This is not an article about how I spent my weekend installing a top. I have installed over a dozen tops and the following is an illustrated guide on how to do it. The pictures are from putting a Robbins glass window top on a '93 C package.
*Note if you have a '90 Miata some early models need to be update by adding B-pillar retaining clips (binding guard). These clips keep the top material from binding on the body when being put up. Some top manufactures will void your warranty if these clips are not installed. Mazda part number NA01-R1-272(right side) NA01-R1-271(left side). The clips cost around $25 each at my local Mazda dealer, but you might get a better price from some of the vendors on Miata.net that offer factory parts. There are pictures of these retaining clips in this article.
I do not reuse rain rails. Do yourself a favor and purchase a top with a rain rail already attached to the top by the manufacture.
The following instructions are for leaving the top frame on the car while replacing the top material. Some folks like to remove the entire frame from the car to remove/replace the top on a large table. I prefer to keep the frame on the car.
1. Open both doors as far as they will go and turn off you interior lights.
2. Place a towel and a large blanket on the trunk. This will serve as a place to set your tools while working on the car. If you have a fixed antenna you will need to remove it.
3. Push your seat bottoms all the way forward and then recline the seats all the way back.
4. Remove the rear carpet. Use a pry tool to remove all the carpet fasteners. These push type retainers are fragile. Try not to pry them out by putting all the pressure on the head of the tack.
5. Remove the frame stops and remove the carpet from the car.
6. Place a towel over the rear tray area to keep the carpet adhesive from sticking to everything and to protect the window of the new top until you put the carpet back in.
Remove the three metal rails that hold the rain rail to the car's body. Remove
the 10mm nuts. Remove all three pieces and place them in order on the carpet.
Place the 10mm nuts in a bowl and place them with the rails.
8. Pull the rain rail away from the body studs and leave it loose.
9. Remove the header bow at the front of the top. Remove the 7 screws. Also remove the 2 screws (each side) from the rubber seals. TIP - prop the top half way up for this step and it will go a lot faster. I use a car duster as a prop.
10. Remove the window seals. Just pull on them by hand and they come right out of the metal rails. Place them in the foot well of the side of the car you removed them from. This will save you a lot of heart ache later when you for get which side of the car these seals came off of. The rearward seal has two push type connectors that hold them to the frame. Try the pry tool to get the fasteners out of their holes. Be careful not to rip the rubber.
11. Remove the metal strips that held the rubber seals. Unscrew them and pull them free of the mild adhesive.
12. Here is a close up of the dreaded B-pillar retaining clips, also know as the binding guards. Removing these can be the toughest part of the job if you can't find the right tool to get at the screw that holds this part in place. I found that most screwdrivers are to difficult to use in this tight space so I used a universal tool (like a pocket knife) with the Phillips head extended. Later as I did more and more tops I bought a jewelers tool at Ace Hardware that has a 90-degree, small Phillips head that ratchets.
13. Drill out the 2 (each side) rivets holding the top material to the frame. You might need to use the pry tool to keep the rivet from spinning.
14. Remove the top material form the front of the frame. Just pull on the top till it separates from the adhesive.
15. Drill out the rivet holding the tension cable. Be very careful not to break the plastic head of the cable when removing the rivet. You will be reusing the cable on your new top!
16. Drill out the "phantom" rivets (2 each side) that holds the window panel. It may be easier to access these rivets with top up and the window down. I have seen tops installed with out these rivets used. If you were replacing the back window panel only you would need to remove these rivets.
17. Continue to remove the top material from the frame listings. Use a screwdriver or a pry tool to open up the metal retainers a little.
18. Remove the tension cable screw. I place the screw back in the hole after I remove the cable to keep from misplacing it.
19. Remove the top material from around the frame. There are two push type fasteners on the extreme ends of the rain rail. As you pull the remaining material, make sure to release these fasteners by pulling on them by hand.
20. Lay the old top on the ground next to your new top. Next transfer the tension cables from the old top to the new one. Your new top should have string threaded through the holes already. Use the string to pull the cable through the holes. Make sure the spring goes toward the back of the top.
TIP - Before you install the new top place a wash cloth (1 each side) over the drain holes in the forward corners of top area. This will keep you from dropping screws down the rain rail drains. If you do manage to drop any thing down these holes you can get the item back by look under the car for the drain tube and pushing a screwdriver up in it to push aside the flap and release the item.
TIP - If you are installing a tan cloth top, wash your hands before you start handling the new top.
TIP - Before installing the new top, vacuum up all the metal shavings from the rivets.
1. Prop the top at the front away from the windshield frame - about 2 feet. This will allow you enough room to get the new top material around the B-pillars.
