Installing a Robbins Tonneau Cover on a 1999 Miata

 by Frank Tighe

I recently purchased a black Robbins tonneau cover from Moss Motors, Ltd., for my new dark green 99 Miata with air conditioning and the Touring Package, which includes power mirrors. No installation instructions were provided by either Moss or Robbins. The single enclosed generic sheet from Robbins advises that you take the cover to an auto trim or upholstery shop for installation. The Robbins cover has headrest pockets, whereas the Mazda factory cover is flat.

The only parts necessary, which are included, are four studs with integral sheet metal screws and two adhesive-type plastic pads with snaps that install under the outside mirrors.

There are four pre-drilled holes in the top of the Miata dash, close to the windshield, apparently for the Mazda factory tonneau cover. These holes are used for the studs to secure the Robbins cover. The furnished studs should be carefully screwed into these holes, holding the studs vertical as you install them. I found it best to start them by hand until they take up a little, then use a quarter-inch drive ratchet with a 9 mm standard socket, pressing down on the ratchet for proper alignment. Be careful not to damage the windshield with the ratchet wrench. I'm not sure what the screws thread into below the dash, so I didn't tighten the studs too much--just until they were snug.

Although it might not be necessary, I disconnected the negative lead from the battery using the battery switch I previously installed, before working on the power mirrors. The mirrors rotate forward, exposing two large Phillips head mounting screws for the pads under the mirrors. If you work alone, as I do, be sure the Robbins pad is within reach before you remove the mirror mounting screws, since you will have to hold the mirror, with its attached cable, if you have power mirrors.

Wipe the car door under the mounting pad and the surface of the mirror mounting pad. Don't put any tension on the cable from the door to the mirror. Remove the protective film from the Robbins pad marked R (for right) or L (for left) and install the Robbins pad under the mirror mounting pad so the snap projects in toward the center of the car and slightly to the rear, with the snap pointing UP. As you position the pad, keep the snap as far away from the mirror mounting pad as possible, so you will have sufficient room to secure the tab on the cover.

Reinstall the mirror mounting pad screws and snug them down. Rotate the mirror back to the normal position and you are ready to install the cover. I first lubricated the three zippers with beeswax, which allows them to operate much more easily. It might also help to spread the cover out in a warm area and let it relax a while before installing it.

Unzip the long center zipper, zip the two side zippers closed, then secure the back end of the cover, being careful to center it, just as you have to do with the boot furnished by Mazda. The rear of the tonneau cover secures in the same manner as the factory boot, but the plastic lips don't look as substantial as those on the Mazda boot. Then secure the large side snaps on the seat belt towers and fold the driver's side of the cover back over the rear of the cover.

Since the Robbins cover has headrest pockets, first adjust the passenger's seat and seat back so the headrest pocket on that side fits OK. This is easier said than done. I found it necessary to position the seat almost full back, then experiment with the seat back position. With the headrest about right, get in the driver's seat, grunt a little (or a lot) and you should just be able to secure the center front fastener on the passenger's side of the cover. Then get out, walk around the car and secure the right front fastener, which will take some more grunting. Then secure the mirror snap. If it won't stay snapped, the snap is too close to the mirror mounting pad and you will have to again remove the mirror and reposition the pad (as I did.)

On the driver's side, first position the seat and seat back. Again, this will take some trials and time. With the headrest pocket about right, try to secure the front fasteners. I gave up on the center front snap, at least at this time. A friend with arms like an orangutan would help. Secure the outside front snap by grunting some, then close the long zipper and secure the mirror snap. Since the two front center snaps are fairly close together, you don't lose much if you can't secure both of them.

I am a critical guy, but I found the quality of the Robbins cover regarding materials, fabrication and fit, to be excellent. After the cover stretches some from use, it should be easier to secure the front fasteners.

On a test drive on a cold evening with the passenger's side covered, there was noticeably less cockpit turbulence, even with the windows down. Remember that you can't raise the passenger's window with the cover in place. The cover didn't flap at speeds up to 65 mph with the Mazda factory windblocker I recently installed in the down position.

Although it's too soon to be certain, I believe the headrest pockets cover is just as much trouble to use as the Mazda factory cover would be. The only advantage I can see with the pockets cover is that you can tighten the rear of the cover by releasing the seat back and allowing it to move forward. This helps when trying to secure the front of the cover. It shouldn't be too hard to have an auto upholstery shop convert the pockets cover to a flat cover, if you later so desire.

My impression is that Mazda's location for the front studs is too close to the windshield. Another half-inch aft would make the cover much easier to install and remove and would not have any practical effect on its weather resistance. Remember to lift the dot when attempting to unfasten the front fasteners. Lubricating the zippers with beeswax makes the zippers much easier to operate, especially in cold weather.

The only tools required for this installation are a quarter-inch drive ratchet, a standard 9 mm socket and (preferably) a long shank No. 3 Phillips screwdriver. Protect the mirror housing when removing or reinstalling the mirror screws, to prevent damaging the paint and don't hit the windshield with your ratchet wrench when installing the front studs.

The time required for installation depends on how much grunting you have to do to secure the front fasteners and how many times you have to reposition the seat and seat backs. It took me about two hours, including removing the passenger's mirror a second time to reposition the snap pad. It would seem that Robbins could do a better job of furnishing installation instructions, though they do advise how to care for their tops and covers.

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04 November, 1999