When considering adding roof racks to your pop-top Bus, Vanagon, or Eurovan, there is much to consider. Is it better to use side brackets, or is it better to install a track system on top? And, where should the load be located? The things to consider are:
1. Where best to load the top and why
2. Pop-top construction
4. Vehicle height issues when the roof racks are not in use
Hopefully, the following analysis will help you make a wise and informed decision!
Many people out there make the mistake of loading the roof too far forward. The idea of striving for a centrally-located rooftop load seems logical, but it doesn't work so well in practice. In most cases, the mass of a rooftop load is not going to be very significant when compared to the total mass of the vehicle itself.
It makes more sense to orient the rooftop load as far back as possible for two reasons:
1. The strongest connection between the pop-top and the metal roof of the vehicle is at the hinges in the rear, and
2. The further back the load is located, the easier the top is to lift.
At GoWesty, we install roof racks on pop-top VWs in one of two ways:
1. Using Yakima heavy-duty 4-bolt brackets along the vertical sides of the pop-top, or
2. Using Yakima aluminum tracks on the top surface of the pop-top.
On Buses, Vanagons, and Eurovan MV Weekenders, the side brackets make more sense functionally. In general, drilling any holes in the roof can create a leak and should be avoided if possible. It is noteworthy that the factory was careful to design the pop-top on Buses and Vanagons devoid of any holes through to the interior. The hinges, for example, bolt onto the sides. It was not until around 1983 that they gathered up the courage to install skylights in Vanagons as standard equipment. The Bus, for example, never got one.
The pop-top on all Buses, Vanagons, and Eurovan MV Weekenders is a single-layer design, and any hole drilled on the top surface ends up going through to the inside, except for around the outer-most perimeter—which is not useful. The holes drilled through the vertical sides are outside of the tent, same as the rear hinge bolts on the Vanagon, so there is no risk of creating any leak into the vehicle. When we install the side brackets, we put on three per side evenly spaced, like this:
With this set up, you can load something short and/or heavy toward the rear, or put the bars far apart and load something long, like a kayak. You can even install three bars if needed.
The Eurovan Winnebago camper (EVC) is a different story altogether. The EVC has a multi-layered pop-top on the horizontal top and vertical side surfaces. So, it is impractical to install the side brackets. Instead, we install long aluminum tracks, like these:
Special rubber expansion bolts are used to attach the tracks to the outer layer of plastic. This option is more versatile in that the towers and bars can be moved up and down the tracks, and the load can be positioned wherever is most practical. The downside is top-side installation, which is less practical on Buses, Vanagons, and MVs (for the aforementioned reasons).
The track system is basically invisible when the racks are off, so they are a net zero impact with respect to aesthetics. This is an added advantage to the track system over the side brackets. So, with regard to aesthetics, the track system is better, hands down. On the EVC in particular, there are recessed areas on the top surface into which the tracks are placed, so they are doubly invisible. Some folks opt for the track system on the MV Weekender not only because they are more versatile, but also because of aesthetics. Considering that the leak issue is probably not significant, the versatility may, in fact, outweigh the risk of a leak. Indeed, there are already six holes through the top, three for each of the rear hinges, and the factory was able to get them not to leak. The few times we have installed the roof tracks on MVs, we utilized these six existing holes to attach the tracks in the rear and added two more toward the front. So, it is not like it is impossible to add roof racks to a single layer pop-top—you just have to be careful.
Side brackets add zero height when the roof racks are off—that much is obvious. Even the track system itself adds very little height. In fact, in the case of the EVC, the tracks are installed within the long recessed areas of the pop-top, adding zero height. But unlike the EVC, adding top tracks on an MV Weekender does increase the overall height of the vehicle somewhat since the top surface of these pop-tops is totally flat. The same is true with the Bus and Vanagon: installing the track system will increase the overall height of vehicle, albeit very little. In the case of the MV, which is not that tall of a vehicle, it is not a big deal. In the case of a Bus or Vanagon, even a little more height can be just too much, especially with respect to the Syncro Vanagon, which is already very tall.