another post to consolide same topics.

Roof Rack Options

matzprez, Junior Member, 02-26-2001 03:35 PM

I need to put a sturdy roof rack on my '84 Westy--one that can hold kayaks. I'd preferr to use a Yakima or Thule-type rack but haven't found towers tall enough to clear the camper top. Does anyone have any advice for me? I do not want to attack a faux gutter to the camproof and attach the rack to that bcs it's too flimsy. Please let me know any tricks of the trade for racks that attach to the already existing gutters.
Thanks a lot!


alaskajohn, Junior Member, 03-02-2001 11:03 PM

Good luck finding a rack. I looked around and called quite a few different rack manufacturers, and had zero luck finding something that would clear my '87 Westy roof. I also have a kayak that I want to haul around, but was leary of attaching something to the fiberglass camper top after reading through the threads on this. Living in Alaska and having a van and a boat was to much, and I eventually did drill into the top and mount Yakima towers to it, and have hauled the kayak with no problems to date. The boat is a fiberglass double, and weighs in at around 110lb's if that helps. I will never try to pop the top with the boat on though, I have nightmares enough about the top caving in when the roof is down. Someone told me they thought the roof was rated at around 125 lb's, which may be correct, I'm not sure, but am curious of the correct loading incase I need to ever get on the rough for a cleaning / patch job / etc..
Again, good luck finding something....



New member
I also had this same problem with finding a rack for an 84 Westy. The Yakima people recommended I use the permanent clips on the side of the roof, but that I shouldn't carry kayaks on top. After looking into all other possibilities I decided to drill. I discussed it with two others who had done the same thing. I haven't had any problems so far, but I have definitely felt stronger racks. I haven't put more than two whitewater kayaks on top at a time and wouldn't feel comfortable on the interstate with more than that. I have driven with two on the interstate and they have felt pretty solid. I used a little bit of silicone along the bracket in addition to the provided gasket. I figured I'd just pass that along for whatever it is worth.

Old Rog

New member
If you drill, be careful! Use the widest rain gutter metal plate (permenant clips) available from Yakima or Thule. The wide plates from Yakima will work fine. The skinny rain gutter plates place too much stress in a small area. Wide plates distribute the stress more evenly over a larger area of the fiber glass. Use big washers on the inside of the top for the same reason. Ive used Yakima racks on my '90 Westy and Truck camper tops with no problems holding bikes, skis, etc.. Although with the rack on the Westy it is too tall to go thru most carwashes.
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New member
Hi All!
I'm new to the Westy world; bought a '91 late last year and I'm getting it ready for the summer.

I have a problem deciding between a trailer hitch or roof rack system for a 45lb canoe that I would like to take along on my walkabouts. I have a folding aluminum trailer which could easily be used to transport the canoe.

I've read the provisos regarding both roof racks and trailer hitches and I believe that with this light load a trailer hitch may still be the best bet. Somehow I just can't bring myself to hack that pop-top.

A third alternative is to use those foam pads that slip onto the gunnels of a canoe. I'm just concerned about putting any undue pressure on the pop-top. Any comments on this approach?

BTW, I did check out the Thule system and they have a setup that should work; it consists of the 953 Super High Foot Gutter Packs and L65 Load bars combined with the 544 Locks; you're looking at about US$245.00, taxes out.


Sorry about the multi-post, wasn't sure which thread was appropriate.


