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Elevating Poptop Roofs

Thistle Rose Leisure
Published by in General camper info ·
Tags: DrivelodgePoptophiloaustopsvolkswagen
Roof Conversions

‘Poptop’ is to ‘Transit’ what ‘elevating roof’ is to ‘panel van’.

What a strange statement to start a blog entry with – but I wanted to make it clear from the start that I’ll be talking about elevating roofs in this blog entry rather than a specific manufacturer who happens to have the tradename most associated with them!  

When I worked for Mercedes-Benz and a customer wanted to know how much our ‘Transit vans’ were (as he pointed to a Sprinter) I got frustrated – but then I just got used to it and went on to explain the benefits and features of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter over a Ford Transit….

“How much is the Transit?”

I often feel that it must be like this for Elevating roof manufacturers when someone says “…and I want a poptop roof on it”.

In the same spirit as my Mercedes days, I’d like to talk about the features and benefits of our preferred roof type – The Drivelodge Elevator.

Here at Thistle Rose Leisure, we can fit any manufacturer’s elevating roof - and there are some good roofs out there, HiLo, Skyline, Austops, Reimo and SCA to name some that we think highly of.  

However, we happen to think at Thistle Rose that the best elevating roof is manufactured virtually on our doorstep – the Drivelodge roof.
We’ve fitted a number of roofs and types now and like a certain car advert we love the fact that when we fit a Drivelodge roof ‘it just works!’

So why do we prefer this roof?  Well, first of all there's the integrity of the roof frame.  
It won’t come as any surprise to know that to fit an elevating roof involves cutting virtually the whole roof away – it really is a ‘get it right first time’ job!  What’s more, you don’t need to be an expert in thin wall FEA (a very specialised field) to know that when you cut something away you remove the strength.  

What might surprise a lot of people is just how little is left when you cut out for a roof and windows in a campervan – the picture below shows a van at probably it’s worst point – fully cut out and nothing added back in yet.

“Not a lot left once it’s cutout!”
What about what is put ‘back in’ afterwards?

Many roofs come with a frame effectively in 4 pieces – the four pieces are put in separately and typically only joined by a little adhesive and some small rivets.  

A typical multipart roof frame
If you took four lengths of steel and put a small rivet in each corner and then picked it up, there’s a strong chance it would just collapse under its own weight.  The system integrity is therefore negligible.

The 4 pieces cover the hole, but the strength of the cut roof is pretty much as it was before you installed the frame.
If you took the same four sections and fully welded them together, you would instil the greatest rigidity and system integrity possible – pick up the frame now and it will remain in its intended shape.

The Drivelodge roof comes with a single piece, fully welded frame and thus returns strength to the cut out aperture.   What’s more is the Drivelodge frame is made from 3mm RHS – heavier than the typical 1mm steel pressing used in other roofs – but also much stiffer when subjected to torsional loads.

The fully welded Drivelodge frame installed.

You really can ‘feel’ the difference when you fit the Drivelodge frame as the torsional rigidity of the van is returned.  A cross axle jack test will also show that with a Drivelodge roof (as per the original VW van shell), all the doors can be opened with a 150mm diagonal lift – this isn’t something I can say about a lot of other roofs when installed.

So what if the van is stiffer?  What difference will that make to the operation of the roof or the reliability of my vehicle?  Well, the reality is it does make a difference and I’ll explain that later.

With some manufacturer’s roofs, they are installed by fitting self-drilling self-tapping screws in to the thin skin of the van roof.  These screws are subjected to huge shear and tensile forces when the roof is deployed (add a good Scottish gale into it and the forces are frightening).  

It’s my opinion that these fixing methods are inadequate – there’s a reason that OEM manufacturers don’t fit load-bearing items to the exterior of their products with self-tapping screws afterall!  When we fit a roof we won’t use self-tapping screws into thin sheet metal, we will fit a captive or rivnut in place to spread the load through the thin sheet metal components – this is the same technique that Volkswagen use to fit roof rails.

The Drivelodge roof happens to be designed to utilise the existing Volkswagen captive nuts in the roof system – only two more captive nuts need added to install the complete roof.


Happy faces when fitting the Drivelodge roof to the VW fixing points.

