Introduction: Roof Top Car Camper

Picture of Roof Top Car Camper

A fold able camper that attaches like a roof rack.

Step 1: Parts

Picture of Parts

I made this project a long time ago (before digital cameras) therefore I do not have any step by step pictures. I will try to make up for it with my descriptions.
What you will need:
The really hard parts to find:
2 fiberglass roof top shells from a Volkswagen Westfalia (Caravan for the UKrs) (They used to be fairly easy to find at the wreck yards I got mine for $30 a piece)
2 pop up spring bars from a VW Westfalia (They are the 2 pieces that hold up the roof top and then fold in half to close it)
2 slide hinges from a VW Westfalia (They are the crossbars that slide the roof top open in the front)
1 Canvas set form a VW Westfalia (The fabric that goes around the roof when it's open)
Other easier to find parts:
1/4" plywood for the oval back
extra canvas for the entrance
long zippers for the entrance
latch lock to lock the back when closed
piece of sheet aluminum for the front
4 pieces of metal bars to re-enforce the bottom fiberglass shell
1 pair sturdy roof rack
4 u-bolts to tie the whole thing down to the roof rack
closed cell foam padding for sleep surface
glues, canvas needle and thread, nuts and bolts

Step 2: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

- 1 of the fiberglass tops has to be lowered on all sides by about 4" (This is so that the 2 roof tops will close into each other neatly) (I used a skill saw to cut off the sides)
- attach the 2 front hinges to the existing holes that are already there
- attach the 2 back folding uprights to the original holes at the top, on the bottom you will have to attach them at 90degrees and drill new holes (now you have your basic shell structure)
- close the shell and flip it upside down
- attach the reinforcing bars running lengthwise (this is to add rigidity to the bottom shell)
- align the roof rack to how you want it to sit (I spaced it evenly to distribute the weight)
- drill holes through the reinforcing bars and the bottom shell for the 4 u-bolts (it is critical that the u-bolts go through the fiberglass bottom shell, the reinforcing bars and joint the roof rack, this gives a lot of strength to the whole works)
- flip the works right side up, make a paper outline of the back hole while the 2 shells are closed, transfer it to the 1/4" plywood
- cut the back plywood and attach it to the top shell with 3 bolts
- open up the camper, attach the canvas with staples, put in the back zippers and door canvas
- up front attach a piece of aluminum sheeting to cover the front
- attach the lock to the plywood and bottom shell for security
- measure, cut, and glue down foam pieces to the bottom shell
- put on car, throw in some sleeping bags and pillows and you're ready for the mountains

Step 3: Final Notes

Picture of Final Notes

The reasons I made this camper:
- I was tired of setting up my tent at night while it's raining taking anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour, and sleeping on hard rocky ground
- The camper sets up in 30 seconds, is mostly waterproof
- oh yeah, and the bears have a much harder time getting in
- I'm not ready for a motor home/big camper trailer
- storage is easy, 2 pulleys attached to my garage ceiling joists and 2 people taking the unit off in 5 minutes, it hangs there when not in use

After additions:
- added a small ladder for easy of getting in and out
- added ceiling padding for warmth and cut down on the condensation
- a small LED light powered by car battery
- 2 vent holes at top to cut down on the condensation
- car bra on front of camper to hide the ugly aluminum sheet

I know this instructable lacks good "while making" pictures and that it isn't as detailed as I would like it to be. If you are seriously considering making this project I can guide you with further details. Before I decided to do this I was considering buying a roof top tent made in Italy for $5000 U.S., but because the sale representative was an arse I decide to make my own for about $300 Cdn.. This style of camper is used in expeditions that go into hostile environments and are on off road vehicles.
And yes it's quite comfortable to sleep in for 2 people as the hot woman I live with (wife) can attest to.


