Pop-top -- fiberglass repairs, preservation. No mechancial questions, please.

Capt. Mike

Transferred & consolidated from archives

Art (artjen@inna.net) 11/21/99 (5:01 PM)

Hi - I need info on cleaning a westie top. I have located three other messages requesting the same thing. Capt. Mike answered them all saying that there is a wealth of info in the archives and I believe him. But, I have scoured the archives and can not find this info! Am I blind or has it been deleted (the restoration section is currently empty)?

Thanks for any assistance you can offer!

Art (artjen@inna.net) 11/22/99 (7:10 AM)

O.K. , never fails, I ask the question and then immediately find the answer myself. Looks like the answer is Novus or Maguire products. If anyone has any other suggestions, please let me know. Thanks.

Greg Wilkins (Greg@Wilkins) 7/8/99 (9:06 AM)

I don't know what is recommended for cleaning up the top but I just used a product called Novus to clean and polish the top on my daughters 84 Westy and it worked great (looks like new from very oxidized)It is called: Novus number 2 fine scratch remover.

1-800-548-6872 (from the bottle) for distributer in your area. This is a plastic polish but is recommended for fiberglass, boats, airplanes, motorcycles etc. It worked superb on the bath tub as well, great stuff.

Capt. Mike Soehnlein 7/15/99 (7:15 PM)

Per the many previous posts, a lot of us use the Maguire's line for fiberglass and gel coats. Well known amongst the body shop and antique refinishers, they have a number of products especially for non-metal surfaces, from polishes, to cleaners, to resealers & wax. Each for a seperate purpose.

I use their their fiberglass wash and fiberglass polish on my Westy top. Then I was with either their polymer sealant or good old fashioned carnuba (#26)

Remember, polishes, sealers & glazes DO NOT preserve; you must still wax.
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New member
When we got our 85 westy the pop top was just about black from some sort of mould or algae.I got out the ArmorAll Cleaner(not polish) the ladder and a good stiff kitchen brush.Wet the top on a cloudy day or out of the sun, give it a good dose of the cleaner and start scrubbing.It removed the gunk perfectly and the top shines like new.It seemed to remove a lot of the oxidation on the black rubber gaskets as well.Give it a good rinse with the hose and polish.


New member
Thanks for the comments.

Maybe I wasn't clear. The "bow" mentioned is in the hinge runner track.

Stated another way, the runner track edges are not parallel.

That is, the track in which the nylon runner transits is considerably wider in the middle than at the ends. For this reason, the slider is v loose in the middle, and tight at the ends.

I can't find another old Westy here in Wilmington to examine, and can't remember whether the old '73 Westy we had many years ago was this way.

I have the top and hinges off now, and hate to reassemble if it isn't right.

BTW, here's a Westy pop top refinish tip for the forum. Please post it in the appropriate place.

Refinishing a Westy Pop Top

After years of exposure, Westy fiberglass tops lose their original gel coat finish and become absorbent to stains and soil. If yours is aged and you look closely, you can actually see exposed fiberglass cloth fibers.

Refinishing means sealing the fiberglass and applying a new outer skin. One way is applying new gel coat (very difficult and expensive). Another is refinishing with automotive materials.

I refinished our '74 project Westy pop top with catalyzed (appliance white) DuPont automotive acrylic enamel over PPG urethane primer. One quart of each, plus the requisite reducer and catalyst hardener.
I used a PPG flattening agent in the enamel to get a semi gloss (dull) finish. Two coats of urethane primer covered the fiberglass fibers. Three coats of enamel finished the job.

All of this refinish material is available at any automotive refinish supplies store. Look in the phone book. If you don't have spray equipment, prepare the top as instructed below, print off these instructions, and take both to any auto body shop.

Many refinished pop tops look lousy because:

1. They're too shiny. The fiberglass is not smooth like sheet metal; make it shiny and it looks terrible

2. Paint failure. Without the right prep and primer, paint won't stick fiberglass. It starts popping off and cracking after a few of months of exposure

This job takes maybe 3 - 4 hours of labor, if you're finicky. The trick is to use the right refinish materials.

The result looks like a new top; not shiny, but a nice matte white finish. For colored tops as used on later Vanagon Westies, etc, just supply the vehicle paint code to the auto refinish supply shop; they will match it.

