808Build: The Sportsmobile Gets a New Top

808Build: The Sportsmobile Gets a New Top


The first major update to the 808van would be new canvas for the pop-top. Being over 40 years old, the original canvas had been patched up over the years and smelled a bit . . . rustic. While it was not in terrible condition, it was the one area of the build I had absolutely no idea how to approach. That alone placed it at the top of my priority list to address.

On my way back from Palm Springs I stopped into the Sportsmobile factory in Fresno to say hi. I thought the staff would get a kick out of this throwback and I was right! Deep down I hoped the Alan @ Sportsmobile would trade me for one of the new rigs I was drooling over, but alas that will have to wait for another day. I asked Sportsmobile if they would be able to create a new canvas top for me, and since they tailor them in Indiana it would be impossible to get it right without the van present. They suggested I look into boat canvas manufacturers and being in San Francisco I knew there would be a few to choose from.

Boats require custom fabrication and the canvas needs to stand up to brutal conditions so its a good match for overland rigs. I called around to a few shops and ended up at The Canvas Works in Sausalito. The owner Mike was a great guy who was willing to work with me as he had done a few other camper vans in the past. I’m not sure he knew what he was getting into with a 40+ year old van but he was committed to getting it done.


Once the old canvas was off there was a lot of rot and improvements needed to the top before they could even start on the canvas portion. I appreciate Mike and his team going the extra effort to clean up the fiberglass shell and install new wood along the edge and vinyl covering on the ceiling. I’ve found with projects like the 808van, the biggest challenge is what you’ll find getting into the work, and its great to have people that will get the job done down to the small details.

The biggest stress point for me during all this was selecting the fabric! I decided on a Sunbrella fabric that was alternating green and beige stripes. I felt the pattern had a retro feel to it and went well with the green on the exterior of the van. By this time I had already begun selecting my interior materials and I wanted to make sure the top matched with everything else. More on that later.

After several weeks I came to pick up the 808van and couldn’t be happier with the final outcome. The top has several screened windows around the exterior similar to the original. I’ve always been a fan of pop tops over fixed roofs because to me, I like to be a part of the environment while off grid and not completely closed off. Sleeping up top with a canvas surround and the breeze flowing through is similar to a tent. I prefer sleeping up rather than sleeping down and that was yet another reason while I wanted to prioritize this work. Much thanks to Mike and the team at The Canvas Works for getting it done!