By utilising the VW captive nut system the Drivelodge roof gains another advantage over the competition – accuracy and repeatability.
Most other roofs come with instructions on how to ‘set’ and then adjust the roof when installing.  Effectively whilst installing, you are finishing the product and making it an ‘individual’ install.  

Can you imagine what it would be like if Volkswagen’s instructions for fitting a body component – say the tailgate – included phrases like ‘cut and trim the panel to suit’ and ‘fit the tailgate, measure,  mark, drill and remove then fit hinges to suit’ in it?
Thankfully, when we fit a Drivelodge elevating roof, we tend to bolt it down to the VW captive nuts and pull it down and it just sits right first time, everytime.  We’ve never had to trim a Drivelodge roof (over trim the roof and you’re in serious trouble!) nor have we ever had to redrill or adjust the hinges or struts – they just fit neatly and evenly from side to side along their full length everytime!


“it just sits right first time, everytime”

What benefits does this give to the customer?  All quality indices have a large weighting on consistency and repeatability.  If a roof install relies heavily on the skill of the operative to make it fit and work – where’s the consistency?  What happens when the guy who fits the roofs wins the lottery?  Is it back to square one again with quality and failure rates?

No, with a consistent repeatable product like the Drivelodge roof, the customer gains real benefits in that we can concentrate on the quality of the conversion instead of worrying about ‘making do’.

Another benefit that can be seen clearly in the above photo is that all Drivelodge roofs are fitted with a spoiler.  This isn’t just a matter of looks – it has real safety implications.  If you’re driving into a headwind of 20mph at 70mph that’s a ‘Hurricane’ force wind that’s trying to get under the leading edge of your roof and open it up for you – much better to have a spoiler that diverts that hurricane over the roof and tends to push it down rather than lift it up!

Other benefits of the Drivelodge roof include that they sew in elastic seams to ensure that the canvas cannot catch in the rear scissor mechanism – many manufacturers just have a ‘caveat’ in their instruction that the user must ensure that the canvas is clear when pulling down.  No comfort to be had when you have a gaping hole in your canvas and the roof manufacturer just points to the instructions and says ‘user error’.  This is almost essential if you want a hinged upper bed arrangement.


Elastic cords pull the canvas away from the scissor mechanism

Add to these features that Drivelodge include 2 LED lights in all their roofs, stainless steel hinges, and veltrim pelmets in every roof and the choice really does become simple.

To cap it all off, the ultimate benefit for our customer’s is price.  

The Drivelodge roof isn’t our cheapest option to buy, but it is our cheapest option to sell!  We know that we can fit a Drivelodge roof without fudging, fettling and forking – with some roofs there’s another f word involved quite a lot too!  We save a considerable amount of time and therefore cost with a Drivelodge roof.  In reality it takes 2 man-days less to fit a Drivelodge roof than some of the alternatives.
Net result we can install the best roof at the best price, typically £2400 inclusive of VAT with colour coding extra.  This is around £1000 less than we charge for supplying and fitting a Poptop roof to the same vehicle.

Why not contact us today and ask about having a Drivelodge Elevating Roof installed by Thistle Rose Leisure to your van – we’ll even forgive you if you ask for a Drivelodge poptop!


Thistle Rose Leisure
Published by in General camper info ·
Tags: approvalcertificationinsurance
We have had a number of enquiries now regarding whether we are an approved Volkswagen converter and whether we type approve our conversions.  In my opinion, there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding manufacturer’s approvals and type approval and how it applies to a campervan conversion.

So here is my comments on the various questions I’ve been asked regarding this topic and wherever possible I’ve included links to the likes of Volkswagen themselves or to official UK Government sources, e.g. DVLA, VCA and DVSA.

This is a very complex topic, that can take up thousands of words and be the subject of much debate.  My thoughts below are my interpretation of the requirements and bear in mind that there are thousands of people - engineers, civil servants and solicitors throughout Europe who make a living out of interpreting the directives concerned and dissecting the terminology.  Therefore with this blog entry I need to make the comment that no contractual, legal or warrantable terms or rights are implied by this blog entry, they remain the opinion of the Author only and are not necessarily the legal views of Thistle Rose Leisure LLP.  
Disclaimer not withstanding, I hope as a layman’s guide this will help many cut through the websites, forums and the likes that start 'I've heard that...' and never refer to anything official to have an informed opinion on what is supplied and stated by other manufacturers or suppliers.  I’d be happy to discuss the various aspects of this blog with a prospective customer – just contact me via the website or by phone.

