Has anyone ever built there own penthouse top???


I dream of this too. A long term idea for my Suburban is a pop-up. It's not going to happen now, but sometime down the line, I think it would be really cool. I've thought of a Dormobile style too.

It's really hard to find the tops new. Finding them used is a hunt I imagine. I found this website that sells them. Not sure about the quality or the price, but it's the only thing I could find.



after printing hi-rez photos of your build...:coffeedrink:

I have a question about the lifters and the material..

do you think the lifters could be concealed well if used in a GTRV style topper?

did you just use a local awning/seamstress for the sides?? or are ya fortunate enough to know how to use a sewing machine (THANKS MOM!!) and have one (MOM?? wheres my sewing machine?? chrismas 09??)

part of my problem is a SMB style topper wont let my girl fit in the garage...a GTRV will...so Im tight on clearances (from what I've seen)


With a little inginuty you can hide all of that stuff just flip the actuators upside down and the motors will point down instead of up. You can flip through my photo bucket pages if you want to see some more detailed pictures of the build.
http://s127.photobucket.com/albums/p148/dsw4x4/van project/

The problem I ran into with building a low profile top was you will have to lay up the top yourself or use t-core or fiber board or something like that to make the actual roof. I was able to score a raised roof in a junkyard for 50 bucks and saved me a lot of work. The whole project was enough work in the first place. As far as the material and sewing goes it started out with using my girlfriends sewing machine (a viking) and getting her to help. Then her mom thought that sounded like a fun project so she drove out here for a long weekend which turned out to be two solid weeks of the three of us sewing. So decide how many and how big your windows are carefully. A lot of the time was spent figuring out how to sew zippers (tricky till you get the hang of it) and that I wanted the whole slide out bed section to be removable so it zips off and you can use the van sportsmobile style with the bed slid in and the back door zipped closed. So making that removable section and a door that zips closed when the removeable section is zipped off or just tucked in and the rear door zipped closed was the a very time consuming challenge, add to that it needs to stay tight to keep from flapping in the wind and shed water and all material seems and zippers must drain away from the inside. The end result Lizs sewing machine worked great. If I had to do it again actual sew time would be cut in half the learning curve was huge. Since then I have some other projects going on and I have talked to a couple commercial tent and awning companies and they all are happy to talk to me and work with me doing prototype work. And they have all dabbled in this type of work before.
Hope this helps, good luck with your build.


I was thinking about the actuators lastnight as a matter of fact...do you have problems with one being faster than the other?

I plan on poppin the top myself and rigging up a holder in the garage ceiling to keep it in positon...then welding some sort of rest for it when its down to seal to..(so it has someplace to set/seal onto...)..even thought about getting another van to chop the roof off of!

it would be just 3 smaller windows...back and both sides...18inx3ft..we have a GREAT awning/boat place that can do my stitching...and theyre FAST!!..

Im lovin the idea of the project..heck my preggers wife is even excited..and she just usually rolls her eyes and says "thats nice honey..can I go back inside now?"


It is good to design a lift that works manually, and the add light weight actuators to replace the human. It's easier and less expensive. Actuators can produce a lot of force, but aren't good at handling real world torques, and also have a limited range. A designed an actuator-centric lift system. It's a waste of money and inelegant.

From this thread I see a new Expedition Portal feature - a dating service to find girlfriends who like to camp and can sew.

The Adam Blaster

Expedition Leader
Derek, good luck with talking to possible producers of your penthouse. :)
If you could somehow standardize the size, the units (including the fiber roofs) could be mass produced to both be sold at a reasonable price to the consumer, and make the producing company some $$$. (And hopefully you'll be in on that part.) :)

I'm trying to think of the different vehicles that have approx. the same sized roof that could fit these units -- all full sized vans, standard and extended, Excursions, Suburbans???

I wish you the best of luck and hopefully you'll be able to turn your innovative creation into some $$$$.


Wow, just stumbled on this thread..crazy-go-nuts. I can almost understand all of the mechanical aspects, but the canvas work would make my eyes cross. Any updates? If I'm not mistaken there aren't any pics of the finished interior, i.e. what happened downstairs?


