Roof Top Car Camper




About: I love design, tinkering and making.

A fold able camper that attaches like a roof rack.

Step 1: 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

- 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

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.



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57 Discussions


3 years ago

What was your favorite part on building it?


3 years ago

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!


3 years ago

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.


4 years ago on Step 2

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


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

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


8 years ago on Introduction

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.

4 replies

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

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

Thanks, later...


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

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.


7 years ago on Introduction

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.


7 years ago on Introduction

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


12 years ago

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).

1 reply
Idea Studio 22trebuchet03

Reply 12 years ago

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.