1961 Volkswagen SO-23 Camper - SB

Here is my 1961 Westfalia camper. I bought in in April of 2000 for $1000. To the left is the picture I got, that sent me to the Pacific Beach area of San Diego in a hurry. While it wasn't a beaut by any means, it was rather complete as far as interior goes. The guy that I bought it from, removed the tent and the Ambulance fans and sold it to me for what he paid. It would have been nice to get the tent and fans, but for $1000 61 Westy who can complain. When I brought it home, I already had two busses in the garage and my then girlfriend wasn't happy to see a third come rolling into the driveway. So needless to say her label for my beloved new bus sort of stuck and so she was named... "Stupid Bus" or "SB" as I like to call her. While she is a great bus she did have a few problems. The folder of receipts showed that the owner before the guy I bought her from had a starting problem and took her to City VW, who put in a rabbit starter, which destroyed the flywheel and ate up the hole for the starter input shaft. This and the death of his beloved traveling/hanging out in the bus dog, coerced him into selling the bus. Besides the few engine things, there were cut wheel wells, some knarly bumper bracket mounts on the front and the entire roof was in really bad shape. The bottom 3 inches above the drip rail were made of Bondo, Fiberglass, Chicken Wire, Aluminum foil and even a coffee can. But she was a '61 westy. For the first year I drove her around and just enjoyed getting from point A to Point B. A few shows here and there, a camp out or two and a little work and clean up here and there. In March of 2001, my then girlfriend, Sarah and I went camping with the Strictly Vintage Type 2's in Ramona California. While not real mountains, they are considered the mountains around San Diego. Being as it was March, the so-called rainy season of So-Cal wasn't quite over and we got wet. The rain was coming down pretty good, and my Home Depot, blue tarps seemed to be doing a pretty good job. Water was leaking in here and there, but it didn't appear to be anything insurmountable. But with no site of the rain letting up, I opened the doors to ask her what she wanted to do, "Stay or Go". Sarah already had a cold so she was fully dressed, with a sweatshirt, and bundled up in one of those sleeping bags that have the draw string to tighten around your face and a beanie. So her reply came back as a nasally "I don't care". In the midst of her reply a drop of water came in from the sub-hatch. Why is all this relevant? Because it explains why I've been bus-less at all of the events since. I slammed the doors shut, gave a wave to the SV2's hard core campers still left and we were gone. Water slipping by the duct tape, and coming in from every direction, but we were heading home. For the next day or two she sat out in the garage drying out, but I had already decided what to do. SB needed a whole new lid

That week I put the word out, that if anybody was cutting anything up, or if they knew anybody who might be, I needed a new roof. It didn't take long. I ended up talking with Scott McWilliams, a long time SV2's member, who had a deal going for a donor bus for his lunch wagon project and a spare roof coming out from New Mexico. The roof was included in the deal to fill the huge pop-top hatch hole cut into the donor busses roof. After a little brainstorming we figured out Scott could do his project with out the use of the spare roof. With the help of a few friends, Randy of Randar Wheels fame, my roommates Kevin and Scott we got the roof loaded on Randy's flat bed trailer, over to my house and up on top of Jack ('59 bus) until I was ready for it. The roof was from a mid 60's bus so it had a few little differences from the roof a '61, but they are pretty small and won't be seen with the interior back in.

With the roof now at my house, work could begin. After some analysis, I figured that everything below the drip rail was in good shape on the bus, and the clip was cut mid window, so I had plenty to work with. As the rear hatches were different, and there was no problem with the tops of my windows, it made no sense to remove anymore metal from the bus than I really had to. So it was decided that the bus would keep every thing from below the actual drip rail structure. Part one: Dismantling the bus. While the pop-out window screws soaked in the liquid wrench, I removed all of the interior cabinets, seats, and panels. The only thing left in the bus is the steering wheel covered with a wet towel (just in case I had to move the bus). Most of the pop-out screws came out with just a couple of douses of liquid wrench while others needed a some rubber malletting and some persuasion. What I did find to work really well against breakage, was once I had movement in the screw, I housed it down and screwed it in and out over and over again loosening it a little more with each turn. With this method, not one screw broke. It was great. In order to get the bus lower to the ground for all this roof work, the wheels were removed so that it was sitting on drums, still roll-able and even lower than I expected. Here you also notice the cut wheel wells that I'm replacing.

