Modular hard-shell topper/rack system?

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
#1
So here's an idea for an enterprising Overland company:
.
Driving around last night I saw a couple of Jeeps with the modular hard tops. You know the type:

MOPAR-3-Piece-Freedom-Top-Jeep-Wrangler-JK-2-Door_1.jpg

Anyway, that got me to thinking: I see a lot of people on ExPo who have crew-cab pickups putting rack-type systems on their vehicles to carry gear:
.
rack.jpg
.
and it made me wonder if some enterprising manufacturer couldn't come up with some way to combine the two?
.
Maybe a rack system that featured panels that could be snapped or bolted into place that would allow for a hard, lockable storage system while still retaining the usefulness of the rack.
.
Being a modular system, the user could configure as needed - top only, or full top, sides, front and back. Sides could be hinged to open and close (like win-doors on a topper) and could feature windows or a place to attach/hold equipment, locking toolboxes (like an aluminum utility topper) etc.
.
The best thing about it, IMO, is that if you wanted to use the pickup to carry, say, a dirt bike, the panels could be removed and stored in the garage, and the rack removed to allow full access to the bed without having to lift a 200+lb topper off the bed.
.
To me as a former (and likely future) pickup owner, the dilemma with regard to a topper is that while a topper is great 95% of the time, providing safe, secure locking storage, for that 5% of the time that I might want the open bed, it's a complete PITA to remove the topper and then find someplace to store it.
.
The standard answer to such a dilemma is a soft topper but IMO that's not a real choice because while a soft topper might provide a modest amount of "protection" in the suburbs, it's not really any kind of "security" when all it takes is a second with a box cutter to open it up.
.
I realize a modular rack/topper likely would not be cheap, but I'll bet someone could figure out how to do it.
.
So am I the only one here who would be interested in such a thing? I think the two biggest hurdles would be (a) ensuring that it stays waterproof and (b) making it at a reasonable enough cost that people could afford it.
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
#2
I think this picture might give an even better idea of what I'm thinking of.
.
rack2.jpg
.
Imagine if this rack had fiberglass panels that could be attached to the INSIDE of the cage so as to make a hard-sided storage area.
 

Comanche Scott

Expedition Leader
#3
I think your idea has a lot of merit! :beer:
It is similar to the plan I have. :)
But not for a commercial product.

I need to be able to pull a 5th wheel, as a base camp. Then use the truck to explore for a week or so at at time.
So I plan to build (or more likely have built for me) an aluminum topper that breaks down and stores on the back rack of the 5th wheel.
 
#6
That is soft sided, so no, it's not. I'm specifically thinking of a modular fiberglass (or some other plastic type product) hard sided system.
Its hard sided with aluminum panels actually :sombrero:. We have some options for fabric sides, but not for every vehicle.

The lower rack is a 60# steel frame. Its 100# with the aluminum paneling, lighter with fabric. The pop top portion weighs a bit under 140 pounds.

-g
 
#7
I did it with plywood some number of years ago. It wasn't waterproof and my skills/time were not up to the job of that upgrade. I think that's really the only complicated issue.
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
#8
Its hard sided with aluminum panels actually :sombrero:. We have some options for fabric sides, but not for every vehicle.

The lower rack is a 60# steel frame. Its 100# with the aluminum paneling, lighter with fabric. The pop top portion weighs a bit under 140 pounds.

-g
.
I guess I only saw the part with the fabric sides. Very interesting idea - I think that system is actually a little more complex than what I am imagining (the GoFast system seems to incorporate a pop-up type tent) but I will watch the progress of this and see how it finally comes out once it hits production.
.
As I said, I don't doubt that it's possible to do this. The difficult part would be making something that is both functional and not excessively expensive. I think that's going to be the tough nut to crack.
.
There are a lot of "solutions" out there to various problems, but often it seems the issue is that (1) an idea might generate a lot of "interest" but "interest" does not equal SALES and (2) people might be interested in a product until they find out the high cost, and once they do they realize that it's not worth the cost to them, and it's more to their benefit to "make do" without the product rather than to pay for the "solution."
.
I think a great example of this was the Wildernest. The Wildernest was a great idea, but I think that the cost was so high that the potential customers were willing to live without it rather than to pay the high cost.
 
#9
Why don't you build your own? You have to pay for quality. To get equal strength to weight a fiberglass setup will be heavier unless you use expensive composite panels.
 

Martinjmpr

Wiffleball Batter
#10
Why don't you build your own? You have to pay for quality.
.
I have neither the time nor the skills to do so, sadly. And in any case this is really more of a "what if?" type question - I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who would be interested in such a thing, if it could be built.
.
To get equal strength to weight a fiberglass setup will be heavier unless you use expensive composite panels.
.
The "strength" would be in the metal (steel or aluminum?) frame, not the fiberglass. The fiberglass panels would be for weather protection/security only.
.
See, this is a "better mousetrap" type situation. As I stated above, my dilemma as a former (and future) pickup truck owner is that while most of the time, I appreciate the security and dry/safe storage provided by a topper, there are times when it would be nice to be able to carry, say, a motorcycle or maybe a refrigerator, in the back of a truck.
.
Right now, if I'm in that situation, my only options are (a) a soft topper (which offers zero security and very little protection from the elements) , (b) a fiberglass topper that I would then remove (fiberglass toppers are crazy heavy, though, and there is no fiberglass topper that can be removed by one person and even two people is marginal, without some kind of specialized equipment.) A final option might be (c) an aluminum topper - aluminum toppers offer similar security to a fiberglass topper but are much lighter and can generally be removed by two adults. The problem is that most aluminum toppers are very boxy and square looking and don't have the same overall quality as fiberglass.
.
I suppose if forced to choose right now (I don't currently have a pickup truck so this is all hypothetical at this moment) I'd probably either go with a fiberglass topper and simply resign myself to knowing that if/when I need to remove the top, I'll have to ask a couple of friends to help me, or go with an aluminum topper that my wife could probably help me lift.
.
As I said above, I think the real issue here is that while such a system is theoretically "possible", it would likely be so expensive that most people (like me!) would simply suck it up and go with one of the cheaper alternatives.
 
Last edited:

southpier

Expedition Leader
#12
the panels might not be as much of a challenge as the gaskets & hardware. I think a cam latch with positive close would help compress & seal an automotive style (door) P or bulb profile gasket.