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Tips and Tricks for the M38A1 Restoration

Frame Off? DON'T SKIMP...
Decide early on if your going to do a frame-off restoration. If so, don't skimp on ANYTHING. If it's old - replace it with a New Old Stock (NOS) part or a quality reproduction from a quality supplier. (look to my links pages for recommended suppliers, NOS parts are OK as long as their not the rubber parts-hard parts are OK)

Film is your friend...
Take LOTS of pictures before you tear it apart. They will help in re-assembly in addition to using the tech manuals. They also provide a much needed morale booster where you can see your progress. Bonus – If you ever decide to sell the vehicle, the restoration pictures are proof that the work was done commanding a higher asking price and better comfort level for the buyer.

The right tool means the right book...
Get a complete set of manuals for the jeep at Portrayal Press, Midwest Military or Army Jeep Parts (Look to the Parts & Supplies page)

Invest in Zip-Lock baggies...
When you take a part off, put it in a zip-lock baggie and label the bag with what it is and where it came from. As you take parts off (nuts, bolts, brackets etc.) this will allow you to keep track of what goes where in the rebuild process. Also, as you clean the parts (either wire brush, electric bench wire brush, sandblast etc) and primer/paint them, they go back into the bag with the same description and are now ready until re-assembly time. It’s easy to keep to piles going - those that are dirty, and those that are completed and ready for install. With time, the ready for install pile grows and assembly is a snap. On ‘down’ days such a rainy or cold days when you can’t get outside or just need small projects to work on, these are great items to complete.

Great way to use existing nuts and bolts...
For cleaning bolts, a wire bench brush does the best. USE HEAVY GLOVES and SAFETY GLASSES! You will find that a significant portion of the original hardware can be re-used. I found that most of my bolt heads appeared to be flat across the top face. After some time on the bench brush, the top bolt face actually had side walls and depth to it. They were just full of numerous coast of OD paint. A large number of them had numbers or letters stamped in them. The bolt threads were also cleaned so the nuts went on smoothly. The neatest thing to this approach is you retain the original 45+ years old hardware!

Painting 101...
For painting a large quantity of nuts/bolts at once, take a 4' piece of 2x4 or 2x6, and drill rows of holes of various sizes across the 4" face. Then NUMBER EACH ROW with a magic marker. When you are ready to paint hardware, take the hardware out of the ziplock bag, write the ROW NUMBER on the bag and paint. When your done, you can correctly put the hardware back in the proper bag. If your concerned about painting over the numbers, run a strip of masking tape over the numbers prior to painting. When completed, remove the masking tape and the numbered rows will still be there.

As for the paint booth, we placed a sheet of clear poly plastic on the floor.  From the ceiling we suspended 1/2" pvc pipe from bicycle hooks.  The pvc was in a "U" shape with the open end on the garage door side.  From the pvc, we hung blue tarps down to the floor with zip-ties.  Exhaust fans were used to pull out the floating particles and or dust.  It worked very well and was inexpensive to create.

Use a lifeline...phone a friend!
Don't be afraid to call and ask other M38A1 owners questions. The BEST resource for these vehicles is either 1) those that worked on them in the military as their MSO, or 2) those that have spent considerable time in the restoration process of them. You will find that most if not all M38A1 owners will freely speak their minds about certain aspects of their ‘babies’.

Cost of doing business...
Don't underestimate the cost of doing a restoration. Issue # 92 of Army Motors has an article on the approximate costs of restoration. Try and read this article. Also, take a look at my Project Expenses page on the web site. It will detail every expense I incurred so that will give you an idea of what you might expect for a total frame-off. Or….it shows at minimum certain expenses for certain areas of work should you decide to attack only certain areas.

Sandblasting (the expensive way)...
If you are good at sandblasting, I recommend doing it yourself. I subbed mine out for about $1500 and in retrospect wouldn't do that again.

Do your homework...
Research/Research/Research! Like buying a home is Location/Location/Location, RESEARCH is your key to an excellent project that is both ACCURATE and easy on your wallet. DO NOT just purchase items at shows because ‘it’s military’. Research the correct items for your jeep or period outfit. Look at pattern dates, dates of manufacture etc. Learn to read contract DSA numbers. (They are pretty easy once you’ve done it a few times)

By the way...
Have FUN! If you get bored or bummed, email me and I'll try and help. The M38A1 is not a difficult piece of equipment to understand and work on. They were built for ease of use AND maintenance. Just keep that in the back of your mind.


And on the lighter side from Collinsville, OK)

  • Immediately after you purchase the Historic Military Vehicle (project) you have chosen to restore, another similar vehicle will come up for sale.  It will (a) cost less (b) be in better condition (c) be more complete (d) be closer to home (e) have a "history" (f) almost be sold to some fool who wants to paint it day-glow orange and put a giant fiberglass ant on the roof and use it for his exterminating business or (g) any combination of 'a' through 'f'.
  • Any restoration effort will cost at least four times more than you figured.  Any restoration effort will take at least eight times longer than you figured.

