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Old 02-29-2012, 11:54 AM   #1
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Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe info

Hello SMB'ers,

I'm shopping for a used 2wd Sportsmobile, probably older (but clean). I've seen a lot of them in photos (searched sold ones, photo albums, blogs, etc.), and I have read a lot of previous threads here on the Sportsmobile forum. Great info! Since I did take the time to search/read, I hope you won't mind me asking a couple of questions that are obviously not original, but that I would like to put my own twist on.

1) Top style. Most of the used SMB's in my vintage/range seem to have either the PH top, or a "higher" fixed top (with a longish slider on each side). So those seem to be the most likely I will be choosing between. Unfortunately, I can't really "Try and buy" both! I'd like to lay out my thoughts here, and then I would really appreciate your input and responses (because you all have actual experience with them!).

a) Fixed high top:

Pros:
-More cabinetry (useful for me on long trips).
-No need to lift top (I plan to put the weight of solar panels on top).
-Always there in usable form, so for stealthing at a Wal-Mart or rest area (which I do a lot) I won't need to be stooping.
- If I need to take off suddenly due to hinky situation, nothing to lower.

Cons:
- This is sort of subjective, but they just "feel" bulky to me, and more like "any old blobby conversion van."
- No opportunity to have that tent-like feel (but I don't think I would end up using it that way much?)
- Easy to overload, weight-wise, up high?
(Note: I won't be garage-storing so in that way height is not an issue.)

b) PH top

Pros:
-Again, subjective, but has that "alternative" Westy feel, vs. the 80's lecherous conversion van feel.
- Just looks less like I'm "living in there" and more like a regular van.
- Lots of light and air when up.
- Better mileage/handling driving when down? Not sure if that's true.

Cons:
- Wouldn't put up when stealthing at rest area or Wal-mart, so would be stooping.
- Less secure against wildlife/weirdos when up.
- What happens if it's raining and you need to leave - lower it wet? That sounds maybe yucky.
- Top may be heavy to lift/lower with Solar panels on top?
- Much less cabinetry (this is important to me.... I think)
- More potential for wet and leaks?

So, I would be very pleased if any of you would weigh in on my list - or add thoughts that I may have missed. I tend to take a lot of longer road trips, so do a lot of "stopping for the night" at Rest Areas, Wal-Marts, 24-hour grocery stores, etc. I have a tiny camper now, but I HATE how when I stop, I have to get out of my car and go into the camper, thereby announcing to the world, "here I am, camping, alone." And then I feel a bit trapped if something raises my hackles.

Years ago, I had a small truck with a large topper, and it had a window-sized pass through from cab to back. Not as convenient as a van, by far, but I *could* get into the front if I needed to head out, even if it was not elegant.

A related question: If I were camping in the back-country, then I WOULD want to put the PH top up. In an emergency, if I felt I need to roll, could I drive at all with the top raised? I mean, I know I *could* but how damaging would it be? Say I drove a mile on a smooth gravel road or something (not anticipating a high-speed chase; just more the feeling that "hmm, good time to move on a bit." OF course many times I might just take a moment to put the top down (not sure how long that needs to be).

Second topic: Striping.

Almost all the older, used SMB's I have seen have what is to me, godawful striping that just screams "cheesy conversion van from the 80's" (even if the SMB's are from the 90's - guess the striping style hung around for a while). I hate them!!

I have experience removing vinyl names and stripes from boats, but... at least in the photos, these often look like they might be painted on and/or clear-coated? They just look so shiny and seamless in photos. Are they ever? Or are they always vinyl graphics?

If they are painted/clearcoat, then what's involved in removing them? (Sounds much more like body/paint work, which I'm not experienced in at all.)

This one is not a question, but just to say how relieved I was to do some research here on the forum and find out that I can remove the often-ugly running boards. I especially dislike the fiberglass ones that include fender flares. The aluminum ones don't hugely bother me to look at, but I find they are actually make it more awkward to get in and out of the front seats. I initially wasn't sure if they were fastened through the body, but it sounds like they are fastened below the body line (plus a bit of tape). Whew!

Thanks to anyone who read this whole post and I will be appreciative of any replies!

Viva
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Old 02-29-2012, 12:28 PM   #2
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

Quote:
Originally Posted by Viva
Hello SMB'ers,

hinky, old blobby, lecherous, weirdos,
yuky, cheesy, often-ugly!

Viva

Zeta, The way I see it Viva aimed this post at either me or you. You wanna take it?
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Old 02-29-2012, 01:09 PM   #3
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Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe info

Ok. Had both tops...kinda hated the fixed roof: cramped, hot and made the rig too durned big. PH is better in every way--even has more storage. When it's up one can pile tons of crap on the bunk.

Have no desire to "camp" at Walmart--I'm proabably too ugly anyway.

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Old 02-29-2012, 02:29 PM   #4
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

Okay, I'm sorry if I inadvertently offended anyone! Most of the "bad" adjectives were aimed at 80's style vans, with a few thrown in for people who either mean harm or seem like they might. Not thinking of anyone here!

And just to clarify, I have no desire to "camp" at Wal-Mart. It's just that, in addition to real camping (out in the hinterlands, away from KOA's, Wal-Marts, cramped campgrounds, etc.), I make a lot of road trips, and on those I just want to stop and sleep. I hate motels, and see no reason to pay $25 for a campsite. Also, I tend to wind down around 3 a.m. on road trips, so I would arrive much too late for good campsite finding. Those are the times I just want to pull into a rest area and crash for the night.

