Sunday, 05/19/02


This was a soft-top replacement session. We assembled a 1999+ glass window top and installed it on Leon's White 1996. The still-good top that was on there, an original Mazda one with a Brain-Storm glass window, was installed on Jody's Red 1992.

It provided an opportunity for all to see what a top installation involves, and maybe save considerable money when the inevitable time comes. Unfortunately, no members showed up except installers Jody and Leon. It may be that the club party the day before on Saturday had left people with little weekend time left. Also, many members have relatively new Miatas, for which top replacement is still years away.

In any case, for all those who missed it, complete details of our experiences are below. Note that neither Leon nor Jody had ever done a top install before. Jody has good tools and is quite handy, (he likes working on cars,) while Leon has a decent amount of the usual tools and is clumsy.

General information

Acknowledgements: pages, kayuautos, Miata Magazine article from September 2000 (vol 11, no 4), the Mazda Miata Enthusiast Manuals, and the Mazda Workshop manual provide good information. And I particularly thank various posters from for helpful hints. In particular, Adam Payrot for explaining how much easier and quicker it is to remove the frame, Jim Hayter for warning me to figure out the attachment points for the straps, Mike Robison for helping me with the riveting, and John for explaining that riveting the rain rail to the top is not just a waste of time but a disadvantage for installation. All of these were absolute life-savers. And most of all Jody for helping me with the installation and stopping me from blundering around.


Mark parts and put them down in plastic bags at the same side of the car as they came from to avoid trying to figure out what part came from where during reassembly. Use a torque wrench to reassemble. Jody tightened various bolts within the accuracy of my wrench on feel, (I checked using the torque wrench,) but you cannot do this without many years of practice using torque wrenches.

Terminology: In the write-up, "front", "bottom", etcetera of the top refer to the position relative to a driver in the car with the top up. For example, "front" is where the top meets the windshield header.

Be carefull to cover working surfaces with towels to prevent the top or window becoming damaged.

Putting the 99+ soft top on the 99+ frame.

This part explains how the 1999 top was assembled from a 1999+ frame, 1999+ vinyl with glass window, rubber weather strips and brackets, all new from Trussville Mazda, and from hardware removed from my old 1996 top. The assembly was done by me in the weeks before the tech session, (in the air-conditioned comfort of my living room,) to keep the tech session time reasonable. The intention was to allow people to examine the top before it was installed, with a description of what the pre-assembly involved. In any case, a full description and exhaustive pictures are below.

First you need to put the springs in the seams along the sides of the top. My vinyl top came with the springs already in the seams. The front end of the spring is shown in the first picture, the rear end in the second.

My first step was attaching the soft top to the first frame cross bar from the front; the one near the middle of the top. See picture to the left. (You are really supposed to attach the top to the bar after attaching the rear part of the top to the frame, especially on a 1990-1997 top, where you need to attach the top to three crossbars instead of just one. But on the 1999+, you can do it first, and since it is such a pain already, I did so.) There is a stitched seam on the soft top at the place of the bar, on the separate canvas "loop" attached to the top (appears purple in the picture above,) that goes in a slot on the bar.

The slot is really the gap between the bar and a clamp welded on it. In the picture to the left, you can see the two sides of the flap bending around the bar and clamp (the inner piece hugging the clamp closely,) and then enter the slot. (There is also some padding glued onto the bar that is not relevent here.) To install the seam into the slot, bend out the slot with a screw driver. Careful, bend the screw driver towards the bar, not away from it or you may hear the spot welds start cracking. Then it is a pain to get the stitched seam into the slit. Just keep working on it. Make sure the thing is centered, not stretched, and all the way in there everywhere. You will feel when the seam is fully "locked" into the slit. Afterwards some sources say to tighten the slot down by hitting it with a wood hammer; since I do not have one, I used a rubber hammer, as well as some squeezing with water pump pliers. Since then I learned that in the official Mazda version, you use waterpump pliers with tape around the jaws to avoid damaging the top, and not hammers.

At this stage, you may first want to screw the rear end of the springs to the frame if you do not want to screw in difficult places. (I did this a bit later.) The place to screw the end to is the welded-on nut in the picture to the left. I got an M6 screw at the local hardware store that fit. The spring attached to the frame is shown in the picture to the right.

Next, put the top on the rear part of the frame and start riveting it down. (You might first want to put the nylon locknuts in the square holes of the frame, but I forgot and found you can squeeze them in afterwards.) Make sure you put the vinyl on so that any plastic protectors protect the top correctly from rubbing against the frame at all sides. I temporarily attached the top to the frame using clamps and then did the two rivets in each of the B-pillars. B-pillars are tech talk for the part of the top that meets the rear edge of the windows. To rivet with a blind riveter like mine, put the rivet into the hole tight, grap the stem with the riveter and move the handles together while pressing down to keep the rivet tight in the hole. Release the handles to grip more of the stem and press together again until the stem breaks off.

