Teaser alert! Project RX-8 is going to get a significant boost in power soon, boost being the operative word. And as the saying goes, "With great power comes great responsibility," so to bring the 8's safety up to the level of its rapidly improving performance capabilities, we're going to feed it a steady diet of safety-oriented modifications.
First on the list is a bolt-in, race-spec rollbar from Autopower Industries. You'll notice some dirt and even a little red paint overspray on it, and that's because we picked up this bar from a local RX-8 time attacker who posted it for sale at a price so low it wasn't even worth harassing Autopower for a new one. Autopower was kind enough to ship us new backup plates and hardware, though, since the existing fasteners were looking pretty tired.
We've installed a few Autopower bars before, so we knew it would be a relatively straightforward installation. These guys have been in the rollbar and rollcage business for a long time, so they've got it down to a science. They definitely know how to strike an excellent balance between snug fitment along the inside contours of the cabin and ease of installation.
They also know how to read a rule book, because Autopower Race bars and 'cages meet SCCA and NASA requirements for rollover protection, meaning they're legal for use in time attack and road racing events. Part of this means using the correct material and the right tubing diameter and thickness (DOM steel with a 1.750-inch outer diameter and a 0.120-inch wall thickness for our race bar), and part of it is using the correct thickness and size baseplates and backup plates and the correct-grade bolts, all of which are included when you buy one of these bars. So with an Autopower Race rollbar or rollcage, you are getting a turnkey solution to sanctioned rollover protection.
To make life easier during the installation, we removed the front seats, plus we pulled out the rear seats and side panels because the two rear support bars bolt to the top of the rear wheelwells. We also pulled up the carpet in the area where the main hoop bolts to the floor. After that, it was simply a matter of carefully sliding the main hoop into the cabin and standing it up in the correct position, sliding the rear support bars into place, marking all the boltholes with a center punch, and then drill, baby, drill!
With all four points of our Race bar bolted securely in place, we trimmed the carpet around the bottom of each side of the main hoop as well as the rear side panels around the rear support bars for a clean, custom fit. Last but not least, we bolted in the diagonal crossbar, which gives the main hoop the deflection strength it needs to meet race regulations, and we also bolted in the harness bar because it was time to install the passenger side harness.
For this side of the car we've opted for a Takata Racing Drift III street-legal four-point belt in the new stealthy black color (you can still get them in Takata's traditional green if you prefer). Race belts with a camlock buckle aren't street legal, but Takata's Drift series of belts meets both FMVSS (U.S.) and ECE (Europe) standards for street use. Part of the trick here is the OE-style push-button belt buckle release on the 2-inch-wide lap belts, and the other key technology is the ASM system on the 3-inch-wide shoulder belts, designed to prevent submarining (or sliding under the lap belt) in the event of a front impact.
We opted for the Drift's bolt-in configuration, which is designed to use existing factory mounting points. For the lap belts, we simply replaced the OE belt mount bolts with the supplied eyebolts and snapped the 2-inch-wide padded Takata lap belts into place. The shoulder belts were just as easy to install at the rear lap belt mounting points, again by using the supplied eyebolts in place of the OE bolts.
Since we've got a harness bar, we could instead have opted to remove the eyebolt clips from the shoulder belts and wrapped them around the bar using the three-bar adjusters that are already on the belts, and in the future we may do just that. HMS Motorsport has an excellent YouTube video showing how to properly wrap a harness around a bar; search "How to wrap your harnesses correctly," and it's the first video that comes up.
With the Drift III belt installed and the belt lengths adjusted, we now have a street-legal and really snug and secure setup for our passengers during lapping days, autocrosses, or any other type of spirited driving. Plus, we can quickly and easily swap it over to the driver side if we want to do some hooning on the street that'll benefit from four points of support. But as you'll soon see, we've got a racing bucket seat and Takata's Race 4 harness going in on the driver side for even greater safety and lateral support.
With the front and back seats and rear side panels removed, fitting the Autopower Race rollbar into position was easy peasy.
It’s always stressful drilling holes, but such is the cost of rollover protection and the extra chassis stiffness that comes with it.
With the carpet and side panels trimmed around the bars and the diagonal brace and harness bar bolted in, the Autopower rollbar installation was completed with a fresh set of backup plates and nuts/bolts.
With the supplied eyebolts in place, all we had to do was snap the Takata Racing Drift III belts into place, adjust their length, and enjoy the ride.
Notice how the padded Takata lap belt fastens with an OE-style push-button belt bucket. That’s the key to it being street legal, along with the ASM antisubmarining shoulder belts.