Cabrio World Top Installation

by Andrea Chen -

Tools used:

I have never changed a top or done any of the things Brian Dore listed that would make you a likely candidate for successful top replacement. But I’m an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, pretty visual and, having been a computer technician, mechanically oriented. All I had were the instruction sheet and Miata.Net -- no shop manual. I’m sure some of the things I say will be obvious to others but this was my first time doing anything more complicated than changing the oil, so bear with me.

The instructions enclosed were merely a ripoff of Dore’s article, down to typographical errors. The only thing Cabrio World changed were references to "I" and a few commentary lines. Brian Dore deserves a tip of the hat for his article, but several articles on Miata.Net helped me through the spots where it was lacking.

The biggest annoyance in the instructions is inconsistency of detail. It counts 13 "plastic clips" that hold down the carpet and that you need a 10 mm hex driver, but it doesn’t say how many of what size rivets to use or that you need to use washers with them. It completely omits the fact that there are six more of these "plastic clips" that need to get removed. I spent a huge amount of time journeying to the hardware store to get what I hoped was the right thing. What I hope to do in this article is save that kind of time for the next person who tries this, as well as note where things are more difficult than others.

When I read "plastic clips" I started looking for something like a hairpin (I’m a girl, what do you expect). I almost gave it up right then. They were the 1" diameter round things which I would call plastic push rivets. The article that mentioned using a sturdy fork was my lifesaver and I kept coming back to that fork. I think, for having been such a perfectly useful tool, I may frame it and save it from the mundane future of being stuck in mouths.

I didn’t take out the carpet completely. I removed all the push rivets in the rear but did not remove those behind the seats or unscrew the two caps, and just shoved the carpet out of the way as needed. I spent a frustrating 20 minutes trying to remove the first hexnut. Finally I got the thing out, measured my hexnut driver and learned, to my complete shock, that despite being labeled 10mm it was a titch smaller than that. Off to the hardware store for an argument with the manager.

After removing the 3 metal bars in the rear, per instructions I went to the front, opened the top partway and removed the setplate. No problems removing the first two pieces of weatherstripping and their holders, but I was stopped by the bottom of the third piece of weatherstripping. After opening the top completely and feeling around, I found each was fastened by two more push rivets (thanks again, fork). Using the stubby Phillips I removed the screw under that to take out the metal piece that wraps over the bottom edge of the top material.

There were two metal rivets to drill out from under the third weatherstrip holder, and two more below the folding parts. Wear your safety glasses.

I pulled the top’s front corners off the frame to find the cable. Cabrio’s instructions said to drill out the rivet at the top, which I didn’t do because I only had one size rivet and it wasn’t long enough. Back on Miata.Net another article said to unscrew the other end of the cable, which is attached to a 2-inch spring near the bottom of the B pillar. Do this slowly and hold onto the screw unless you want to send it flying to places unknown. Then I detached the cable from the spring with needlenose pliers and drew it out.

The next part was peeling the top off. This went fairly smoothly, though it tended to get stuck in the center of each bow. Pull the top material frontward as much as possible to give enough slack to get the fabric out.

The rain rail I was keeping and was worrying I would break it, and yes, it ended up with some small cracks in it. There’s more to it than I initially saw – there’s the grey rubbery plastic but the back side is a larger piece of brittle black plastic. At each end the black plastic part is attached inside the body with yet another round push rivet (the fork does it again). Lots of gentle tugging and sliding and the whole thing was put out, triumphantly, on the driveway.

I drilled out the rivets. Holding the other end with pliers is totally necessary. I laid the Cabrio top out, punched the holes with a rotary punch and re-riveted the rain rail on using 4 x 7mm aluminum rivets with a washer on the other side. Rivet from the center out, things will match better. Then I put the thing into its proper place on top of the car.

Taking the top off was difficult because of vague instructions. Putting on the new one was difficult because you have to really haul to get the top in place. Resting the back end on the bolts is hard because the glass is heavy and constantly in the way. It really helps to have assistance (I didn’t). Once you get the back end in place, unzip the window, it’ll make attaching the material to the bows a lot easier (you’ll have to do it anyway since you’ll be constantly opening and closing and halfwaying the top.)

I fished the cable through the new top and attached the spring. The top has to open more than halfway to get enough slack to screw it in.

Replacing the lowest piece of insulation was a bear. There’s not much space to work and see in, you have to punch two largeish holes in the material for the round plastic rivets and they have to be a pretty good match location-wise to the holes in the metal. If I had to do it again, I would screw in the material, remove the screw, measure the distances from the screw, then punch the holes.

The front corners were troublesome. The stock top had neatly sewn pockets; Cabrio’s are two flaps to be folded. I trimmed the side flap diagonally so that the front flap slightly overlapped the other, and stuck it down with the double-sided tape, but we’ll just have to see how well it holds.

Initially, the top was so tight I had a hard time closing it, but after leaving it closed for a few days the material stretched enough. We had a storm a few days later – just in time – and no leaks. The sides have slight wrinkles but that’s my own fault and I can live with it. It’s great to have a glass window, especially since it seems wider than the plastic one.

Totally I put about 9 hours into it, which includes musing, staring in bafflement, smoking and cussing, and not including trips to the hardware store.

Pluses about the Cabrio top: good material, great price ($325 delivered). Minuses: Along with the front corners not being sewn, the ends of the zipper aren’t fastened anywhere, which makes zipping hard to start because the end pulls up as you’re zipping up. I may try velcroing the ends to the top. If anyone has found a method, I’d love to hear it.

Back to the Garage

11 November, 2000