Often we see the Westfalia and even other fiberglass top models that become chalky or damaged and unsightly. Normally they get ignored or at most get a coating of something to try to bring back its former beauty. They don’t have to be ignored, and they can be returned to their original lustrous glory easily and without spraying paint.
Spray gun testing the luggage tray didn’t get the original type of paint texture that I had hoped for. Using Interlux, an epoxy paint which is thicker than most automotive finish paint didn’t give me the texture I was looking for.
After messing around with thinning it and changing guns, I remembered a guy that I worked with a couple years earlier. He used a hot dog, or weenie roller, to add texture to some areas of rocker panels that couldn’t be matched with a spray gun. And because of the high-end nature of the car, people noticed and complained if it didn’t match. Such a simple solution to what was a big problem.
I went to the local home improvement store and bought a painting kit for the small diameter paint rollers made for painting your kitchen or living room. The thin foam roller, the wire handle, the plastic drip tray, and a liner was only $12 or $15 dollars. The smoothest nap on the roller was the best one to get the finish texture I was looking for.
I had used Interlux epoxy yacht paint to refinish some fiberglass work on some boats that had been bought from a hurricane auction. I had never rolled on a topcoat as it was the smoother the better on the bottom of a boat. After some research, I found out that lots of Volkswagen Westfalia owners had used a weenie roller to refinish their camper vans. With great results.
There’s a ton of colors available and I opted to go with the original color as best I could. There’s probably a slight difference but I didn’t worry about it and no one has ever said: “Hey, that’s a little lighter or darker than the OEM color”. No one noticed any texture difference either. There is a slight bit more gloss and I knew it but I didn’t want to buy flattener agent to use a tiny bit to match 100 percent perfect. I used the Semi Gloss and it’s about a 96 percent match.
There are quite a few colors available in the Interlux lineup. 23 to be exact. If you have Bordeaux Red or Monaco Blue (or any of the other colors pop tops came in) there is the possibility of mixing your colors to match better than straight out of the can colors.
Interlux has compatible cleaners and primes to use together so that there are no issues with chemicals reacting with each other and ruining all your hard work. Take some time to read the directions on the cans and make sure you are working in a well-ventilated area that is free of strong air movement but is also well ventilated. Lots of wind will bring in debris into the finish coat and you don’t want that.
I took the top off my Westfalia as I had other repairs and I wanted to replace all my hardware with new bolts and bits. It can be done with the top on by taping off the sides of your van and either painting the bolt heads or taping them all off.
I prefer to take things off as it is a much cleaner and more professional job. Before I painted my exterior of the pop top I bleached the flocking inside and it looked much better and it removed all the loose flocking dust that turned out to be dust and particles that stuck to the dirty flocking.
Wash down the top with soapy water and a scrub brush to get off as much mold and fungus as you can if it’s on your top. Rinse the top well and make sure it’s pretty clean. Dry it off and inspect for any cracks or damage that would need to be fixed.
You should go ahead and order all new seals now so that they will be on the way when you are finished painting. Looks at your bolts, hinges, roof vent cover, even the spring, and latches. You should also order some 3M strip caulk to wrap around the bolt heads to make sure they are waterproof for reassembling or replacing the bolts.
Before doing repairs you should clean the tops’ surface with Interlux Special Thinner 216 or their Fiberglass Surface Prep YMA601V to remove any contaminants that might get pushed into the surface and hinder paint adhesion. After it has been cleaned well and dried you can start sanding or doing repairs. Wax, oils, tree sap, and similar contaminants can make unsightly spots on the top and can even lead to paint not sticking in large areas if you just wipe it all over the place with just a rag or with sandpaper.
If you have repairs go ahead and do them using fiberglass resin and mat. There’s an article on Transporter Magazine about repairing the luggage tray and it talks about the process. If there are no repairs to be made you can begin prep work for painting.
Painted surfaces need some texture so that the paint will adhere to the surface, whether it’s bare fiberglass or old paint. 220 to 320 grit sandpaper will do this. Use a block and sand over the surface gently without removing too much of the original texture but making sure that all is well sanded. A grey Scotch pad can be used after the block and paper to get deep into the places the sandpaper couldn’t get into.