New member
Well I can't resist throwing in my 2cents on the subject of mounting cross bars to the westy roof.
I have a Yakima mounted now for 3 years and carried 2 bikes, total weight maybe just under 50 lbs. I've taken it out to Great Basin National park, almost ripped the rack off the brackets, (yes DO use the WIDE yakima ones ) when I went to a McD's driveup window with an overhang. No sign of cracking or other fiberglass failure. I can tell you that I know of perhaps 15-20 Westies in the Reno/Tahoe area carrying bikes, boats and in my case, strap chase-loungers ( from Costco, where else?) for truly luxury camping.
A couple of things to consider if you're gonna go ahead and drill that fiberglass. For some fuzzy math: each yakima plate has four bolts. 4 bolts times 4 plates makes 16 so an if an 80# total load (combined rack and carried load) it is only 5# vertical (in shear) to each bolt/hole. I think the fiberglass can handle that, plus be sure to use big washers, I mean big, on the inside and use lock washers too. Then you will transfer some of the shear load through the friction of the side plates.
1. Think about the principles of leverage. I put the rack bars pretty far back to make ( & yes I really do this ) lifting the top for sleeping WITH THE BIKES STILL ON TOP! a little easier. When loaded, The rear wheels ( bikes should always face forward direction lest they get confused) are just about in line with the rear of the bus.
2. If you think you've had trouble staying stable and straight in cross-winds, wait till you have 2 tall bikes ( yep, ones a 70cm Cinelli) and 2 strap loungechairs up there and you get passed way out in the Great Basin on I-80 by a 75 mph triple trailer rig. yee-haw cowboy, 8 seconds is about all you can hang on for.
3. When you install the bolts to the yakima plates, be sure to cut the bolt ends off and file them real smooth and then re-install them. Remember that they will be rubbing against your tent canvas when the top is down and can make holes. You might want to think up something trickier like coating the bolts and nuts with some sort of rubber stuff, but this worked for me.
4. how are you gonna get stuff way up there? I'm 6'-8" so I can stand on the ground and do it. Whip the old Cinelli on and off. Better think about carrying a step stool.

[ 06-29-2001: Message edited by: RichardBulis ]

Capt. Mike

Most larger hardware stores sell bolt end caps. These are plastic cups or caps about l/4 - 3/8" long, sized for the particular bolt, meant to protect the exposed end. Works both ways in that it cushions against hitting it or chaffage.

Glad it's working well -- not an endorsement of a roof rack on the pop-top, mind you -- because as soon as somebody reads yours is working, they'll go put a 200 lb. sailboat on theirs! Murphy's law has a sub-section that says if it's possible to do something stupid, you can bet someone will. Thus the OSHA required warning sign not to stand on the little folding paint bucket shelf on the back of a ladder. And why I'm always on the conservative & safe side in my responses.


I'm still baffled by this situation as it has been an area of much thought for me. I completely understand the warnings about drilling into the fiberglass and have not attached any artificial gutters for this reason.
Currently, I use the longest Thule towers (towers and bars only) attached to the rain gutters, travel, remove them at my destination and pop the top. Not an ideal situation but not that much of a hassle.
I ask everyone I encounter who has artificial gutters about troubles and no one has mentioned having to replace their poptop and all their gear that flew off at 70mph. I also ask what they carry up there, estimated weights, etc. I get the no troubles over and over but I don't want to be the first to post here that the last time I saw my new kayak it was a hood ornament on a Kenworth.
My real troubles is in the winter when I sometimes use a luggage box which looks like such a pain to remove I don't even try to remove and never pop the top.
So, my neighbor (73 converted bus and 91 Syncro) has an old discontinued Yakima system that attaches to the poptop by clipping around fiberglass poptop. It's like many older systems and was mentioned above I think. I am going to write Yakima and ask for it to be reinstated- what Westy owner wouldn't want one? We have the buying power! Don't we?
However, my concern is wouldn't this put just as much strain or more on the front poptop locking device? When traveling with kayaks or a box where wind goes underneath, wouldn't this rack lead to potential a disaster also.
I thought I'd raise a discussion before I start calling Thule/Yakima. Thanks, Brian

[ 07-14-2001: Message edited by: 86Syncro ]


New member
My experience with roof racks on three Vanagon Westfalias has been that the artificial gutter (Yakima wide with big washers)works fine for loads up to 80lbs. I travelled the Alcan hi-way with about80lbs on the roof rack AND popped the top every night (with help!) and had no problems. I confess that I also regularly walk on the edges (essential) of the pop top roof to tie down kyaks etc. I have been doing this on three different vans for over 8 years and never seen any cracking or adverse effects. I will continue to do this but don't blame me if it does not work for you!

Capt. Mike

Transferred to consolidate similar topics.

Pop-top assist....

gta Junior Member # 2569 posted 11-15-2001 03:25 PM

I have a ski pod mounted to my roof (85 Westy) and I am thinking/wanting to add another. The problem is the pop-top is getting heavy. Has anyone had anyone tried to mount struts (similar to rear hatch struts) to assist with the extra weight? Thanks for any info...



New member
All you water sports enthusiasts out there--think inflatable! I have an Innova kayak which folds into a small backpack plus another bag for the folding paddles, pump and life vests. Throw it onto the stock luggage well, strap it down and go. I've rowed it in the Yukon, I've rowed it in San Francisco Bay and she's a fair craft, arrrgh...... I've seen so many ridiculously overloaded, wind-impaired folks going down the road with multiple kayaks, dinghys, canoes, captains gigs, etc. stapped to the top. It's all about economy of space and effort. But, to each his own.