  • Immediately after you buy your project vehicle the formerly unlimited supply of parts for it will disappear forever, having been bought up entirely by some third world country.

  • The man behind the counter at the parts store will inform you that they had the exact part you require in stock last year but they have stopped carrying it because the only manufacturer went out of business forever.

  • When you have finally located the rare and elusive wing-ding-thing for your restoration at a reasonable price and it will be so far away or it will be of such a size and weight that shipping will effectively triple the cost making it completely unaffordable.

  • Friends who promised to lend a hand suddenly become strangers.

  • As soon as you bring your project home, your spouse (who formerly approved the purchase) looks upon it with a jaundiced eye and announces that it makes the driveway look "cluttered."

  • No matter how well you protect your "baby" from the weather, some rain will get in.

  • As soon as you have a few extra bucks to spend on your project a major household appliance will self-destruct.

  • Sandblasting media does more scattered on a linoleum or hardwood floor than it ever will on your project at 150 psi.

  • Jehova's Witnesses on bicycles will stop at your house while you are up to your armpits in 50-year-old grease.  You will inform them that as long as they are willing to help, you will listen to anything they have to say.  They will leave without saying a word and never return.

  • Some militia types you've never seen before will stop and ask for directions to this evening's meeting of the local chapter.  You will be photographed speaking to them by the nice men in the Tasty-Treat ice cream truck nearby.

  • For several months afterward you will notice an odd static sound in the background while using your phone and it will appear that some stray dog has been going through your curbside garbage twice a week.

  • Some "bubba" will walk up your driveway and offer you "a coupla hunnert bucks fer that there huntin' vehicle."

  • Wherever and whenever you order parts for your project there will always be one less in stock than the total number that you need.

  • A restorer's eyes are always bigger than his wallet.

  • A restorer's heart is always bigger than his head.

  • A restorer always takes the $25 dollar helicopter ride at the county fair.  (You can check for hidden treasures easier that way.)  This is also why Ultra-lights and sunny days were designed.

  • Four year olds are perfect for retrieving tools from beneath your project.  This is one of the few things that gives them a sense of purpose in their life at this age.

  • The weather will turn to crap on the few days that you have available to work on your project.  Typically, it will rain on your days off.

  • It frequently costs as much (and is better) to buy a specialized tool and do a task yourself as it is to pay to have the job done.  Besides, you get to keep the tool.

  • Tall toolboxes are impressive to look at but are impractical if you can't see into the top trays and drawers.

  • Spouses of restorers know that we go on Sunday drives only to look for hidden treasures. < AND > Serious restorers always keep a small pair of binoculars and a notepad/pencil in the glove box.

  • Never pay more for "potential" or for "sentimental value."  Never violate this rule.

  • If you are trying to work on your project while babysitting, the child will get start crying inconsolably at the very moment your hands are fantastically filthy.

  • At some time your spouse will give your child a tool "to help daddy" work on the project.  The child will invariably chip away with it on an exposed, painted surface.  Your spouse will do nothing to stop this and will look lovingly at your offspring, clasp her hands to her bosom and exclaim, "Isn't that CUTE!"  Count to ten while formulating an appropriate response.

  • Some tools that are made in China actually work and will serve the occasional restorer well.  But only SOME.

  • Restorers keep their favorite tools in places of honor.

  • W.W.II tool wraps are as useful today as they were then.

  • Where rust is an issue, commercial bodied projects are a pain in the ass.

  • If you always wanted (for example) a half-track, and you find, say, a decent half-track headlight at the flea market for cheap, go ahead an buy it.  It may be enough to quell the urge, thereby saving you thousands of dollars and allowing your children to go to college someday.  Otherwise, you could call it a good start and besides, having half-track parts lying about really impresses some folks.

  • Someone will come to you and describe what you recognize to be a rare project vehicle that just came up for sale on some obscure county road but (a) "just came up for sale" means they saw it there three years ago, or (b) they can't quite remember which county road it was on because they had never been on it before or (c) any combination thereof.  Before you do anything try to determine if this conversation is divine guidance or is simply the work of Satan.

  • A project that is disassembled takes up ten to fifteen times more space than an assembled one.

  • Many projects are worth more in parts, than all together.  Personally, I think this is some kind of cruel joke.

  • Invariably, many restored parts of your project will find their way into your house.  This is not a bad thing and can give you hours of personal satisfaction as you gaze upon them.

  • Restorations take on a life of their own.....and in fact, some have very sharp teeth.

  • The more time you have, the less money your restoration will cost.  Conversely, lots of money can make a restoration short (and sweet).

  • If you must drive across the country to bring a project vehicle home, plan on stopping by many places of interest.  Invite some friends along.  Road trips can be a mini vacation and a source of endless conversation and story-telling later.  Besides, your pals can pay for some of the gas.



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