Builder165 (author)2016-05-02

What was your favorite part on building it?

dave367 (author)2016-04-21

tensegrity: Good point. Perhaps use the brackets from TWO roofracks, spreading the load over all 4 (8 contact points with the car's roof)? Whichever, it's a good idea to design for 100% safety overbuild. 2 campers and gear will go 350 lbs, plus another 100 +/- for the shells and rack, and your design load is just under half a ton. Still, great concept and sourcing; I love it!

windshadow (author)2016-04-21

Awesome job.

tensegrity (author)2016-04-21

I'd be EXTREMELY wary of the type of roof rack that will be used. The older vehicles like those pictured with rain gutter mounts will be best. They are super strong. But with newer aerodynamic vehicles where the rack has feet that rest on the edge of the car's roof--the roof may not be strong enough to support people. OEM racks (like the ones with bars that slide back and forth) are very unlikely to be strong enough. Source: I was a design engineer for a roofrack company.

bpfh (author)2014-11-09

If you cannot find the fibreglass roof panels, you could probably adapt the idea using an empty plastic roof box...

MattTheMaker made it! (author)2014-10-01

I made one and entered it in the remix competition. I've wanted to do this for years and seeing that someone else had built one inspired me to make it!

woodstockbirdy (author)2012-11-04

The power of Volvo.

jdlee77 (author)2011-05-30

Here is the photo...

steveare (author)jdlee772011-08-14

and so the reason we haven't seen an instructable on this beauty is ..... ??

jdlee77 (author)steveare2011-10-03

Hey Steve I have not had time to make a full iAble but here is a link to the site I made.

jdlee77 (author)2011-05-30

Great iable! I wanted to build something like this for a very long time... but lack of time and materials,I have come up with a system that is compare-able to this. I had my tent mounted on my car for the longest time but found that it can be a pain to go and do things while the camp is set up. So I mounted the tent to my 4x6 trailer. Here it is set up. Look for the iable soon.

kilroy1958 (author)jdlee772011-08-14

Hey jdlee....
still waiting for your indestructible.... ;)
Would really like to know how your tent folds up.

Thanks, later...

jdlee77 (author)kilroy19582011-10-03

Here's the link I promised

jdlee77 (author)kilroy19582011-09-28

Hey Kilroy, The tent was a purchase. It has a offset hinge so it can be folded up with the mattress still in the tent.

kilroy1958 (author)jdlee772011-09-29


jdlee77 (author)2011-10-03

Ok guys, here is the site I made for the camper that I made. We named it MicroCamper. Check it out I posted all of the build pics that I have. Let me know what you think.

courtney (author)2011-08-25

cool scirocco, I had the a similar one 79' and I loved it so much that when i finally wore it out, I bought another one

frisbeechamp1983 (author)2011-07-20

RaptorPhoenix (author)2011-06-15

Very cool, will have to remember this when I have more time/materials!

trebuchet03 (author)2007-01-07

That's totally cool! I wish I had a roof rack now :P But I'm not so sure my roof could take the load (I think the rated max is 180lbs).

Modeo (author)trebuchet032007-01-07

I had on a small Volkswagen (as you can see in the picture) with no problems. It actually depends on what kind of a roof rack you put on.

Warlrosity (author)Modeo2009-08-29

Uh, its a volvo...

123tim (author)Warlrosity2011-01-24

Actually, a VW (2nd red car in photographs.)

greenapple (author)Modeo2007-12-27

Hi all from Turkey, I have some pictures Car roof top tents.They are wonderful for camping and traveling.Four family member can stay and sleep in the car top tent.

greenapple (author)greenapple2010-08-16

My new web is

Derin (author)greenapple2008-07-01

nice plus,which part of Turkey is that?it seems like Antalya but who knows

greenapple (author)Derin2008-09-21

The pictures was taken in Turkey Aegean Sea coasts.The Roof top tent has automaticly open system.The Eminent Roof Top Tents are best model in the world.I thinkig R.T.T are alternative caravans or motorhomes.They are practical equipment for traveling and outdoor.

