Moss Miata

Tips for Changing Your Top

by Rob Goldberg


There are a number of installation guides in the Garage for the various types of tops. Here is a compilation of good suggestions to consider, whatever top you're looking to install!

How the Rain Rail Works:

From the start I think it would pay to wrap your mind around the way the rain rail works. When you unfold the new top from the box, the visual picture might not make sense at first. Rain is meant to flow down the rear surface of the roof, past a flat piece of weather stripping attached to the molding around the cockpit, and then into the interior of a U-shaped plastic channel that runs all around the back perimeter of the top. The open ends of this channel dump into two cups just behind the seat belts, from which two plastic pipes drain the water to the ground underneath the car. This fact can be confirmed by accidentally dropping nuts down these pipes, after which they emerge in the least accessible spot possible on the ground under the car. (After you drop the first nut, it might make sense to plug the top of the pipe with a rag.)

The Hollow Tube Trick:

To line up the holes in the rain rail with their studs, a technique has emerged of fishing a hollow tube through the rain rail and onto the rain rail stud , which can be left in place as you try to muscle the rain rail onto other studs. I first tried this technique with a stout ball-point pen body, but its wall thickness was too great. A quick trip to an old-fashioned hardware store led me to 9/32 inch brass tube, with duct tape wrapped around one end to prevent you from taking a core sample of your palm (The brass seemed stiffer than the aluminum equivalent and the copper was in the basement of the store.)

The Frame Is Heavy and Wide if Off the Car:

I removed the frame myself to install the top off the car due to defection of my “helper” (wife). It’s an easy process, six bolts total, but lifting it up and out may not be easy for everyone to do with no assistance. If you go this off-the-car route, make sure you have a workbench big enough to hold the frame. I started with about half of a 4 x 8 of scrap plywood on sawhorses, but had to clamp on another piece of plywood as the frame was falling off the first version of my workbench. In short, you need a large surface.

Vinyl Shrinks in the Cold:

The one day I had to do this job was a 40-degree day, and as a result the top was tight going onto the frame and on first latching. I suspect a heated garage or warmer climate would make the job much easier. To latch the top, I had to back the latch adjusters all the way loose, and it still latched with some difficulty, but that could have been due to muscle fatigue due to wrestling with the fiendish rain rail retainers (see Fiendish Rain Rail Retainers below).

A Note About Rivets:

As noted elsewhere, you do need an assortment of rivets in addition to what Robbins sends you. If your top has been replaced before, there is a chance that the rivet hole might have been made larger by someone else drilling them out. Rivet the top on the frame and then test the rivets.

Fiendish Rain Rail Retainers:

These three curved metal fittings caused me much anguish. Part of the problem is this task comes up at a point in the job when you are likely emotionally and physically spent. The left and right, smaller retainers went on easily enough. For some reason, the center retainer looked to be about a half-inch off alignment with the rain rail studs if I started with the center stud. So, what I did was to start with a stud off to the side of the center, and then, with the retainer down around the base of this stud, flexed the bow shape of the retainer with a superhuman effort to just get it onto the center stud. At this point, once I started adding nuts to studs one by one, the other holes came into alignment with their studs. Still, with the nuts fairly loose, I had to use a wooden mallet to whack the retainers end-on to help them clear each other.   Important note (and this is in the Robbins directions): Before you tighten the rain rail studs, make sure that the rubber flap on the cockpit molding SITS ON THE CLOTH. Otherwise, any water that makes is past this flap would run behind the rain rail and onto the metal surface of the package shelf, and would never make it into the drain pipes due to the aforementioned cups around the drain pipes.

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20 February, 2007

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