After all your repairs and sanding has been done and you are sure that you have good scuffing on your top the next step is to clean it well. Rinse off the top with a hose and remove all the dust. Wipe it down with a clean towel or blow it off with the air hose to dry faster. Using the Interlux Special Thinner 216 or their Fiberglass Surface Prep YMA601V clean the surface again before applying the primer.
Mask off any areas you don’t want to be painted. Mainly this step is for those of you that are doing it on the van. It is much easier to do with the top off but if there’s anything under the top that you don’t want paint on now is the time to tape it off or paper it to keep it clean. Tape your bolt heads and anything else you need to keep paint free.
Get all your paint and roller materials handy. You don’t want to be looking for something while being rushed painting. Keep everything at hand, ready and clean.
Thin even layers work best to achieve the best results. Thick layers take too long to dry and make for sloppy work with the chance of getting dust and nibs on the surface. It takes longer to dry, can crack, and isn’t a good way to do it. Don’t try to save a few minutes and ruin all your hard work and waste your money on supplies for a poor quality job.
The area around the sunroof is one of the more troublesome areas and at that isn’t too bad. Use a 2-inch brush to get paint into the recess around the top. A new brush is better used for the first coats. A used brush is softer and leaves fewer brush strokes in the finish. Go ahead and do the valleys first then do the rolling to cover any brushstrokes and keep the top surface as even as possible. The valleys even if they don’t exactly match texture will not be as noticeable because they are no on the same plane as the rest of the top and catch the light differently.
I used Pre-Kote before applying my topcoat. Pre-Kote helps give everything a uniform color and some form of primer should be used especially if you have made repairs. The areas where repairs were made can show up in the top coat because of the color difference even when applying multiple coats.
Pre-Kote is good enough but Interlux also makes a two-part InterProtect that helps keep fiberglass from absorbing water. This isn’t really needed because there isn’t any water submersion but I have seen some have used it as it helps with gel coats that have become extremely sun damaged and porous. Two or three coats of Pro-Kote should be good enough for most all but the worst condition tops. Wait for it to tack over slightly but don’t allow it to fully dry or you will have to sand it and prep the surface again.
Stir the Pre-Kote thoroughly with a paint stick to make sure it is well mixed. Pour enough into the paint tray so that you don’t have to keep adding more to the pan, at least for each coat. If you don’t put enough in the paint tray it’s no big deal it just takes longer as you have to keep adding more paint to the tray.
Blow off the hotdog roller or strike it on your hand or another object to make sure there is no dust or debris from the nap hanging on. You don’t want this in your paint. I had a bundle of sharp toothpicks on hand in case I had nibs in the surface I could take them out as I went. Using the weenie roller made this a bit easier as you can pluck dirt or nibs from the wet paint and roll back over it to cover up your blemishes. Paint guns don’t allow this so much but it can be done, just not as easy.
If you don’t have time to wait for the Pre-Kote to tack up before immediately applying the top coat (which is what I did, I waited for the Pre-Kote to tack then started the top coat) sand the Pre-Kote layer with a ScotchBrite pad and wipe it with the Interlux Special Thinner 216 or their Fiberglass Surface Prep YMA601V to remove any dust. Do this right before applying paint, not ahead of time. Then you can apply the top coat.
Use a new roller and brush for the top coat of your finish. Use the brush first in the valleys just like you did with the Pre-Kote. A used brush leaves fewer stroke marks in the finish so keep your brush clean. Work in one area and move along until the whole top is done. Don’t do one end then move to the other end, work in patches and keep going instead of skipping around.
Topcoat goes on just like the Pre-Kote does. Apply three or four layers evenly after the previous layer has tacked. It is best to do all the top coat at one time and be done with it instead of one layer and then sanding and cleaning before applying another coat but if something comes up unexpected you can do this as well.
Once everything is dry remove all your paper and tape. Reassemble your top and whatever else you have to do. Put your new seals in and head out for a well deserved camping trip.