Thanks Dustboy,
The interior is moving very slowly I did put a furnace in it and we have been using the daylights out of it. after the poptop was done reinstalled the plastic passenger van interior so the inside is at least finished looking. This winter it will get the interior finished out the rest of the way. Everything from the headliner up is um how should I say it finished looking. I have a hand full of things I am going to change from the way I initially finished the top. Finishing the interior was not planned to be done till this winter because we wanted to use the van to see what we did and did not want in the interior. Our uses include being able to haul two motorcycles and tow a Boat or one of our broncos, and still be able to use the interior as a complete camper van we also stay in it during the winter on ski trips. But when we travel with just the van and motorcycles we do not like to turn back because a trail is to tuff, we do not like to back track we like to cover a lot of ground. So the van has to be able to do hardcore trails. My current focus is lifting the van enough to get 35s under it, comp cutting the rear and building custom bumpers for the front and rear with a swing out tire carrier and rock sliders. I already bashed in the lower rear quarters of the van so that part will get cut off in the comp cut. I also need a winch mount for the front we got stuck by steamboat last year at ten at night and it took 8 hours to dig our way out. So a winch is high priorty right now. Just having the dry warm space in the interior makes it nice for camping and hauling toys.

Here is more current picture from last summer loaded with bikes and boats.
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New member

I'm new to this forum, based in Europe.

Wow dsw4x4 your rig looks fantastic! I definitely think you could sell kits for this.

Meanwhile I found a tired old raised top Econoline. I'm toying with the idea of either fixing it up and using the top in similar manner to yours, or just remove the top and put it on a van in better shape than the current oneEconoline raised top-crop.jpg. Not sure I'm able to do it, though.


New member
Very cool build.
I am about to take on my 4x4 sportsmobile style build. I am looking at the possibility of purchasing a pop up camper like this:

and fabricating it to fit the roof of a 4x4 ford RB

They have 10-12 ft with beds on each side that should work great with a bed over the windshield and one over the back doors like the one in this thread. It would require support rods as well.

Has this ever been done? Seems like it would be much easier than recreating this beautiful build. I figure I could also use all of the amenities and furniture from the pop up in the Van to save more money and time.

Any thoughts?



Expedition Leader
Just caught this build by following a link, REALLY nice build Derek!
Sportsmobile should copy your ideas and pay you some $$$$. :D
Funny you say that. I spoke with SMB last year about the possibility of doing something like this. He seemed interested but said he would have to put some thought into the design.

Something like this is ideal for larger families - I could put 2 kids on one end, 3 kids on the other, and then Suzi and I could sleep in the van.:coffee:


Most pop up tent trailers are about 7' wide and the top of a van is less than 6'. Also I don't know where you would locate the lifting struts. I'm having a hard time visualising this one. Are you thinking of mounting the whole trailer minus the axle on top of the van ?

Start a thread when you get started on your project.
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Go for it!! Just removeing the top and replacing it on another van can be done with pretty simple hand tools and you always have the old one to use as a pattern. Plus all the great people on this forum to ask questions to and get free advice.
Nasa13, uhauler beat me to it but you will have a hard time finding a trailer that is as narrow as the Van roof if you do find one it could be grafted onto a van roof with minimal brain freeze ups. If you are thinking of trying to do it with a normal width trailer the amount of work it would take would be way more than doing it from scratch.
Stevenmd you are thinking just like me if I had kids I would of built mine with a slide out out of the front of the van as well and then could sleep four up top and still be able to walk from the front to the rear the van standing up straight.
For those that do not know I have started a company Colorado Camper Van LLC. We build pop tops for vans and Top Bunks which is a portable pop top that can be mounted on any vehicle with yakima racks. Much like a magolina only made in the usa with better pricing. Check us out at www.coloradocampervan.com
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New member
Raising the roof

I am presently building a 55 1st generation chevrolet panel truck on a 1984 3/4 suburban chasis and have been thinking of raising the roof .The curvi:snorkelture of the roof line is causing some grief becuase I want to keep the vintage look and the rack design will have to be a pipe benders dream but like all the others before me and all that follow something worth doing is worth doing right:snorkel: