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Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/21 6:15 p.m.

I need to build a raised roof for my van. I'm pretty much sold on building out of 80/20(or similar) aluminum extrusion, but have 2 specific things I'd like some input on. 
 

  1. There's not a single straight line on the van, as seen in the 2 pics below. My plan is to make a rectangular frame that will bolt to the existing vertical ribs inside the van, be at least as wide as the OE drip rails at their weirdest point, and long enough to just overhang the top of the windshield. I'll then use sheetmetal(not sure if aluminum, steel, or a combination of, cut to shape to fill the gaps between the bottom of the new addition & remaining parts of the van's roof/sides. Does that seem like a solid plan?
  2. I'm contemplating flush-mounting solar panels(I'd really like to keep the overall height at 8'6" when done). I'm not really sure how to do that & prevent leaks in the future though?

In the first pic you can see how much the drip rails slope downward toward the front of the van.

 

It's not as obvious in this pic, but the whole roof bulges outward toward the center, then tapers back intward towards the front.  

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
3/28/21 6:25 p.m.

Whoop whoop!

mdshaw
mdshaw GRM+ Memberand Reader
3/28/21 6:27 p.m.

My daughter wants to build a camper van so following along on the adventure down the raise the roof trail.

californiamilleghia
californiamilleghia SuperDork
3/28/21 6:46 p.m.

what kind of van is it ?

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/21 6:52 p.m.

In reply to californiamilleghia :

It's an extended 2006 Ford E250.

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/21 6:58 p.m.

A couple other reference points:

  • I looked into fiberglass roofs, but fiberglass doesn't weather well down here in the heat/sun. It won't fit in the garage after I raise the roof, and there's no room to put an RV/boat awning on our property. It'll continue to be my primary vehicle, so off-site storage isn't an option either. Also, getting a new fiberglass roof starts around $5k.
  • I definitely don't want to make it out of wood either for a variety of reasons.
  • We've contemplated motorhomes, but their prices are still through the roof, especially for anything smaller in the class-B range. Plus I really want to be able to still cruise at 80-85mph. 
dean1484
dean1484 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/21 7:04 p.m.

Can you find a crashed one you can pull the roof from. One of those conversion vans I see used as small busses/limousines. 

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/21 7:19 p.m.

In reply to dean1484 :

I looked into that, but there's a couple reasons I decided to build my own:

  • Fiberglass doesn't weather well outdoors here. I checked out another 2006 with a tall roof & I could put my hands all the way through both front corners - the fiberglass was just gone. 
     
  • I saw a vid of some people with a van that had a ~8" aftermarket fiberglass roof that they were trying to remove & raise up. The common attachment process involves a bead of polyurethane adhesive all the way around the perimeter, with screws every 6"-8" to hold it in place. They tried to pry off their roof, but couldn't break the adhesive bond at all.
newrider3
newrider3 Reader
3/28/21 7:35 p.m.

Would a far cheaper cost of entry convince you to go fiberglass? Not local to you sure but might be worth the trip.

 

Trying to find the direct link to the post but apparently there is no "share link" function on FB Marketplace mobile version.

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/21 8:42 p.m.

In reply to newrider3 :

Thanks, I found the ad!

I'm not sure any of those would fit without significant modification, but I'll compare their measurements to mine & see. 

Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/21 9:52 p.m.

I hate to say this in fear of having to turn in my GRM ID card... existing roof cap from a wrecked van?

What I would do is lay some lauan against the side of the drip rail.  Trace the drip rail onto the the lauan and cut so you make a pattern of the curvature of the drip rail.  Then build your frame.  Then set the lauan in the drip rail against the frame and trace the top of the frame.  Now you have a pattern to perfectly fit the frame and drip rail.  From there you can lay that pattern on anything you want and have a perfect match.

Repeat for front and rear roof curvatures.

03Panther
03Panther SuperDork
3/28/21 10:46 p.m.

In reply to Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) :

I only looked at prices of new conversion roofs one time, after hearing about what a good price one place had, and how happy folks were with their install work. Most folks seem to have a different thought of what s good deal is than me... sticker shock about put me down! I think the cheapest minivan short wheelbase started at over 1700, no install; and went up rapidly from there. And that place had been linked in reply to guy thinking about building his own. Folks asking him why he would build one when that place was so cheap. 

400, nos, would be a steal even if kinda close to fitting. Your gonna make it taller anyway. ‘Glass will make ‘er fit!

Ethnic Food-Wrap Aficionado
Ethnic Food-Wrap Aficionado Dork
3/28/21 11:18 p.m.

Man, I'm a sucker for a good project, but that sure seems like the long way around to me.  I paid $1750 for my raised roof, high door, standard length econoline.  You would have to pay me far, far more than that to build a roof from scratch.  Is there no way to make fiberglass top weather your particular environment?   My top is pushing 25 years old and the gel coat is still shiny, but things are much more mild here in the northwest.

dean1484
dean1484 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/29/21 12:04 a.m.

How about cutting the top off another standard van of the same YMM at the added height you want. Set on top of your van and weld in place. Then weld in the panels where the windows would have been. In a perfect world you would pull the drones roof from a non window van. Then cut out your old roof. 

dean1484
dean1484 GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/29/21 12:06 a.m.

You could get a roof from a shorter van and user the windshield opening to make a front facing window on the roof just behind the driver area. 

MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
3/29/21 6:58 a.m.

How much raising do you need?

Only 3/4 joking suggestion: Find a wrecked crossover SUV, cut just below window line, weld to the top of the van.

DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) UltimaDork
3/29/21 7:06 a.m.
Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
3/29/21 7:11 a.m.

Re: Fiberglass. It should last as long as metal as long as you protect it with paint or gel coat. I'm assuming everything you've looked at has had its protective coating fail, or has holes drilled into it and water intrusion.

I'll add my vote to the "get a fiberglass roof" crowd. Even if you have to do some fiberglass repair it'll be way easier.

If I was grabbing one from a parts van, I would sawsall the sheet metal an inch below the drip rail all the way around. Then take it home, flip it over, and cut/scrap/grind back to a good mating surface. Do your fiberglass repair and/or modification once it's mocked up to your van.

Oh, and if you do recess the solar panels, you'll need a drain system just like a sunroof. It probably makes more sense to pay a little extra and get the super thin panels, then surface mount them. 

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/29/21 9:32 a.m.

Thanks for the replies & ideas everyone! Here's a few thoughts/replies in no particular order.

The one van in the junkyard I checked out had about a 24" roof & was handicap accessible. Because of that, the way they built the top required cutting off the factory roof all the way down to the top of the doors/windshield glass, and welding on an entire new structure all the way around. There's NFW I'm going to try & cut that off, then reattach it to my van. 
 

Most raised roof vans that I've found are either standard wheelbase, or only have about 6"-8" of additional height, which just isn't enough.
 

Regarding buying another extended van that already has a tall roof - this van is just so damn good! Between its history in service with GRM & all the work Tom did to it, I'd end up having to swap so much stuff from this van into another van that it's just not worth it. Plus trying to find one that's been so well maintained(even with 1/2 the mileage)! That was actually my first plan, but it's a step back from where I'm already starting from. 
 

We also looked into buying a small shuttle bus too. Honestly, that's probably closer to our ideal size. Unfortunately here in MS I can't insure one(because they're considered a commercial vehicle & we no longer have a business), until after the RV conversion was complete & we got it inspected & re-titled by the state. It also wouldn't be able to fill the role as my primary vehicle as well. Nor do we really have a place to park it. And honestly, at the end of the conversion process I want to NOT end up with something that looks like we're living down by the river in it... With this van, especially by the time it's complete, it'll fit in with the expedition vehicles(even if I don't ever get around to a 4x4 conversion).

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/29/21 9:34 a.m.

