2003 Suburban 1500 Pop Top Conversion

boll_rig

Adventurer
I have been thinking for a while now about making a pop-top roof for my suburban so I can have an upper sleeping area above the vehicle and space for storage below. I finally got started on it so I figured I'd post the progress.

Although I'm partial to the square body Suburbans I have a 2003 and have been running it for about 9 years. It's got 132,000 miles on it but the odo/spedo computer broke for about 3 years until I fixed it so I'm guessing it has 150k. I had the tranny replaced about 3 years ago and other than some light frame rust and a few cosmetic mistakes she's running like a champ.

I'm in the planning phase now and have made some initial cuts for the sidewall. The plan is to build the top out of wood and fiberglass. It will run the length and width of the truck's roof and sit about 8 inches higher. I'm going to attach motorized lifts to the roof that will raise the top up 3 feet evenly. Once I see it working I'll cut out a section of the existing roof in the back so that I will have a way to access the roof canopy. I'm going to have Derek's company (Colorado Camper Van) sew some canvas which will probably be the biggest cost of the project, however 6 windows and a proper fit will be worth it.

For now heres some old photos:


Canyonlands:
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Rt 40 colorado
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Rollinsville, CO
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Southern UTAH
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02TahoeMD

Explorer
Think the pop top conversion is one of the cooler projects I have seen done here on Expo. Welcome aboard and I look forward to see how yours turns out. :lurk:Good luck.
 

82fb

Adventurer
Cool project. My only thoughts are that I would probably sell your existing burb and buy one that has led a more reserved life! Sounds like you may be starting with a beat, rusty burb. I might also consider a 2500 due to the stronger, presumably stiffer frame which would help reduce body twist after you cut the roof out.
 

boll_rig

Adventurer
Thanks 02TahoeMD!

Cool project. My only thoughts are that I would probably sell your existing burb and buy one that has led a more reserved life! Sounds like you may be starting with a beat, rusty burb. I might also consider a 2500 due to the stronger, presumably stiffer frame which would help reduce body twist after you cut the roof out.
82fb I fully agree with you about wanting a 2500 and a burb that might last a little longer! Its been my biggest reservation. Anyone else agree with this?
As of right now I just dont think I can commit to getting rid of thing though, I feel as though I have to ride this one out and see how long she lasts. Lotta history together. And to be honest I dont think I could get that much from selling it with all the cosmetic damage -lost the sideview mirror and bent the front passanger door panel in last week in an unfortunate accident. Ordered a new one and will try and pop out the dent..
My thoughts are that this will be an experiment of sorts and if for some reason she dies on me, then I can certainly get another suburban and transfer the pop top over fairly easily. Thoughts?
 

boll_rig

Adventurer
I wanted to post a few photos of the work I did yesterday on the on the frame. I decided to use 2 10' sections of 1x6 for the sidewalls as I could cut out what i needed from one plank. I wanted to curve them slightly so it wouldn't look extremely boxy above the curved existing roof.

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For the ribs I used 1x4 pine. I really wanted a way to bow them up to be convex but didn't want to take the time to soak and bend them. Anyone have a good idea of a way to do it now? My only thought would be small shims in the middle of each which the 1/4" oak plywood would bend over.

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To prop up the bottom of the new roof to the height I wanted I used 2x4 shims which made the total height of the top to 7.5 inches. With the running racks on top of that the total height of the truck plus roof and running rack should be 6'10" which is ideal considering parking garage height of 7'. Would like to be able to put it inside when in cities (ie san fran).
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Next move is to cut some 1/4" ply to fill the gap down to the roof. To get the proper curve I just graphed out the height from the bottom of the sidewall to the roof. Then plotted those heights every two inches onto the new ply.
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You cant really see the scatter plot points but Im about to connect the dots and give it a cut.. Lets hope it fits.d
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82fb

Adventurer
I kinda skimmed your original post and thought you were paying someone to do the job. If you are doing it yourself, by all means use what you have! I was figuring on you paying someone $5-8k into a $3k burb.
 

fault_tolerance

New member
Hey, good looking rig. I'm in the same boat as you as far as using vehicles that we have. I have 98 K1500 and I'm slowly converting it. Did you remove your stock roof rack from you rig? I know you're trying to save a few bucks but I might invest in some Ebay/Craigslist Thule roof rack stuff. They have flat tops and you could probably pick up the equipment at a good price.
 

boll_rig

Adventurer
Thanks for the replies,

Hey, good looking rig. I'm in the same boat as you as far as using vehicles that we have. I have 98 K1500 and I'm slowly converting it. Did you remove your stock roof rack from you rig? I know you're trying to save a few bucks but I might invest in some Ebay/Craigslist Thule roof rack stuff. They have flat tops and you could probably pick up the equipment at a good price.
Fault_tolerance, I did remove the stock roof rack but only to take measurements and fit the top on properly. My plan is to reinstall them on the new roof with some new cross bars, and yes, potentially a nice thule. Glad were on the same boat in using what we have, ill be interested to see how your k1500 comes out!

So its been a week or so and I have been pretty busy with other projects but I finally made some progress the past couple nights. I finally settled on a height by propping up the roof with shims. As I said I really wanted to keep the total, with roof racks, just under 7'. Im about a half inch shy with this height, hoping with some weight in the back ill get another inch of clearance, if i do need to park in a parking garage..

SuburbanRoofPanels Build001.jpg

After many measurements I finally cut the bottom curves. I used my tablesaw at the lowest blade setting to get a controlled curve (and cause i lost my jigsaw) I just decided to tack them on then cut the top to match.
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Starting to take shape!

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Fully pieced together here

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I decided to go ahead and mark out my dip in the "spoiler" so that I could rest my rooftop brake light on the new roof.
SuburbanRoofPanels Build007.jpg

Sawsaw cutout.

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Next step is to actually get it covered with the 1/4" ply and head up to Derek's shop to take some measurements for the canvas. After that I can start fiberglassing.. Anyone got any tips, never really glassed anything this big.

My only other concern as of right now is that its torsionally a bit unstable. Hopefully covering and glassing with solve that problem. Thoughts and comments welcome.
 

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Dratwagon

Adventurer
When you start to fiberglass, do it on the vehicle so that it fits perfect otherwise it could tweak, once you get started and it feels like a shell remove and finish, remove and glass your joints.

Prep all your glass sheets and have a second person to mix the resin it will go much faster, get yourself some fiberglass rollers, a bunch of throwaway two inch brushes, latex gloves and acetone.

Bull nose any and all edges, it's really hard to get glass to bend without bubbles and bubbles are your enemy.

Good luck.
 

boll_rig

Adventurer
When you start to fiberglass, do it on the vehicle so that it fits perfect otherwise it could tweak, once you get started and it feels like a shell remove and finish, remove and glass your joints.

Prep all your glass sheets and have a second person to mix the resin it will go much faster, get yourself some fiberglass rollers, a bunch of throwaway two inch brushes, latex gloves and acetone.

Bull nose any and all edges, it's really hard to get glass to bend without bubbles and bubbles are your enemy.

Good luck.
Dratwagon, your wisdom is highly appreciated. Im not sure if I would have realized to do the first layers on the truck, great advice! And definitely planning on sanding all corners/sides to make it easier on myself... not to mention I'll like the look.

Packing for a little Moab trip this weekend so will be back next week for some more updates.

Jnich77, thanks for the comment!
 
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