Derin (author)greenapple2008-09-22

oohhhh.i see.

greenapple (author)Derin2008-12-24

Hi everyone, I have some pictures about winter camping in Ankara Mountain with four seasons Eminent Car Roof Top tents. İt has central heating system under bed.

greenapple (author)greenapple2008-12-25

Hi, I think that to every where are are good in the world. And eweryone are good. The Turkey is beatiful country, every year fifteen millios tourist comes our country.

Derin (author)greenapple2008-12-24

Nice,but my dad says that mountain is bad,but good for you if you enjoyed it.

greenapple (author)Derin2008-12-24

Winter camping photos...

Derin (author)Derin2008-10-15

good instructable,4.5/5

Derin (author)Derin2008-10-15

where did that van picture find its way into the comment?

Derin (author)greenapple2008-12-24

I love that greens behind your car!Gotta keep some beauty in our country. :-)

Alex_W (author)greenapple2008-11-03

Wow, you have a G - Wagen! A rare car indeed. We have a G-250 Long wheel base and it is great for camping, although a bit slow. Which model is that?

greenapple (author)Alex_W2008-11-19

Hi, My G Wagen is 300 gd 1987 model and short base.İndeed great for camping with Roof top tent.The car sppeed limit is 130 km/h.İt's best 4x4 car in the world.

jottoh12 (author)2009-01-08

QUESTION...fodd for thought? Is this not a site for DIY ideas? Kudos to all those who have built or are building a car top tent or sleeper but whats with the craigslist type action and the shameless plugging of products from a distributor? Am I missing something? Just wondering....Sorry bout' the negativity.

compact (author)2009-01-06

Camping the Compact Way

Here is one of my roof top tents, the floor is a trampoline material which makes it very lighweight.

Derin (author)2008-10-15

we use the family transporter as a camper by putting the air mattress in,inflating it,and stacking the luggage around the mattress. Image snatched off vw website,however the van has a lower ceiling,the top is at the top seam

ktdiddd (author)2008-06-26

In 76 I was camping with my four kids in France in a VW camper with a slider door and button up tent and we met this young German family. They were in a Vw Beetle! They had bought a kit that was basically a fold out box with a pop up tent. The device had four screw together iron pipes with wide flanges on the bottom on the four corners and a few brace wires with turnbuckles for support and stability. They slept on top of their beetle and their daughter on the back seat. In addition to the sleep box on top they had a small two wheel trailer in back with extra gear! Can you imagine going through the Alps in that? It was pretty hairy at times for the five of us in a van.

Modeo (author)2007-08-07

It's for sale if anyone is interested.

mmartz (author)Modeo2008-06-04

do you still have this roof top tent for sale?

Dinerro94 (author)Modeo2007-12-16

how much?

siki (author)Modeo2007-11-06

So, did you sell it?? If not please let me know. I am charmed by the idea but am leaving for Mexico in a couple of weeks (for 3 months camping ) and wouldn't have time to get it together to make one. I suppose the drag might affect gas mileage but no more than all the junk on the roof which is my only solution to storage. I was wanting to see about getting a pop up sleeping roof installed in my van in Mexico but so far inquiries on various forums are bringing up nothing but silence or guffaws. Anyway, well done, love the idea.

savethehumans45 (author)Modeo2007-11-04

I'm somewhat interested if you've still got it. How much and where is it located? I may just attempt to build one on my own, however i imagine the price on the fiberglass shells and tents has skyrocketed.

deth2all (author)2008-04-30

i bought a vanagon 3 days ago, and i fooking LOVE it, its a house on wheels

rumblefish (author)2008-02-24

I use my roof tent all the time. Lifting the tent to the top of the car requires two people. I use a pulley system attached to my garage ceiling to load and store my tent, so I can install myself. Sleeps two people on my saturn ION w/o problem. Gas MPG drops about 2mpg from 31 to 29 on hiway at reasonable speeds. In the US best price I've found for a roof tent is at

Dinerro94 (author)2007-12-16

how much for this car? with the roof top?

wEiRd LOAD (author)2007-01-25

I will not be able to sleep at night knowing someone is hacking old V Bubs how about just fix up one of the buses ?

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