Removing the existing roof. This was pretty easy because my roof was so rusted out. I decided to save my fresh air duct as it is slightly different from that of the new roof. I ordered a few spot weld cutters from Northern Tool and Equipment and proceeded to drill out the spot welds that held the air duct to the roof. If you haven't drilled out a spot weld before, there really isn't much to it once you find it. I found that a grinder with a wire wheel removed the paint quickly and made finding the spot welds on the clean metal real easy. I also used a metal putty knife and a rubber mallet to get through any of the spot weld the cutter might have not fully cleared. Mistakenly I drilled out all of the spot welds that held the two roof supports to the bus, with the premise of using these in the finished product. With all of the spot welds cut, I could use the air hammer, to power right through the rotted metal, Bondo concoction. Now the bulk of the roof was removed and the drip rail assembly was left. Up to this point I had hoped I would be able to salvage the inner drip rail assembly, but this was not the case. It too was very well rusted out and needed to be removed.  At this point I decided to switch my efforts to the new roof and begin removing any excess metal there.  Basically all the metal below the drip rail needed to be removed as well as the hardware and mountings for the mid '60s rear hatch.  (Mid 60's hatch is spring loaded as earlier busses aren't).  Using the die grinder cut off tool with a 3" blade I cut as close to the drip rail as possible leaving me plenty of window frame metal to be used on some other project bus at a later date.  Then the electric grinder to grind the metal down, find the spot welds and small screw driver rubber mallet combination to lift the metal and grind some more.  This process limited the amount of metal being removed from the drip rail and allowed just spot welds to be ground easier. Here are a couple pics of the roof suspended above the bus with all of the metal removed from it.  I also removed the fresh air duct and from the new roof as the one in the bus was in good shape and different because of the difference in years. 

New Roof Separation:  This next step was the most crucial to the entire project.  There are four parts that make up the roof on your bus.  The cap, which is the most prolific part that you see in the pictures.  The roof supports that run from side to side spot welded to the roof.  The drip rail assembly that the cap is spot welded to and a three part inner support that runs down each side the length of the bus, and the third over the rear hatch.  These inner   supports are spot welded to the roof and to the drip rail assembly.  I decided that I could drill out all of the spot welds that hold the drip rail to the inner supports and then make an incision in the cap where the roof curve bends to lay flat in the drip rail.  (By using this process, I was able to weld the roof on in two stages and maintain the maximum rigidity of the roof when the project was complete.)  With the drip rail assembly removed on each side I could remove the existing rusty drip rail off of the bus.  As this area was so rusted, finding the spot welds holding the drip rail to the bus was impossible, so it   had to cut and grind it off.I did luck out big time in that the section from A pillar to A pillar around the front   was in good shape and needed very little work and that the rear hatch support was sturdy enough to repair and build off of.  In the right picture, the bulge where it looks as though the bus is bowing out is actually the cargo doors, as there is no top to support them from opening out a bit.

To attach the new drip rail assembly to the bus, I drilled holes in it where the spot welds had been and welded it to the bus. I did have to manipulate the metal a bit here and there but for the most part it really was that easy once it was shaped to fit. Here are a couple of pics with the new drip rail attached.


As of right now 04-26-02 I'm waiting on all of the fresh air duct rubber parts to come in so I can weld the cap back on .  I've test fit it twice and it is ready to go. While I'm waiting, I'm welding in the wheel wells  which will be another update here.

Here are a couple of pics of the roof resting in place.  These pictures also show the ratchet straps that were bolted into the ceiling.  This was the most fun part of this job, because I was finally able to see the roof in place.  While no where near finished yet, the finished product was in sight.  At this point I rasied the roof back up and POR 15'd all of the inner components of the drip rail and about 6 - 8 inches up the interior of the new Cap.  I did have to wire wheel the two surfaces when actually tacking came into play as the POR 15 had been put on a little liberally in some places.  Because the cap was seperated from the drip rail and the drip rail was now secure to the bus, I could follow the lines where the two were seperated and begin tacking the two back together.  I did have to rebuild the rear hatch mounting as it was pretty rusty under there.  Using some of the parts from the new roof drip rail, a couple from the old rear hatch and a couple new ones, I was able to rebuild it nice and sturdy and most importantly rust free.


Main Tools used:

Miller 130 Mig welder. Best tool on the planet.  I've welded with others and nothing has beat it yet for this kind of work.
Die grinder cut off tool and 3" blade
Electric Grinder with grinding wheel
Electric Grinder with wire wheel
Drill with 1/4 spot weld cutter bit and 3/8 bit on a couple
Rubber mallet and various other every day tools

Last Modified  

Click Images to enlarge!!!!