Next you need to screw an "end plate" (see picture at right) into the bottom part of the B-pillar (facing up when the top is on its back.) The soft top vinyl goes in between the two. This is a bit of a mess, but easy to solve. First, the tiny screw hole (the center one of the three holes in the B-pillar bottom in the center of the picture to the left) should contain a screw with a head big enough to hold the "end plate" in the picture to the right. Since I did not have a crazy screw like that, I drilled out the tiny hole in the B-pillar bottom to hold a decent size sheet-metal screw. Also, the top metal turned out to be softer than the screw so that I could screw it down with a bit of force without destroying the screw.

Also, the three holes in the vinyl do not at all match up with the holes in the bottom of the top, as seen in the left picture above. In the picture in the middle, I used "type-out" to indicate what vinyl I had to cut away with tiny scissors to open the center, screw, hole. The picture towards the right then shows what vinyl I had to cut out to open the side holes (used to hold the weather stripping later). After doing this, you might glue the vinyl to the B-pillar bottom, but I figured just screwing on the end plate would hold it fine and glueing might cause aligment problems.

Next I riveted the front end of the springs to the frame. It helps to have the frame partly folded and to clamp the folded soft top material out of the way while doing this.

I screwed the short straps halfway the top to the longer bracket using an metric M4 screw and a washer. (Stock is a Torx screw, I believe.)

I screwed the handle from the old top onto the new one with the two screws.

Now I attached the front of the vinyl to the front of the frame. First you are supposed to cover the front of the frame with double sided tape where it will hold the second-last plastic flap at the end of the soft top. Then, with the frame partly folded, you shove the soft top over the front of the frame, press it on the tape and also screw a "set plate" (a metal strip) over the final plastic flap using 7 screws. (The new model has only four screws to screw down the set plate, but I preferred to use the set plate from my old top with 7 screws.) This step worried me, since you need to get it correctly centered and without stretching the vinyl. So I restricted the double sided tape to 5 separate strips as shown in the picture on the left. Also note in the picture that I put nylon locknuts in the square holes in the top frame to screw the 7 screws into. Then I shoved the front of the soft top over the front of the frame and removed the cover paper from the central strip only. I pressed the plastic strip down on this exposed tape and screwed in the center screw (without using the set plate yet.) Then I moved to the strips next to the center one; remove the cover paper, using needle-nose pliers, press down the plastic strip, and held with a strategically placed screw. And the same for the final strips of double-sided tape. Finally I took the screws out again and then screwed in all 7 through the set plate, starting from the center outwards. The final attached front is shown in the picture to the right.

I screwed the three stainless steel brackets that will hold the three rubber weatherstrips around each window to the frame. Six brackets in all. The holes you screw through have some slack to allow adjustment in position. As a first guess, I aligned the brackets to the center of their holes, except near the rear window corner where I pushed the brackets near the limits to improve alignment.

I squeezed the "arms" of the end plates shut against the frame with needle-nose pliers with the jaws covered with tape.

The weather strips at the rear edge of the windows have pins that push into corresponding holes in the end plates. (The holes from which we cleared the vinyl earlier.) Do not try to screw the front weather strips to those holes, as I tried initially. Then it is a matter of shoving the rubber weather strip into the stainless steel bracket. They go in surprisingly easy if you do it right. First note that one side of the rubber strips has a simple ridge that catches that side of the bracket, while the other side of the rubber strips have a ridge below a flap of rubber. The side with the flap goes towards the inside of the car. The technique is to first push the outside ridge into the bracket and then press the side with the flap straight down into the bracket from the top to make the ridge catch.

The front weather strips screw to the frame at their front edge. Also note that I screwed on the clamps that grap the windshield header from my old top; three screws each. These clamps can later be adjusted for tension with a bolt inside.

Preparing the rain rail.

I also got a new rain rail from Trussville Mazda to go with my new top. Below is how I prepared the rail before the tech session, again in my living room.

The rain rail is a long plastic "gutter" that goes all along the rear bottom of the soft top, to keep rain water from entering the car. It is easily damaged, so be careful with it. Use ethyl alcohol to wipe the area around the rivet holes in the rain rail clean, then tape square pieces of electricity tape over the rivet holes at the outside of the rain rail from both sides, as shown in the pictures. Be careful not to forget any rivet holes. I used Scotch "commercial grade" electrical tape, BTW. Good stuff.

Removing the old top.

This was the start of the actual tech session. We removed the tops of both my white and Jody's red Miatas. We took Jody's top, to be discarded, off first to learn more about how to get the rain rail off without damage.

If you have a side-impact bar, remove the plastic end covers by pulling them up. This required some force the first time. With the covers gone, unscrew the big bolts (I think they were 17 mm) below them and take out the bar.

Remove the protective bracket at the door end by unscrewing the screw and the 10 mm tenax bolt that holds the boot cover.

Remove the rearmost two screws of the door sill protector. Then simply pull out the rubber strip at the rear edge of the door opening.

Now start removing the quarter panels (the plastic covers behind the door rear edges.) First pull out the clip at the top end of the panel. A bit prying with a screw driver helps it come out easily. Pictures show the clip installed and removed. We now have a opening through which we can later duct the seat belt.

Push the protective plastic ring around the seat belt out of the quarter panel. Pictures show the ring in place and pushed out.

