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Travel Equipment Corporation Camper Tops
The Travel Equipment Corporation Travel Top that adorns the top of my Greenbrier Sportswagon has a long and varied history that has fascinated me since I first saw it.
I came upon this particular top kind of by accident. I had been looking at Volkswagen Westfalia tops as well as Turtle tops of the 1960’s. Going camping with a VW Bus group had helped me to see the variety of tops available and what I would have to do to install one on my van. While discussing this with Jeff Stonesifer of the Corvair Ranch one summer day, he said, "Have I got a camper top for you!" He proceeded to take me out in the field to find a particularly forlorn 1961 Greenbrier with a hideous aluminum top that looked to me to be a homebrewed creation. What I saw did not impress me especially since it was always in a raised position. Or was it? Jeff went inside the van, grabbed the handles attached to both sides and gave a pull. The top collapsed to 3.5 inches! I could not believe how unique it was, but still thought it was ugly. I went home that day still thinking about camper tops and my Greenbrier.
I called Jeff again before too long. I had to know if it was a homemade topper or a factory conversion. He assured me that it was produced by a company, it was correct for the Greenbrier, and that a data plate somewhere on its superstructure ensured its authenticity. Well, that sealed it. I would have that top! I actually lost sleep until the next time I could get up to the Ranch to check the data plate. Upon investigation from the patent numbers on the plate, I was able to find out some interesting things about the top and the company that built it.
The US Patent number for the top is 2,926,042. After finding the address for the US Patent office, I sent away for a copy of the original patent. The top was patented by an Englishman named Maurice Calthorpe on February 23, 1960. It was titled "Extensible Roof Motor Road Vehicles." Apparently, Mr. Calthorpe had seen a need for expanding the roofs of trucks and station wagons in England for the textile trade as well as the individual person who wished to use his vehicle for overnight camping. Thames, Bedford, and other English vehicles could be seen with these expanding roofs all over Europe. Finally the Travel Equipment Corporation purchased the rights to the patent after it was brought to America. They continued to work with Mr. Calthorpe in order to improve his product and make it more user friendly. These improvements are evident in some changes my top obviously has from the original design.
In America, Travel Equipment Corporation provided the tops for aftermarket sale on such vehicles as the Corvair Greenbrier and Corvan, Ford Falcon and Econoline vans, Volkswagen busses, International Harvester Travelalls, and Dodge A-100 vans. I have a great deal of literature pertaining to these tops discussing their versatility and ease of use. One particularly dated piece proclaims: "up or down in two seconds, these tops are so easy to use, a woman can do it."
I bought my top (Serial Number 542…very early production) for $35 and removed it from the junked Greenbrier piece by piece. When I finally had it home, I began its restoration. Almost every piece was replaced or rebuilt with plastic lumber, aluminum sheeting, stainless steel hinges and hardware, or new rubber. It now really will "last the life of the vehicle."
After two years of restoration and parts gathering, installation of the top took 14 hours on a single day. From cutting the hole in the roof to placing the last piece of weather stripping, it was an enjoyable job. I can now stand in my van and I am over 6 feet tall. I enjoy the ease with which the top works and the looks I get in campgrounds and car shows. A trip to the mall can be an adventure. TEC also produced interiors (the one was completely gone from the Greenbrier I took the top off of) as well as special cot brackets for children’s cots. A well-equipped Greenbrier converted by Travel Equipment Corporation could sleep up to six people without a tent!
Since I bought the original top, I have found and sold four others. These tops ranged in serial number between 4815 and 5153, making my #542 very unique indeed. The later tops varied in shape from the earlier top including more advanced hinge arrangements and folding qualities. I have seen 1970’s Ford vans with high roof conversions by TEC, but the company is no longer in business. They did, however, produce some very interesting products in their time.