In reply to Tom Suddard :

Good point on the flexible solar panels. Even with their extra cost it'll still probably be cheaper than trying to engineer a drain system for recessing regular panels.

SkinnyG (Forum Supporter)
SkinnyG (Forum Supporter) UberDork
3/29/21 9:47 a.m.

Cheap aluminum boat pop-riveted upside-down on the roof?

I'd go fiberglass, myself. SO much less work.

Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/29/21 10:07 a.m.
Tom Suddard said:

Re: Fiberglass. It should last as long as metal as long as you protect it with paint or gel coat. I'm assuming everything you've looked at has had its protective coating fail, or has holes drilled into it and water intrusion.

I'll add my vote to the "get a fiberglass roof" crowd. Even if you have to do some fiberglass repair it'll be way easier.

I had this thought as well.  Fiberglass can't rot.  If it is built on a sandwich of wood, then moisture can compromise the wood, but the fiberglass can't rot.  fiberglass' biggest enemy is UV which can cause the epoxy resin to get chalky and eventually get hairline cracks.  The secret there is to paint it with a good urethane or 2-stage enamel which is far more resistant to UV damage.

But billions of fiberglass boats out there spend their lives 24/7/365 completely exposed to the harshest possible UV conditions, and they are chosen specifically for their resistance to UV.  I would wager that the ones you've seen have had some kind of core rot or other poorly designed aspect, not that the fiberglass rotted.

Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/29/21 10:14 a.m.
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) said:

Thanks for the replies & ideas everyone! Here's a few thoughts/replies in no particular order.

The one van in the junkyard I checked out had about a 24" roof & was handicap accessible. Because of that, the way they built the top required cutting off the factory roof all the way down to the top of the doors/windshield glass, and welding on an entire new structure all the way around. There's NFW I'm going to try & cut that off, then reattach it to my van. 
 

Most raised roof vans that I've found are either standard wheelbase, or only have about 6"-8" of additional height, which just isn't enough.
 

Regarding buying another extended van that already has a tall roof - this van is just so damn good! Between its history in service with GRM & all the work Tom did to it, I'd end up having to swap so much stuff from this van into another van that it's just not worth it. Plus trying to find one that's been so well maintained(even with 1/2 the mileage)! That was actually my first plan, but it's a step back from where I'm already starting from. 
 

We also looked into buying a small shuttle bus too. Honestly, that's probably closer to our ideal size. Unfortunately here in MS I can't insure one(because they're considered a commercial vehicle & we no longer have a business), until after the RV conversion was complete & we got it inspected & re-titled by the state. It also wouldn't be able to fill the role as my primary vehicle as well. Nor do we really have a place to park it. And honestly, at the end of the conversion process I want to NOT end up with something that looks like we're living down by the river in it... With this van, especially by the time it's complete, it'll fit in with the expedition vehicles(even if I don't ever get around to a 4x4 conversion).

They may not be as common as short wheelbase vans, but there were a brillion LWB school shuttles with raised roofs out there.  Many states also have rules on how long a student transport may be kept in service, so there is a flood of 10-year-old yellow vans in some states that get liquidated all the time.  Plenty of them have also reached their service life and get junked.

Airport shuttles, church vans, school transport.... They're out there, but maybe just a bit harder to find.

And I know how you feel about keeping a van you have.  The van I bought has already been shopped by a couple guys.  I paid $7000, and even knowing that, my clock repair guy offered me $10k plus his older van PLUS an 06 Suburban in trade.  I didn't bite.  I have the van I want, period.

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/29/21 3:28 p.m.

In reply to Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) :

Down here there are tiny little churches everywhere and they all have a 12-passenger extended van of some type. That actually seems to drive the price up on them.

I was actually looking for a passenger van before buying this one from Tom, but now that I have a cargo van I definitely do not want to do an RV conversion on a passenger van - we hate windows. Plus it's more difficult to insulate.

SVreX (Forum Supporter)
SVreX (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
3/29/21 5:08 p.m.

Do it right for crying out loud!

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