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Build a Roof-Top Pop-Up Sleeper
DIY Hardside Car Top Camper Plans

Cover of DIY hardside car top camper plans.
Roof-Top Pop-Up
Sleeper Plans
Build this Car Top Mounted Hardside Pop-Up Camper
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IIlustration of a family camping in a hardsided pop-up car roof mounted pop-up sleeper
WAGON-TOP SLEEPER
Bolted to a car-top carrier, this "upper berth" converts any station wagon into a five-bed motel on wheels. Walls and roof interfold flat for travel, and it sets up quick as a wink for those forty winks

By M. D. Shirley

Photo of a woman standing next to a station wagon outfitted with a roof top sleeper
WITH THE KIDS bedded down in the wagon and mom and dad tucked in "upstairs" on a soft inner-spring mattress, the "rugged outdoor life" becomes a treat even a city softie can appreciate. With no ground or roof top tent to set up, no bunking on the ground, no crawling things to worry about - you're as snug as a bug in a rug, rain or shine.

Four screen-covered circular windows let you enjoy cool, insect-free breezes on a sweltering night, and quick-fit window shutters keep you cozy and dry during a storm. A removable pullman-type ladder, which hooks over the wagon roof gutter, stows in the space between car top and sleeper while you travel.

Folded, the unit resembles a flat-bottom boat only a foot high, and because of its streamlined hull shape, you'll hardly know it's up there while you're sailing down the highway. No tarp is needed to cover it since interlapping, tape-sealed joints make the folded sleeper completely watertight.

PROPPED UP ROOF and back panels of the sleeper are locked together at angle on each side with wooden brackets tightened on the inside with two wing nuts.
PROPPED UP ROOF and back panels of the sleeper are locked together at angle on each side with wooden brackets tightened on the inside with two wing nuts.
Erecting the sleeper is kids' play - just thirteen wing nuts and you're in business. First the two screen-door hooks on each side (which tie the roof down) are unhooked. Next the hinged filler strips on each side are swung outward. The two-part top is raised at the center hinge and propped up on each side with 13-in. lengths of 1 x 2 which are carried separately for the purpose. These props hold the two sections at the angle required for inserting the bolts of wooden tie plates in registering holes in the roof sections. Wing nuts on the inside hold the tie plates. The hinged top is now raised as a single unit and the front (door) wall is swung up so a bolt may be inserted through its top frame member and the forward flange of the roof, and secured with a fifth wing nut. Finally, the sidewalls are swung up and fastened to the side flanges with four more wing nuts on each side, making the thirteen.

In the folded position, the hinged sidewalls lay one on top of the other, flat on the 48-in. mattress, the hinged front wall rests on the sidewalls and the hinged top fits down over the whole thing like the cover on a box. There's actually enough room inside to carry a second mattress, as well as small camping gear.

THEN ROOF and back are raised as single unit and front wall is swung up to support it. Single bolt through both sections holds two secure with wing nut
THEN ROOF and back are raised as single unit and front wall is swung up to support it. Single bolt through both sections holds two secure with wing nut
First study the drawings to get a general idea of how the parts hinge and fit together. Begin by laying out full-size patterns of the curved rear ends of parts (1), (2) and (5). Note that part (2) rabbets into part (5) and that part (1) rabbets into parts (2) and (5), so that the solid lines of the pattern are not always the cutting lines. Both top and bottom edges of these six pieces—as well as parts (4) - must be rabbeted. Trace your pattern on 3/4-in. pine or fir, positioning it to produce right and left-hand members, and saw out. All rabbets are cut 1/4-in. deep (the thickness of the plywood) but vary in width.
LOOKING LIKE a boat hull when folded, all parts pancake flat over mattress inside. Hull shape offers minimum wind resistance when traveling on highway
LOOKING LIKE a boat hull when folded, all parts pancake flat over mattress inside. Hull shape offers minimum wind resistance when traveling on highway
Cut the rear-edge stiffener next from 1 5/8-in.square (2x2) stock, 47 in. long, and install between the ends of parts (1) with two #10 1 3/4-in. F.H. wood screws. This member also takes the screws for the piano hinge that joins the top and floor sections, later on.

Cut part (8) from 3/4-in. pine and install between parts (1) with three #10 1 3/4-in. FH. screws at each side. Note that the top and bottom edges of this piece must first be beveled.

Ten saw kerfs 1/16 in. deep and 2 in. apart are made across the rear end of panel (A) on the inside to facilitate bending the plywood around the curved end of parts (1). 

Turn the assembly upside down and nail the rear edge of panel (A) to the 1 5/8-in. stiffener across the front, using #4 cement-coated nails spaced 1 in. apart. Now dampen the inside surface of the plywood by placing hot wet towels over the saw kerfs and gradually nail the panel in the rabbets and across part (8), spacing the nails now 2 in. apart. Trim off the panel flush with part (8).

