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John and Mandi

us --> van --> overland
1,722 days a wanderin'

HD Off

Put Some Pep in Your Penthouse

Sep 23, 2014
by John and Mandi

Once we decided that we were taking the van to Ujoint Offroad for some doctoring, we reevaluated our timline for completing certain tasks. We always knew we wanted some sort of exterior covering, Linex or Raptor liner, but after talking to Chris we choose a different direction, Plasti-Dip. We did a little research about "dipping" an entire car and were impressed with what we found, when it is professionally applied. If need be, it can be peeled off and we'll be back to the mostly silver exterior. With that decision made it was apparent we had to get our butts in gear and either leave the Penthouse the way it was or tackle the seemingly sizable job of re-doing the bolts before they are sprayed over. (Penthouse is the fancy name for the Sportsmobile pop-top if you were wondering.)

Penthouse roof with its ridges and grooves

Penthouse roof with its ridges and grooves

Following our newly cemented home-build pattern, we chose to redo them. Honestly the bolts looked fine and we could not see any signs of leaks, but this is always when the color palette rears it's head and we take on another project. We weren't ever fond of the fabric on the ceiling bumpers, one of them was already ripped and sure to get rattier with continued use, so we had the perfect excuse... er justification... to replace all of the Penthouse hardware. Also, after reading about some of the trouble other Sportsmobile owners have had with roof leaks, we feel it was a wise and precautionary course of action, so take that Bembridge scholars!

Before we reupholstered the Penthouse bumpers

Before we reupholstered the Penthouse bumpers

First order of business? Purchase materials, of course! There are 18 sets of various size nuts, washers, and bolts in our Penthouse top. We started by making a list of the number and size of washers and nuts we would need, which seemed obvious. We then attempted to estimate the bolt length for each varied position, this is where it started to get interesting. We wanted to use the largest size washer possible on the Penthouse top to put the least amount of strain on the fiberglass and to best distribute the load. Interestingly, our year of SMB top has ridges which forced us to use smaller washers inside the coresponding troughs so they would seat properly.

This ridged roof design also alters the bolt length requirements, some go through the upper ridge and some through the trough about 1/4" lower. On the interior, some of the bolts terminate in the ceiling bumpers while others end in other hardware configurations to support the latching of the roof, etc. We did our best with the list, visited 4 different hardware stores (ultimately having to mail-order the large washers we needed) and bought extras of everything just in case we had miscalculated. We also had to mail-order a roll of butyl tape which was used to create the seal between the layers of newly sandwiched washers and the roof top.

The necessary hardware

The necessary hardware

After all the orders arrived, we set about systematically removing and replacing the hardware one set at a time, beginning with the front of the van. In general, this is a job that we feel doesn't require too much expertise, although we did have a few issues along the way. Despite our best efforts, even with extras of everything we thought we would need, we still didn't have enough of the appropriate hardware which resulted in 2 additional trips to the hardware store(s) during the replacement process. There was just a greater variance in bolt sizes than we anticipated, or was humanly calculable.

As we replaced each set of nuts, washers, and bolts, we sandwiched the butyl tape in between the layers on the exterior of the roof to prevent any future leaks. We would rather not have to perform any roof hardware replacement while abroad so we made sure to take our time and inspect each bolt after it was installed. Think about what a pain it would be after the hardware has been sprayed over to have to fix it! Our confidence swelled as we made it to the front bumper. Within minutes it was reinstalled after being reupholstered with our green marine vinyl and new layer of 1/2" batting to protect any pretty little heads that may will come in contact with it.

It was mostly smooth sailing until we reached the rear bumper as it doesn't drop straight off once unbolted like the front one. There is a piece of wood between the roof and the support pole so you have to slide the bumper to the rear until the support pole pops out. This took a bit of rat maze logic to sort through. Honestly, any other animal on the planet could have solved it faster. We stared at it a bit, wishing a Dolphin would come along to offer insight, before we took our time to actually look at it. Ahhhhh, it "slides", how futuristic man.

Newly reupholstered Penthouse bumpers

Newly reupholstered Penthouse bumpers

For those that may be attempting this, we ultimately ended up using bolts from 1-1/2" to 3-1/2" with some of each 1/2" increment in between. Also, counting the interior and exterior washers, we had sizes ranging from 1/2" to 3", all to fit 1/4" bolts. The two ceiling bumpers don't use the same length bolt because they are constructed differently to allow for a support bar to slide back and forth inside the rear bumper when raising and lowering the top. This requires the bumpers be different thicknesses, something we hadn't noticed when initially estimating the needed hardware.

Penthouse after all bolts have been replaced

Penthouse after all bolts have been replaced

Expertise required: minimal. Materials used: butyl (in a 6" wide roll so we could cut circles that matched the size of the washers we used), 18 1/4" bolts with lengths between 1-1/2" and 3-1/2", 18 nuts to fit 1/4" bolts, and 57 (yes, 57; I know this doesn't seem right, but that's what I have written down and I rehashed it in my head) washers to fit 1/4" bolts of various sizes from 1/2" to 3". Time and effort: 3 separate trips to hardware stores + mail-order for materials not available in our town and one weekend day + 2 weeknight evenings.

A big shout out goes to the Sportsmobile forum, specifically Jage for the great write-up including detailed steps and photos. We've been using the forum as a bible for almost everything we have done so far. There are a bunch of very helpful folks over there so if you're in the process of building out a van, do yourself a favor and join.  We also added a thread to the forum outlining the steps we followed.


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