Here's some more detail:

- To do a good job, take the top off the vehicle. This only takes 20 minutes or so. Detach the tent at the top by first marking center front and rear and then pulling off the stapled plastic strips and remaining postioning staples. Mark the four strips (front, rear, left, fight) Undo the hinge and hold up bracket fastners. Get a friend to help lift off the top and place upon saw horses or something. The top weighs about 80 lbs.

- Clean the top with Ajax and a Scotch Brite pad, rinsing with water. This will quickly get all the dirt and black stuff off.

- Let dry for at least one day

- Scuff with 220 dry sandpaper. Don't try to smooth the finish; just uniformly scratch it up with the paper. It sands easily, and this will only take a few minutes.

- Blow off and wipe down (damp cloth then dry cloth) with a 1:2 rubbing alcohol:water mix. Prep Sol surface cleaner will soak into the fiberglass and cause paint failure, hence the alcohol/water mix.

- Apply two single wet coats of Urethane primer. Wait 30 minutes between coats. Urethane primer adheres well to fiberglass and doesn't require sanding like primer surfacers. Do not use lacquer based primer surfacer; it will not adhere long term. If you must use primer surfacer, use epoxy based primer. Just remember that the pop top surface is naturally irregular. Filling and sanding is not advised, as you will spend hours on end and produce a paint film that is far too thick and hence inflexible and failure prone

- After 90 minutes, scuff primer lightly with clean Scoth Brite pad, blow off, and tack (tack cloth)

- Apply Acryilic Enamel top coat (mix flattening agent as directed; typically 1:4). Wait 10 minutes between single wet coats

- Let dry a couple of days before putting into service. Wait 3 months before waxing (see below)

- Use stainless steel staples when reattaching tent. Line up front and rear reference marks, staple four corners into postion, then restaple strips

- If your fastening hardware is rusty, replace with stainless steel (any good marine hardware store will match). 1/4" SS bolts can be used in lieu of stock 6mm bolts, if necessary

- The new acrylic enamel finish should last at least 20 years if you just wash with auto soap once in a while (eg, Zip Wax shampoo) . Do not use harsh detergents or abrasive cleaners ever. Wax once a year, if you like. The new finish will not mildew or stain


New member
just purchased an '82 westy slow boat (diesel). the vehicle looks pretty good except for the pop top which is shedding its coating. i read with interest the previous posting concerning refinishing. any ideas of how to (easily) get the old coating off before prepping the top for refinishing?

Capt. Mike

Transferred to consolidate same topic.

Fitz Member posted October 03, 2002 12:22 AM

The finish on my poptops fiberglass has begun to delmainate. the gel-coat(?) has deteriorated from sun/rain exposure and fiberglass hairs are exposed. Can it be re-gelcoated? Or much simpler/cheaper sounding to me would be sanding it and spraying it with a white enamel or such. What do people think?

jerepowers Member posted October 04, 2002 09:53 AM

You can get fiberglass re-gelcoated... but it is not cheap.

My only experience with gelcoat is from sailboats. It can be done, in the case of a sailboat, where fiberglass makes up virtually the entire hull and therefore is much of the cost of the boat, it is often a sign that it has reach the end of its life expectancy.

There are also little do-it-yourselfer gelcoat kits if it's just a small area available from marine supply places.

I have never painted a poptop, but I have seen several that are painted and they all looked nice.

A. Cooper Member posted October 04, 2002 12:04 PM

Are those small gel-coat kits good for fixing small nicks, and how does one color the gelcoat to match the original pop-up?

Mike Robinson Member posted October 04, 2002 07:38 PM

Painting the pop top

I recently painted my van and in due course got overspray primer on the top side of the roof. Long story, if you ever spray anything make sure you mask everything you do not want that colour. ESPECIALLY if you are priming in an enclosed space (garage) with limited ventilation.

So, when I pop the roof I have this strange red overspary on the top ....

Getting to the point - I cannot cut this paint off the roof as it has bonded so well, so I am going to get some spray cans of automotive white and spray the roof. I suspect the rough texture of the roof will give a lot of tollerance to the finish.

I will let you know what it turns out like....


New member
I am about to buy a 82 Diesel Westy (new 1.9L engine) and the previous owner installed a swamp cooler onto the pop-top. It was professionally done but doesnt work now.
1) I don't want it, I have no reason to use it.
2) Can the fiberglass be repaired if it was cut into? I'm guessing the whole is like a good 1 1/2' by 1 1/2'. I'm guessing an epoxy patch or fiberglass patch is not the way to go.

If professionally done, who would repair it? Marine or auto body? Any estimates or ballpark figures on how much something this would cost?

Capt. Mike

The repair would be no different than a major panel in a 'Vette or patching a rock-hole in a canoe. Any good fiberglass shop, auto or marine, should be able to fabricate the necessary patch, perhaps requiring a couple of span braces, but doable. A marine focused shop might have more similar experience.

An alternative, if you aren't concerned with originality, is to use a patch panel that overlaps the existing roof around the hole.

Capt. Mike

And they may well be. The fiberglass of the luggage roof loses its gel coat over time, thus becoming porous, even if not to the naked eye. The resins in seed and pods, or chemicals in leaves can thus 'bond'. Instead of the petroleum based chemicals, try some of the organic ones like Oxysolve or (got this from PBS) laundry water softener (but getting hard to find). Some of the other's like the citric based (Big Orange?) or soft-scrub may get the job done at least enough to avoid hard repairs like sanding and repainting. When you do get it off -- regardless of method -- retreat with a good sealer and start using a good wax, preferably fiberglass specific products like Maguier's boat line.


New member
I am begining to restore a 78 Westy. I am wondering if it is better to try to polish out the top, or paint it. I dont really want to paint it but was hoping for some advise from someone who has some experience with this. Any information would be appreciated.
Thanks, Tori1960@earthlink.net

Capt. Mike

That depends totally on condition. If the top still has a clean, undamaged gel-coat and is just dirty or dull, there are a number of good fiberglass cleaners, polishes and preservatives. See the posts on Maguires elsewhere on the site ("Paint . . . topic) and at Maguires.com looking at their Marine & RV line since most boats are now fiberglass. (Also use Keyword search for "fiberglass" at their site -- it's not intuitive.)

If the gel-coat is deteriorated (rough texture, glass fibers visible, dry, cracked, crumbly) then the top needs complete resoration. The top can be cleaned, prepped and the gel-coat repaired, repairing any damage while you're at it. Then repainted with a good paint system designed specifically for fiberglass.
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New member
1984 Westy -- pop top preservation

I just had a fellow Westy owner over. He commented about how nice my pop top looks. It does look practically new.

I used Starbrite Premium Marine Polish with Teflon. I live in Minnesota and you can buy this at Wal-Mart -- more boats than any state in the union. We used it years ago on our fiberglass boat. We now have an older swimming pool and we use to polish the slide. I used it in May of 2003 to clean the top. I did two coats. It removed all the stains and left the top looking freshly painted. It still looks good and the Westy hasn't been washed since spring. It's not cheap at about $12-$15 a bottle, but it works great -- better than I expected.


Greetings Everyone, Just a question for those posters who have used various cleaners on their poptops.Considering that some of these postings are a few years old Im wondering how your poptops look now ?? My poptop has some dirt on the very top of the top and I need to get up on a ladder to investigate. I dont have mushrooms or vegitation growing on it so I dont think I need a complete refinishing. Maybe a reeeeel good cleaning and a new Satin or Semi gloss topcoating. Any suggestions other than whats been said already???
Happy Holidays,
When I was restoring the fiberglass pop-top on my '78 westy what I did that worked really well was Plasti-Kote spray truck bed liner. First I took sand paper to it to roughen the surface then the spray takes to it very well. The spray comes in 20 oz. aerosol cans, it only takes a few cans to cover it, and it looks great. Its also great because it fills in the small cracks in the fiberglass had gotten from sitting out better than paint would have, and is a lot more durable than paint. It’s very easy to do yourself and is really cheap, one can costs less than $10. I did this a few years ago and its holding up really well, no cracks or chips coming off, I’m really happy with it
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A. Cooper

New member
Unless the gelcoat is so badly deteriorated that it's flaking or chipping off, I would avoid re-coating it with paint or truck-bed-liner spray, and would opt instead for a really good cleaning with a conventional product intended for fiberglass maintenance. Some of the complete re-gelling jobs I've seen look too glossy and 'plasticky'. Paint will likely soon flake off, and will then prevent you from doing a decent re-gell.

At my local West Marine http://www.westmarine.com/ store I found a bundled package of three fiberglass maintenance products in the Meguiar's http://www.meguiars.com/ "Mirror Glaze" series, recommended above by Capt, Mike. Included in the kit were their Boat & RV Wash, Oxidation Remover & Polish, and Pure Wax. These did a very good job of cleaning and restoring my pop-up roof's original luster and sealing it from future deterioration.