If you have an Oris like me, remove its brackets by unscrewing the bolt and the tenax bolt. (See picture to the left.) Otherwise, unscrew the tenax bolt and remove the plastic fastener by lifting its center and pulling. (See picture to the right.)

The quarter panels can now be removed by pulling them off, while ducting the seat belt through the slit in the back of the panels. Note that the quarter panel is still held by two clamps and a pin in its bottom part (left picture) as well as a pin in its top part (right picture.) (During reinstallation, one of the metal clamps dropped off; you can just slide them back on.) It also helps if you start removing the carpet on the rear deck by pulling out the plastic pins (nails?) along the top edge of the rear wall (fire wall) of the cabin. You pull those out by wedging a sturdy fork below them and pulling. Do not pull on the carpet: you will just pull the carpet over the head of the pins. I got a good tool for it at Wal-Mart.

Continue removing all plastic pins from the piece of carpet covering the rear deck. To get this piece of carpet off, you also need to unscrew the two "bump-stops" that keep the top from crashing into the rear deck when lowered or bumped. They are way behind the seat belt tower. See the picture for a removed stop and the "impact driver" that was needed to unscrew that stop from my 1996. The screws in both sides were in there tight! Strangely enough, they were normally screwed down in Jody's 1992. I wonder whether Bob's Upholstery who installed the Brain-Storm glass window have a gorilla employed.

After you have the carpet off the deck, there are still two of those plastic pins hidden. You have to lower the top to get at them. We chalked the pin yellow in the picture left to make it stand out. It is way back in the corner behind the door. If you forget this one, you will rip up the delicate rain rail when you try to remove the top. As we did with the first top. Fortunately, we were smart enough to remove the top we were discarding first. Even so, we still created some cracks in the rain rail we were moving to the other car. They are delicate. Anyway, after you remove the pin. you can take out the black plastic "protector" on the corner above it.

After putting the top back up, unscrew the three "set plates" (steel brackets) around the rear bottom of the top that have been uncovered by removing the carpet. They are somewhat visible in the picture left. They are held on by a total of thirteen 10 mm nuts (bolts on 1999 Miatas, apparently.)

Now you can remove the three 12 mm bolts at each side that hold the frame to the car (picture left.) The frame will still lie on two "pins" (they are really screws,) one below the bracket ("link") through which the removed bolts went and one below an "arm" attached to the bracket. You can see the pins best when the top has been removed. Also carefully pry the rain rail off the studs that hold it and from which you just removed the 10 mm nuts (picture right.) Easy does it: the rain rail will crack at the slightest provocation. You can now lift off the top and put it on a protective surface.

We found that the rain rail on my car was not riveted to the top. Apparently, the upholstery shop that had installed the glass window in my top also agreed that there is no need to rivet the rain rail to the top. Anyway, to start installation on Jody's car, we put the rain rail on his car's studs. But first we taped up the rivet holes, as well as the cracks we had made in the rain rail while removing it, with electricity tape. (While the upholstery shop had not taped up the rivet holes, the top never leaked, so taping the rivet holes may not be essential. But we followed the Mazda Workshop manual that says that you either tape the holes or use them to rivet the rail to the top.) Make sure the top of the rain rail is below the rubber lip on the car. For the new rain rail on Bozo, the holes did not match up well front to back, so we screwed the rain rail temporarily down on the studs without using the set plates to let it "settle" a bit (see picture.) Put the end protectors back on the corners at the doors and put back the plastic pin.

Next put the new top on, making sure the link brackets lie on the pins without a gap. Screw the 6 bolts back in. The rear bottom of the top goes inside the rain rail, with the big holes in it going over the studs. Also, on a 1999 top, the long straps go on the studs corresponding to the innermost holes in the outer set plates. (Picture all the way left.) Screw the set plates back on with the nuts. For an zippable glass window, unzip the window and support the window with a roll of paper towels (picture left.). The long center bracket does not seem to fit, but when you keep screwing it down (do not tighten it yet) from one side, it will eventually go over all the studs. (Picture right.) Now tighten the nuts in the special order given on to avoid leaks. Basically, you tighten the outermost nuts at the doors first, then the center one, then the ones in the corners, and then the rest.

Reassemble everything else removed in inverse order. Do not forget to put the quarter panels below the carpet before clipping them back on.


The tops went on there tight, without sagging or other problems. Although we did have to briefly undo the center set plate on my 1996 to fix where the top had slipped off one stud. Also, the new 1999 top was very hard to close the first time. But the bottom line is that we installed two glass window tops in a single afternoon without prior experience. Don't they look good next to each other?

If I had to install a top again, I would definitely take the frame off the car before doing anything. Even with the risk of damaging the rain rail doing it. It is much more comfortable to deal with the many hours of countless annoyances in the comfort of your air-conditioned living room than contorted in a Miata in the hot Florida sun. Also, riveting the rain rail to the top seems a big mistake to me. It is a lot of work and seems to have only disadvantages in making the installation more awkward.

A solemn moment

Finally, I am pleased to be able to tell that Jody handed over his long-awaited $10 club membership renewal. Good work Jody!