Pop-top struts for T-Rex types.
HER PERSPECTIVE: Getting the top up in days of old (before the solar panel and Rocket Box) was doable by myself. It took some effort and a weird little jump thing, but I got it done. Once the panel went on, it was game over. I did it one time, but that involved propping the top up with a piece of firewood, lots of swearing, and near death by decapitation from the cross bar. (Don't ask.) Brandon had wanted to order these things for a long time, but I figured it was a waste of money since we were always together and could just put it up as a team. I liked the teamwork. And it was yet another damn thing that cost another damn $100! Turns out, best money ever spent. Seriously.
HOW HE DID IT: We got the HD Jack Bombay pop top shocks from Bus Depot. The installation was a piece of cake, just read (and follow!) the included instructions. Be sure to swap one bolt at a time on the hinge for the top - if you remove two, the hinge will pivot around the one remaining bolt and things will probably get far more exciting.
I did deviate from the instructions a little in two places, though. First, I smeared sealant on the threads of all of the new fasteners. Not too critical for the hole in the fiberglass since it's still outside of the tent, but I'd rather keep it as dry as possible there. Not that there would've been a lot of leakage anyway, but I'd rather be thorough. The stock fasteners for the hinge had sealant on them, so VW clearly wanted to keep water out of those holes. They're protected by the fiberglass, but again with the thoroughness aspect. I also put tape over the fiberglass before I drilled the hole, as I've found that gelcoat likes to chip if you don't use tape.
PROS: Easy install, economical, and works well. Plus, you only have to put two permanent holes in the top. It really does make it much easier to put the top up. Also, my wife still has her head, so that's a good thing.
CONS: None, so far. I seriously considered the GoWesty setup, and I think I might prefer those. From a mechanical standpoint, they make more sense as they're supporting the roof farther from the pivot point. They also distribute their force much better. I ended up with the Bombay setup because of the price, mostly, but it's also nice to not have to drill so many holes (that's less of an issue on a not-perfect van like Humboldt, though).
With just the solar panel on top, it does takes a bit of a tug to get the lid latched. Really, that's my fault for ordering the HD version, and one I'm willing to accept - it's not that bad, and it should be a non-issue once we have a loaded Rocket Box on top.
VERDICT: So far, so good. Really, I only have two long-term questions / concerns. First, how well will it work once the Rocket Box is up there? I'm thinking well, but we'll see. Second, how will the fiberglass fare with the load of the struts pushing against just one hole each? From what I can tell, the GoWesty setup distributes the load much better. The more I think about it, the more I wonder... We're committed now, so we'll stick with it and see.