Now cut three oak carrier battens 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 48 1/2 in. and attach each to the bottom edges of parts (1) with two #10 1 3/4-in. FH. wood screws. Place one 30 in. from the back end and the other two 28 in. on centers. Three 1/4-in. holes are drilled through the bottom plywood and the battens for 1/4 x 1 3/4-in. carriage bolts which are used to bolt the sleeper securely to the car-top carrier brackets.

FINAL ERECTION step is swinging up sidewalls and securing with four wing nuts on inside. Note hinged spacer strip that swings outward at rear of sleeper
FINAL ERECTION step is swinging up sidewalls and securing with four wing nuts on inside. Note hinged spacer strip that swings outward at rear of sleeper
Make up the front wall and door by first cutting parts (3), (7) and (9) from 3/4-in. stock. Note that part (7) is only 2 in. wide whereas parts (3) are 2 3/8 in.; that parts (3) are chamfered at the lower corners to assume the same angle as parts (1); and that, unlike the other side members, parts (3) are rabbeted along the lower edge only. Nail parts (3) to the ends of part (7) with #8 cc nails, then add plywood panel (B) after cutting it 45 7/8 in. long and sawing out the 18 x 36-in. door. Use #4 cc nails for this, spacing them 2 in. apart. Note that the panel is recessed from the outer faces of parts (3) and (7) to form rabbets as shown in the detail on page 131.
Plywood cut plan for a hardside car roof top pop up sleeper low resolution view
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Part (9) across the top of the front wall, measures 3/4 x 2 3/8 x 47 in. and has beveled top and bottom edges. This sets flush with the edge of the panel - not recessed like the other framing members. It fits between the 1/2 x 2-in. notches at the upper corners. To bridge the gap between parts (3) and (9), a backing block is nailed to them both, as shown in the details. Frame the door opening with 1 x 2s extending 1/2 in. into the opening to form a stop for the hinged panel. Three 3-in. T-hinges are used to hinge the front to part (8).
Patterns for a DIY roof top pop up sleeper low resolution view
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Attach the hinged spacers next - parts (2) - securing each with 2-in. butt hinges mounted on the outside. The sole function of these parts is to fill the space behind parts (3) and make the sleeper watertight when folded. Note here that the triangular blocks which fill the gaps that open between folded parts (4) and (5), are backed up on the inside with triangular pieces cut from scrap plywood.

Now the top assembly: Form the nose piece - part (11) - from 1 5/8 x 2-in. pine to match your full-size section. Note that it has a 1/4 x 3/4-in. rabbet cut across the top. Place parts (5) in position on the assembly and drive a #12 2 1/2-in. FH. wood screw through part (11) at each end, and into the end grain of parts (5). To prevent possible splitting of the wood, drill pilot holes for these screws.

Now cut part (10) 3/4 x 1 1/2 x 47 in., bevel the top and bottom edges as required and nail between the front ends of parts (5). Again, make saw kerfs on the inside of panel (C), dampen with wet towels as before and nail to part (11) first, then to the rabbets of parts (5). Follow by adding a 48-in. long piano hinge to the front edge and make it waterproof by placing a strip of rubber electrical tape between the hinge and the plywood.

Assembly of the forward top panel presents no problems, except that the top and bottom edges of part (6) and one of the parts (10) must be beveled before they're nailed between parts (4); in addition, part (6) must have a 1/4 x 1/2 in. rabbet cut in its beveled bottom edge. The center brace (another 10) needs no bevels; it simply fits between the rabbets.

Now hinge the back wall and top together, placing rubber tape under the hinge leaf as before. Holes for the tie-plate carriage bolts are made through parts (4) and (5) on each side of the hinged joint. Finally, this top-and-back assembly is joined to the bottom assembly with a piano hinge across the joint between the stiffener and nose piece - part (11).

The two sidewalls, parts (D). are cut according to the pattern. The cutouts from the circular windows are saved and used as bad-weather shutters, secured with turn-buttons. Aluminum or plastic mesh is tacked over the windows and the tacked edges are covered with overlapping circular trim pieces. The sidewalls are hinged to the inside faces of parts (1), mounting three pairs of butt hinges just below the top edges. The spacing of the three notches in the top edges of the sidewalls, which must be made to clear the roof crossmembers, are determined from the assembly itself, after hinging.
 

Assembly drawing for a vintage hardsided roof top sleeper camper low resoluton view
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List of materials for building a hardsided pop-up roof top car sleeper
In order to make the sleeper completely watertight, glue a strip of water-repellent cloth tape (3 in. wide) along the hinged joints of parts (D) and (1) on the inside. With parts (B), (E) and (C) raised and (D) collapsed, glue tape also at the forward corners between (1) and (5), and at the aft corners between (1) and (3) on each side. The tape at the corners fills voids which are necessary to permit (D) to fold. ***
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