Avoid caustic or abrasive cleaners, as these will damage the original gelcoat. Just clean it very well, keep it waxed and polished once or twice a year, and dirt and crud will practically rinse right off.

Ludwig van

New member
A few questions about using truck bed liner on the pop top. Is it available in white, and does it have a heavy orange peel texture? It sounds like it's easier to apply than fibreglass boat paint.
I looked at one type in the automotive store, and it's claimed to be good for fibreglass boats and motorhomes.
My top needs something more than wax, as the glass fibres are showing in a few places. The van's first two homes were California and Arizona, so I suppose the damage is due to prolonged exposure to sunlight.
The truck bed liner does come in white, but the stuff I used was not a plain white, it has black speckles in it, if you searched you could probably find a solid white. As for the texture, it will not have an “orange peel” texture but it will not be smooth, it is a rough texture, if you are looking for a smooth finish this will not be what you want to use. My topper also had significant sun damage and I could see the glass fibers but this did a good job of covering it up.

A. Cooper

New member
I recently replaced my Westy's tattered pop-up roof seals, rusty hardware, and decals, and finally spiffed it all up with a quality fiberglass polish and wax job. You'll find my write-up here:

For now, the article only covers the factory luggage rack over the cab, but everything is pretty much the same for the popup roof, which I'll be adding soon, along with recommended canvas care.


New member
1984 Westy

This posting was signficiantly edited on June 20, 2006, with the idea that a photo is worth a thousand words.

Someone asked several of us how the treatment of our pop-tops looked after time. Three years ago -- six months after I bought my Westy -- I used two coats of Starbrite Premium Marine Polish with Teflon on a neglected and filthy pop-top. Now, three years later, you can clean it to look like new with a simple car wash brush. I plan to put another coat on this year, but that's preventative, not needed.

My Westy is garaged during Minnesota's brutal winters, but it spends the summer catching bugs, bird crap and vegetable matter from a tree. I am sure that some tops have lost too much of their finish for this to work, but for $15 it is probably worth trying just to see if it would prevent a $1,000 paint job. When it comes to fiberglass this is amazing stuff. (I don't work for Starbrite.)

The photo above was taken while I was washing it. Part of it is wet and part dry. The photo below is as good as I can get of a closeup.

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patching holes for roof rack

the other day my girlfriend tried to drive our 'new' 95 eurovan camper into a parkade, and ripped out the front roof rack. thankfully there isnt any major damage to the pop-top, and believe it or not, we are now half way to solving a major problem!

being in snowy, salty ontario, we very much want to keep the camper indoors over the winter. however, the only way to fit it into our garage would require removal of the roof racks that were installed by winnebago (for which we do not have the special allen key). its really a matter of millimeters, so this is the only way to do it.

we will not need the roof racks in future, so are thinking about removing them entirely. if we do, how to fill in the holes in the pop-top where the racks were mounted? would we need to go to a specialized fibreglass repair shop to have them filled in properly?

Capt. Mike

Elsewhere on the site I describe the fabrication and installation of louvers for the sliding windows so they can be opened in the rain. I attache them with what are called Nut-serts®, threaded inserts or rivet threads. They are, in effect a machine screw threaded insert that will insert into a sheet-metal hole much like a pop rivet. The inserts distorts (with the special tool required) and grips the hole like a pop rivet and then the tool unthreads and leaves a flush, threaded hole. You can then remove the to rack and seal the hole with a simple bolt or macine screw and a fiber or plastic washer. I used a similar arrangement you will find discussed under spare tire carriers when VW offered the nose mount spare tire carrier option on the bay window buses.

The tools are not expensive and any body shot probably has them.

Before you go that route, double check your garage door. The typical electric overhead door travel can be adjusted. I had to do so for my Westy but the adjustment raised the lower edge nearly an inch. In my shop, which doesn't have an electric opener, I have to hold the door raised an extra 1" and then clamp the rail with a pair of Vise-grips® to hold that position. It's enough and the Westy is only in the shop occassionaly vs. the full time in the garage and thus the electric opener. I even made a graphic that I attach to the windshield when it's in the shop reminding me to raise and block the door before leaving. If you don't have an electric, this might be your excuse!