Volkswagen Approval
Q.  Many converters make a direct statement that they are VW approved.  Can you just tell me, are you a VW approved converter?  A number of your competitors have stated that they are VW approved converters for camper vans whereas you don’t appear to be approved.
I used to work for Mercedes-Benz and Renault as their bodybuilder liaison and I know that for legal reasons we never ‘approved’ any converters, hence I am reticent when others say they are approved.  My belief is that VW’s policy is very similar, but for clarification of this you would have to refer to Volkswagen UK HQ in Blakelands, Milton Keynes.
As a starting point for whether a converter is ‘approved’ by Volkswagen, I would refer anyone to the two links here; one is the list for VWUK approved suppliers and the other is the equivalent list for international suppliers.
At the date of writing this blog (updated 28-3-18) no UK campervan converter is listed on either of these pages.
Simple challenge – if a converter tells you he is an approved Volkswagen converter, ask him to prove it by sending you a copy of the paperwork!
Why are there so few approved converters?  Typically, a manufacturer will issue is a ‘non-objection’ to a specific element of a conversion, e.g. the cutting of the elevating roof aperture.  A non-objection is not an approval, more a statement that the intrinsic safety and quality of the base vehicle has not been compromised by the alteration.
Very little bodybuilding is done with the issue of a non-objection even.  As you can imagine, with over a thousand converters in the UK working on campervans, with body in white cuts for roofs and glazing, seat and seatbelt mounts, fuel systems and electrical systems all being ‘altered’ to make a campervan – VW cannot review, authorise and police the conversions on an individual converter basis.  The vast majority of work performed by a converter is done according to the ‘Body Builder Guidelines’. The link to the VW manual is given below as an example.
This is, if you like, our reference ‘bible’ for the conversion work on a VW T6.  The OEM’s warrant that if the guidelines are followed, that there is an inferred non-objection to the work performed by a converter and hence the warranty is not infringed.  If you step outside the boundaries of the BBG, you should always apply for a non-objection to maintain the base vehicle warranty.
Changing Vehicle Classification and Type approval
Q.  There seems to be a number of routes to changing a vehicle from a panel van to a camper van with increasing levels of commitment from manufacturers in the type approval process right up to EWVTA.  Why do you not change all your vehicles according to the EWVTA – European Whole Vehicle Type Approval scheme as an indication that your assessment of each vehicle is as extensive as possible?
First of all, there is no escalating scale of assurance in type approval processes, there are different avenues available due to the varying commercial aspects of the approval.  I’ll explain the rationale behind this further on.
Secondly, changing the classification of a vehicle and type approval are two different things, once again dependant on the individual circumstance rather than being an indicator of quality or level of approval.
To have your campervan shown as a ‘Motor caravan’ on your registration document has two distinct pathways, dependant on whether the vehicle is already registered or not.  
In the event of changing the body type from a registered N1 goods vehicle to motor caravan, a change record is submitted to the DVLA.  Type approval does not come into it at all as type approval only applies to NEW (unregistered) vehicles.  The requirement here is that the adaptation meets MOT standards.  This is not the same as saying that the adaptation meets type approval requirements.  On our website we refer to the submission required by DVLA to change the body type from N1 goods vehicle to M1 Motor caravan.  The link to the government (DVLA) site for this is below.  There is a little conflict in these two official links, so we build to cover all the bases, e.g. always including double burner hobs as a minimum.  We exceed the requirements here and also include documentation on elements of the conversion that we think are safety critical and should be included in the change of body type (e.g. seat additions and alterations, gas safety etc).
In the case of taking a new, unregistered panel van with a ‘complete’ certificate of conformity (CoC) for an N1 (goods vehicle up to 3500kg) and adapting that vehicle to a Motor caravan – an M1 passenger vehicle PRE-REGISTRATION, then the ‘Complete’ CoC from the panel van manufacturer is used as an ‘incomplete’ CoC by the stage 2 converter (the camper builder) to ‘add’ his type approval to.  The result is a ‘Completed’ multistage CoC which can be used for registartion.  (Confused yet?)
In this way, the vehicle will be declared on the registration from new as a motor caravan.  Type approval can be attained in a number of ways, but there is not necessarily an escalation in quality or assessment level – in fact the opposite can be the case in some instances!
Once again, I’ll use ‘official’ government sources for your further reading rather than a forum or manufacturers website:

This is the VCA link for type approval of motor caravans, although I see that this page has not been updated since 2012!
This is my layman summation of the various routes to type approving a new motorhome, i.e. prior to first registration.  As I’ve said before, this route is not available for conversion of a registered van to a motor caravan.
1.       IVA – Individual Vehicle Approval.  Each vehicle is inspected by VOSA to ensure that where original elements of the stage 1 CoC have been altered by later stages of the build, that documentation exists and that the work has been performed to an appropriate standard.  For example, in the case of a campervan, when you add in auxiliary electrics, the inspector will look to see that these are ‘E’ marked for regulation 10 use OR that they are disconnected from the vehicle whilst the vehicle is in motion. Another example would be that where an additional seat has been installed with seatbelts (and therefore can be used whilst the vehicle is in motion) that the seat AND it’s installation in the specific vehicle shell meets the requirements of the directive.  Here’s a link to the IVA inspection manual that the DVSA inspectors use when inspecting a vehicle. As you can see from page 6 of the foreword, a Motor caravan is defined as a ‘special purpose M1 category vehicle’ and is therefore only subjected to a ‘basic’ IVA.  The DVSA recognise that IVA is a preferred route for various manufacturers and even allow manufacturers to produce a ‘Model Report’ for vehicles.  This can speed up and simplify the IVA considerably, but is a route that most converters don’t even know exists!  The official link to the IVA process is given here  
Beyond IVA, manufacturers have the ability after meeting certain criteria on systems, procedures and traceability (known as Conformity of Production or COP) to issue there own CoC’s for registration purposes.  These approval levels negate the need to have a government inspector check individual vehicles before registration.  These self-certifying schemes are as follows:
2.       NSSTA - National small series type approval.  There is the ability to self-certify and issue a CoC for a limited low-volume production run of vehicles for registration in an individual member state.  There is no obligation for an external member state to recognise an NSSTA approval.  E.g. if you had an NSSTA approval issued in the UK, the French would be under no obligation to accept the resultant CoC to register a vehicle in France.  This route is not practical if you intend to export product.  As numbers for NSSTA in the M1 category are limited to 75 per annum, I doubt there are many will adopt this route in campervan conversions. refers.
3.       ESSTA – European small series type approval.  It is my understanding that this is effectively dead as a means of approval as there was no distinction between the requirements for ESSTA and EWVTA and hence there was no commercial advantage to going down this route.
4.       EWVTA – European whole vehicle type approval.  This method of approval means that the final stage manufacturer has the ability to issue a CoC that will be recognised and accepted by ALL member states of the EU for registration purposes.  E.g. a CoC issued in the UK must by law be accepted for registration in France.  To attain EWVTA requires more stringent Conformity of Production processes.  The number of variations and types that a manufacturer can produce can be expensive to maintain, with a number used in the industry of around £100,000 per full approval.  It is needless to say much more expensive to attain, but amortised over larger volumes the ‘unit cost’ of approval can work out significantly lower than IVA where it’s typically around £600 per vehicle, using the numbers here a manufacturer who builds more than 166 vehicles of a specific type will break even with EWVTA.
In my opinion, there is no ‘superior’ quality or ranking or ‘extensive assessment’ as many suggest with EWVTA or NSSTA.  It is rather that there are sound economic reasons for utilising the various routes above.
A number of tier 1 manufacturers have had the threat of removal of EWVTA privileges in the past (I won’t name them!) so holding EWVTA is not a guarantee of quality.  In a similar vein, many OEM’s (particularly truck and van manufacturers) put a number of vehicles through the IVA route each year – often having their own facilities on-site (known as Ptofs) for DVSA to man and inspect vehicles.  There is no suggestion that the vehicles approved in this way by household names are inferior to those that have an EWVTA CoC issued – just that there was a commercial reason for approving this way rather than going through the beaurecracy of extending an existing type approval or worse creating a new one for a limited number of vehicles.
If you produce limited volumes and are likely by your customer base to use different TYPES (e.g. build on VW, Hyundai, Ford, MB etc in low volume), then the IVA route - although not the most convenient - may be the most economically sound.  A cynic may say that at least with the IVA route you have the certainty that an independent body (namely DVSA) have looked at the vehicle and that it has not been ‘self-certified’ regardless of warts or anomalies.  
With NSSTA, if you’re volume is below the threshold, the costs to type approval are greatly reduced from the IVA route, but you do have the limitations to the number of vehicles and types you can sensibly certify and maintain.  If you intend to export or your annual volumes exceed the threshold numbers for NSSTA then you will have to go down the EWVTA route to make economic sense.
As I say, there is no ‘ranking’ of the approvals despite what many will infer.  The bigger converters like to suggest that by holding EWVTA their quality and approval is of a superior level,  in my experience (I use to assess converters quality systems for a living) this is not always the case more a case that their volume in a particular type (e.g. Ford Transit OR Volkswagen Transporter) merits the investment necessary to ‘self-certify’ via EWVTA.
If you are producing larger volumes of vehicles of the same type, e.g. VW T6’s, then EWVTA will greatly reduce your certification costs.  But there has to be an infrastructure and the associated costs to ‘maintain’ a type approval with alterations to the certificate being expensive and sometimes quite frequent.
The difference between converting a camper pre-registration and changing the body type for an existing vehicle can be seen as a ‘cop out’ if you wish to avoid type approval.  But that doesn’t mean that every post-registration conversion is a cop-out!  After all we can’t all afford a brand new campervan and in our experience most customers are not willing to wait on a factory delivery for a bespoke vehicle specification when a perfectly adequate, nearly new van is sitting in the forecourt of their local VW dealer.  To reassure you that we are not using the pre-registered vehicles as a lazy route, we prefer to build even our change of body type conversions to the same standard of certification and conformity of production as those we would submit as new for IVA.