Granted, I can do that in my station wagon, but on long trips it's sure nice to be able to stand up and to cook. I think the thing I get tired of most on "station wagon" road trips is eating junk food or "cold" food like Clif bars day after day. I'm not much of a restaurant person. That and too many rainy days just either sitting in the driver's seat, or lying down in back. Compared to that, any SMB will be heaven!

And too, the destination is often someplace I want to spend some time, so it's not *just* road tripping. I hope that explains better where I'm coming from.

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Old 02-29-2012, 02:39 PM   #5
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

I'm from the other camp than Zeta. Although I've never owned a PH I have no desire to buy one. The main reason for that decision is based on how I use my van most of the time.

I do a fair amount of white water rafting during the winter months in the Pacific Northwest. The vans main function for those outings is to serve as a dry comfortable changing room and a shuttle rig to haul other boaters back and forth from a takeout to a putin. My van has a very tall hard shell top on it. I can stand up and move around when I'm getting in and out of a drysuit. I would have to raise the penthouse for 5 to 10 minutes every time I changed clothes. This would expose the tent material sides of the PH to the rain/sleet/snow. Since I don't have a garage big enough to dry out the PH top every weekend the top would most definitely get yuky.

You will be sacrificing some fuel economy with a big topper.

My suggestion is to base your style decision on the best functionality for your particilar projected uses. Nothing screams "Hi I'm in here trying to sleep" quite like the raised PH top of a SMB. If stealth RV parking is a major concern I'd be hesitant to buy a PH top.

Storage space isn't really much of a factor. You can design both systems to meet your needs.

By the way I wasn't even close to being offended by your choice adjectives. I thought they were great! You will have to try a lot harder to offend almost everyone on this forum
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Old 02-29-2012, 02:45 PM   #6
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

Great info, thanks!

I used to do a lot of whitewater kayaking, so I can identify with what you say. Those are good considerations.

As far as stealth, I suppose when I'm road-tripping and doing rest areas, etc. I would leave a PH top down. Heck, I'd only be crashing and maybe some minor cooking, so that might even be stealthier than a high top. But then, like you say, with a high top I would still be moderately stealthy, and have the "full van" at my disposal.

I think one thing that put me a bit off the high tops is that the older ones just have MORE stripes because they tend to loop around onto the top as well. But if those can come off without major paint/body work, then that might not be a real minus.

Even the "modern" RV graphics just do NOT appeal to me.

If anyone else has input, it's greatly appreciated. I know I have to decide for myself, and your situations might not be mine; but it really helps me to develop my opinion as I read your input and think "oh, yeah!" or "hmmm, no, not for me." Because I can't try one for myself in real life without buying one.

So thanks again,
Viva
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Old 02-29-2012, 04:23 PM   #7
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

Quote:
Originally Posted by Viva
Great info, thanks!

I think one thing that put me a bit off the high tops is that the older ones just have MORE stripes because they tend to loop around onto the top as well. But if those can come off without major paint/body work, then that might not be a real minus.

Even the "modern" RV graphics just do NOT appeal to me.

So thanks again,
Viva
The stripes were an option on SMB's. And they were fairly plain. And they were vinyl applied over the factory paint, and as such they could be removed. After many years you may find the paint has faded a little (some colors) and you may be able to see where the stripe was.

Vans with garish stripes, either weren't SMB's or they were applied by the owner (or at the owner's request).

Mike
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Old 02-29-2012, 04:41 PM   #8
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

Thanks for the stripe info, Mike.

I agree, as conversion vans go, Sportsmobiles are about as subtle as they get. Some of the RB PH stripes I've seen are nice enough that I would even consider keeping them. Just one basic line.

OTOH, the ones on the high-tops become a bit too much for me, because instead of basically one stripe going the length of the van (at least the ones I've seen) go down the van, up the back, and then loop around onto the high-top (I could tell they were probably official SMB stripes because they look a lot like the simpler ones, but "more").

I think the other reason they seem "worse" to me on the high-top, is that the high-top already looks more like any number of non-Sportsmobile conversion vans from back then, whereas the PH looks like an SMB, or has more of a "Westy" flavor, even with a stripe.

And I guess I just don't go in for the graphics - just personal taste.

Knowing they are vinyl is great! Granted, there might be some paint-color difference after all these years, but I could probably live with that. Worst-case scenario, I could put on a new, more-subtle stripe in a color I like, to distract from it.

Thanks again,
Viva
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Old 02-29-2012, 09:04 PM   #9
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

Putting the top down on the penthouse....no biggie..pull it down and secure the three clamps or whatever they are called. Although when pulling the top down you do need a window or door open.

Good luck on your search for the right SMB for you.
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Old 02-29-2012, 11:02 PM   #10
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Re: Used SMB shopping: Seeking top-style opinions + stripe i

Regarding pent house tops, your pros and cons seem about right.
I've lowered my top wet many times without a problem. I pop it to dry when it stops raining.
If you do go penthouse make sure you can raise and lower it easily, because you will want to raise it for lunch and in the evening when traveling. SMB can adjust the tension if necessary.
In an old thread in the old yahoo SMB list people said you could safely drive with your top up to, for instance, change campsites in a campground.
Penthouse is definitely better for stealth camping, but you don't need to stealth camp at WalMart. Pop your top and be comfortable.
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