2. Place the top on the frame and work the top material around the B-pillars.
3. Attach the tension cable screw by pulling the top material back to expose the screw.
4. Rivet the top material to the frame (2 each side) and rivet the two "phantom" rivets (2 each side).
5. Attach the top to the reward listing (cross bars of the frame). This is the only one that Velcros together.
6. Attach the top to the middle and forward listing by feeding the material into slot and pry the metal tab toward the bar. I do this just by pushing on it with my palm.
7. Rivet the tension cable to the forward part of the frame. I have installed mostly Robbins tops and the rivets they provide for this are too big. I have a big selection of rivets but have found the sizes either to small or to big. What I do is drill out the hole of the tension cable end. I make the hole just slightly larger. I use needle nose vice grips to hold the plastic end piece while I drill out the hole. Pull the entire top frame toward you to line up the cable end and the hole it is being riveted to. This is a good place to have some one help you steady the top while you push with the rivet gun.
8. Use rubber cement to glue the forward part of the top to the frame. Test fit the top material to where you will glue it and note the alignment of the material to the top. I only glue the edges and not the entire front of the top.
9. Reinstall the metal seal retainers for the rubber seals around the windows. The larger edge goes toward the inside of the car. Note that you can see impressions were the screw heads were. Try to align the screws with those marks.
10. Reinstall the B-pillar retaining clip. I have found that the three holes (one for the screw and 2 for the push fasteners of the rubber window seal) don't line up once the top material is behind the retaining clip. What I used to do was cut the material to make the holes larger. Now I use a regular hole punch to make the holes larger. Be very careful not to trim too much material away. You just want to make the holes slightly larger and then check the alignment. Install the one screw that holds the retaining clips in place.
11. Install the rubber seals on the metal retainer. You will not believe how easy this is. Start at one end and make sure the channel in the rubber lines up with the larger lip on the metal retainer. Just use the palm of you hand and push/slap along the length of the seal. If it isn't going right on with ease you are doing something wrong or have something backwards.
12. Reinstall the header bow metal plate. This is the long thin metal that goes on the forward portion of the top. Install the 7 screws and the 4 (2 each side) screws that secure the weather seal. Install the 7 screws holding the metal plate lose until you can get all the screws lined up with their respective holes then tighten them all.
13. Put the top up and push the rain rail on the studs around the back of the top.
14. If you are installing a top with a glass window use a paper towel roll to prop the glass up out of the way. I also use masking tape to keep the top material out of my way while working on the next few steps.
15. Reinstall the rain rail retainers. Start by installing the sides first. Only hand tighten the nuts. Installing the middle rain rail...you will notice that the middle rail doesn't want to fit correctly between to 2 other retainers. Now, tighten down the smaller outside retainers. The middle retainer still doesn't have enough room between the smaller retainers. Here is what I do: start on the left of the middle rail and attach the nut to the stud and tighten it down. Move right attaching the nuts to the studs. Do about 3 to 4 nuts and check the fit of the rail to see if it will now fit over to the right. You may need to push the rail hard by hand to get it past the other rail. Once you have all the rails in alignment, loosen all the nuts on all 3 retainers so that they are hand tight for the next step.
16. On the outside of the top where the belt molding meets the back of the top there is a rubber lip that needs to be pulled out so it is laying on the top material. This lip keeps most of the water out of the car. Water that bypasses this molding enters the rain rail and is channeled over the sides into the drains.
17. Now the rain rail nuts may be tightened in the order shown on the Robbins top install instructions.
18. Reinstall the carpet. Make sure the top material is also attached to the rain rail retainers behind the carpet.
19. If you are installing a glass window top you will need to add the spacer to the lower frame stop and use the new longer screw to reattach it. Also add the deflector flaps to the upper frame stop.
20. Last step is to adjust the top latches. Open the latch and pull the plastic cover down off the middle hex shaft. Rotate the hex shaft so that the latch is adjusted all the way out (loosen). The new to material will be tight and you might have to help the top into a position to latch it. Take it slow and let the new material stretch.
Note - Make sure when putting your top down that you position the top material by hand so that it folds neatly onto it's self look for the material to form an "S" on the ends, or you may get creases that will show when the top is in the up position.
Note - If the tension cable is binding while the top is going up and causing a "pull" area just above the driver/passenger glass (this is pictured in Brian Doré's top install instructions) you may have to reach under the top material and feel around for the cable in the area of the "pull" and help it into proper position while you are putting the top up, especially the last part when the top goes forward toward the windshield. This may be a necessary procedure until the top material has had some time to stretch and doesn't bind the cable. Enjoy your new top and never miss an opportunity to tell someone you did it yourself!
Copyright © 2001 Chris Lambert - CruzinChris@cox.net
21 February, 2002