Insurance Approvals
Q.  Do you have insurance approvals for your conversions?
As you can imagine, there are thousands of insurance companies and it would be impossible for us to obtain letters from them all regarding our conversions.  When we formed the company, we asked insurance consultants what areas of a campervan conversion require the approval of the insurers.  There was no absolute consensus.  The baseline was that it met the requirements of the DVLA document for change of bodytype with the ‘gold’ standard being that documentation existed for any additional seating, any electrical system installation - particularly mains and for the gas installation being certified as equavalent to a 'habitation' report for a coachbuilt motorhome.  
When we do a conversion, we ensure that we utilise components that meet the type approval requirements, e.g. seats and electrical control systems and we have an independent LPG ‘gas safe’ agent certify the installations.  We pass all the conformity of production and safety certificates to our customers and retain copies on file.  To date we have never had a customer have an issue with getting insurance and most importantly at the agreed value!  
What a number of converters do is they do not change the body type and the V5C still shows the vehicle as an N1 goods vehicle - usually with 2 or 3 seats.  What can then happen is that in the event of a write off or theft, the insurers will only settle to the ‘market value’ of the vehicle as registered.  If you’ve just spent say £40k on a campervan and had it stolen or written off, to be handed a cheque for £18k for the cost of a used panel van is not a pleasant experience!  Additionally, if there are 5 people injured in a vehicel that states it has 2 seats in the registration, you may just find that your insurance is void.

Q.  I'm keen to ensure that I've considered the major risk elements of owning a campervan, especially as this is a significant capital purchase.
Quite right too!  I would never suggest that people don't ask the questions, just don't blindly accept that when the answer you're given is the one you wanted to hear that it is actually correct!  It is all too easy to fall foul of the various options and double speak out there.  No purchase is foolproof,  ‘safest’ bet if you're really concerned about these topics is to buy a new California from VW, but as we know even VW aren’t infallible when it comes to compliance!  

However, budget often means that buying a brand new California is prohibitive and hence we have a buoyant conversion market of which we at Thistle Rose are a part.  As for Thistle Rose, all I can say is that we are a reputable manufacturer with a wealth of industry experience behind us (including over 40 years’ worth of tier 1 experience) and that we do make every effort practicable to ensure our conversions are a secure investment for our customers and that they are to all practicable levels quality products that are safe and compliant.

Thistle Rose Leisure LLP, Registered in England
Unit C1, Millennium Road, Skipton, BD23 2TZ
Tel: 01756 795771
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