New member
Hey Guys, I have to add to this one. One word: SARIS.
I have a Saris system that works great on my poptop. It uses the drill-in type Thule gutter attachments, but unlike Yakimas or Thules, each easily adjustable rack has a very wide, soft rubber "Foot" that places nearly all of the rack's weight (and the weight of what you're carrying) at four wide points on the top edges of your poptop -- the strongest part of it. Then it just has a bracket that tightens to the gutter mounts as you turn it. The racks are of equal of better quality to Thule and Yakimas.


Having already spent $300 on Thule racks for my Jetta, I didn't want to do it again, so I went to a local welder and described what I wanted. Basically, on each side of the top he is putting one plate on the outside of the top and one on the "inside"(eliminating the need for washers), screwing them into place, and then welding a u-shaped bar across the top, just slightly higher than the roof. This way it's permanent, stable and less than half the price. He's building it now, I'll let you know how it comes out.
Patrick Savage
'90 Westy


New member
Just had the racks put on, and they came out great. The brackets are a little more conspicous than I wanted but they are solid as hell. They are defineately stronger then the thule or Yakima models. Look into to it if you know a welder! I tried to get the guy to sell them on the 'net but he is too busy and too retired.

Mike Robinson

New member
Does anyone have any experience of putting a 60lb canoe on a westy roof with the preformed gunnel faoms?

I was thinking of putting the front ones on the back of the luggage rack and the rear ones on the rear of the pop top (strongest places??)

Tieing it down from the front and rear to the towing hooks?

I have read the hassles of roof racks and I do not want to drill into the roof.



A. Cooper

New member
Sounds like that would work alright; if you use the foam pads, be sure to use the ones with the extra layer of grippy rubber on their undersides to prevent the canoe from jumping around when buffeted by passing trucks or gusty crosswinds. DEFINITELY follow the usual safety precautions regarding tying the canoe down; in addition to tying the boat to my rack, I often use bow and stern tiedowns to the tow loops.

I too was unable to bring myself to drill holes(!) into my perfectly functional, non-leaking Westy roof, but wanted to carry my canoe with something more substantial than the abovementioned foam blocks. After looking at various rack configurations in catalogs and on the street, I spotted a strong utility rack on the van of a painter-contractor. Though sold online I was able to buy it cheaper (under $100) at a local farm supply place, and with a few modifications from the included instructions, it has worked quite well.

Made by Karrite (evidently now a division of Thule), Part #98701W is a heavy and durable steel rack with a 500-lb. load capacity, which clamps securely to the rain gutters on my 1983 Vanagon Westy. The obvious problem with installing any gutter-mount roof rack to the Westy is the height of the pop-up roof, but the Karrite rack is fairly easy to modify. The endplates are pre-drilled to offer two height adjustments, but even the highest was too low to allow the cross-bars to clear the pop-up roof, so I had to drill two more holes in each endplate to get the necessary clearance, about 2 inches. With this simple modification, I'm able to safely haul my 65-lb. canoe, with absolutely NOTHING touching the pop-up roof of my beloved Westy.

I would offer the following additional tips:

1. Position the front rack over your Westy luggage rack/compartment, and the rear rack just ahead of the hinges on the pop-up roof. Use wingnuts (or carry a ratchet and socket) on the rear rack. Upon arriving in camp, remove the canoe, then remove the rear rack from the van. This allows you to fairly easily pop your Westy top without removing the front rack.

2. The included gutter clamps allow you to tighten and adjust the clamps in a variety of ways; be sure to use the tightening bolts in such a way as to clamp from BENEATH the rain gutter, not from the side, to avoid crushing the relatively delicate side-profile of the gutters.

3. To prevent the canoe from moving around on the load bars, I made some simple wooden blocks, angled to match the profile of my canoe, which are affixed to the load bars with standard pipe clamps from the hardware store.

4. Because I enjoy the occasional solo canoe getaway, I wanted to be able to load/offload the canoe by myself. With additional modifications, I fabricated an outrigger device which mounts to the rack and allows me to easily shimmy the canoe off the van by myself and carry it to the water's edge. I can provide more info on this mod if anyone's interested.

Good Paddlin'
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