1963 Dodge M37 Restoration
David H. Ahl tallies up the real costs of a rebuild
Whenever I'm feeling overly cheerful, I pick up the Wall Street Journal and check on the prices of my investments and then depression sets in. Maybe I should have listened to my father-in-law whose motto was "spend your money on toys and tools and the future will take care of itself." Anyway, last week, the Journal had an article on the growing trend of people ditching half-finished vehicle projects as costs rise and the economy dips. Which got me to thinking about the 85% finished Chevy 1-½-ton wrecker that I'm trying to sell (unsuccessfully) and other vehicles that I (and others) have bought to restore.

Dodge M37 on arrival Dodge M37 decay in front
Yellow M37 upon arrival from Minnesota didn't look too bad.

A closer look showed signs of decay.
In April of 1995, my good friend Jed bought a Triumph TR-7 to restore. Having grown up on early post-war Triumphs (TR-2, TR-3, 3A, 4, 4A), I didn't really feel that the 7 was a "real Triumph," but be that as it may, Jed was determined to restore it and run it in the fall Triumph rally here in New Jersey. When I say, "restore," I'm speaking metaphorically. In fact, the TR-7 Jed bought was more of a kit car than a running vehicle. I'm sure the ad said something like, "90% finished, pieces all there" or "partially disassembled" or "easy restoration project." It most certainly did not say, "drive it home."

Dodge M37 paint removal Preparing to use chemical stripper
Above: Trying to strip the yellow paint with an
electric vibrator.
      Right: Suited up to try some chemical stripper.
Many coats on paint on my Dodge M37 Dodge M37 sandblasted
Surprise! Under the yellow was red and OD. Gave up on paint removal and took it to a professional sand blaster.

Taking on a total restoration project can be a very good deal or a very bad deal depending upon how you account for your time and expenses. Take my M37 for example. I bought the truck for $2,600, spent another $600 to get it to New Jersey (from Minnesota), and $274 to transfer the title and get insurance. Now, do I count the transportation and paperwork as part of the vehicle cost or don't I?

Parts drying after primer Straightening radiator fins
Sand blasted and primed all the parts.

Straightened the radiator fins by hand.

Dodge M37 headlight ass'y Boards for seats and rails
When you start to dig, you find corrosion
everywhere. Here, in the headlight assembly.

Let's make the seats and rails from 5-ton truck surplus parts.

It is a given that when you restore a vehicle from scratch, you inevitably spend more money on the restoration that the vehicle will ever be worth. The cost of the M37 plus out-of-pocket expenses for vehicle parts and services came to more than $12,000. Add in the cost of labor (myself and friends) at minimum rates, and the amount I had in it was $18,000 plus, far more than anyone would pay for it, even if it were the best M37 on the planet (which I like to think it was).

Mice nests in seats Small parts
Uh, oh. Mice nests in the seats.

More small parts to be cleaned and primed.

Huts and bolts for priming Spray paint base coat
Nuts and bolts prior to priming.

My friend, Jim Munson, lays down the base coat of forest green.

Most first-time hobbyists, like my friend Jed, expect to restore a vehicle in a year or so. It is a rare one that actually does. Jed didn't make that fall rally and, in fact, isn't even done yet. I only managed to restore my M37 in two years because I was absolutely determined to show it in the 1999 national MVPA Convention, which was within driving distance and would not be that close again for the next ten years. Even so, about six weeks before the convention when it became very obvious that I was not going to finish on my own, I turned to friends and professional services big time. And then about a week before the convention, I told my wife to take a little vacation with her sister so I could work 16 hours a day, get covered with grease and paint, and live on Doritos and beer without having to answer to anyone. Without that frantic last push, it would never have gotten done and would still be in my garage with "just a few more things to do."

Dodge M37 rifle mount Dodge M37 rifle mount
Above: Another friend, Brian Bancale, helped
me fabricate a rifle mount from heavy steel plate.
      Right: An absolutely perfect fit.
Dodge M37 winch Broken tap wrench
No joy. The winch needed serious work and I wound up with a hernia from lifting it by myself.

The front bumper defeated this tap wrench.
Here, for your edification, is what restoring my M37 cost over the two years it took me to do the job.

1963 M37B1 -ton truck$2,600
Transportation home (because friend who offered to tow it sold his trailer) $600
Sales tax, title, registration $176
Insurance (2 years)$98
Superwinch locking hubs$125
New body parts (door, hood, tailgate, bumpers)$464
New canvas (cab, bed, seats, straps)$550
New window glass, latches, weather strip, felt$248
Fix flat tire$16
Five new Denman Coyote tires$650
Tubes, mount five new tires$159
Handbrake drum, lining, and brake handle$88
2nd Handbrake drum with lining (because normal humans can't rivet a lining to a drum)$42
Labor to install handbrake$50
New screw extractor, two taps, and wrench (because truck ate old ones)$18
Set of 6 spark plugs$42
2nd set of 6 spark plugs (because water poured through holes in hood and rusted 1st set)$45
Rifle mounting kit, 2 replica rifles$489
4 dinners out with wife (because "truck is taking over your life")$118
Bed bows, corners, seats from 5-ton truck$156
Lumber for seats (because seat boards from 5-ton truck were too narrow)$38
Lights, wiring harnesses, disconnect switch$132
Gallon of Liquid Wrench (not enough)$14
Spare tire mount for bed (because door mounted ones not available)$70
Spare tire mount for door (became available one week after purchasing bed unit)$245
Chemical stripper & primer, respirator, goggles, labor for stripping$852
Sandblasting, bodywork & priming (because chemical stripping missed too many spots and because rust spots were showing where primer wasn't put on soon enough)$2,283
Goldeneye (James Bond) Videotape (to take mind off M37 for 2 hours)$15
Pioneer tool rack, tools, fuel can, spout$121
Antenna, antenna mount$55
Paint, primer, prep cleaner, labor for prep & painting$991
Weekend away with wife (because time spent on M37 is totally appalling)$129
Bright yellow circular bridge weight plate$55
Forest green bridge weight plate (because yellow is wrong for vehicle)$13
Other stuff$537
Additional garage bay (because existing four garage bays are full)$15,000
Rebuild winch, parts & labor$300
Hernia operation (resulting from lifting and fitting winch alone)$4,782
Gas, oil, grease, routine maintenance (to drive 300 miles)$81
The Bottom Line
Brag to friends that military vehicle hobby is cheap; M37 cost only$2,600
Restored vehicle with direct vehicle-related expenses only$12,403
Lost earnings by pretending that 600 hours of time spent on M37 could not have been spent at minimal wage flipping burgers at McDonalds$3,600
Cost of time in future owed to friends who helped me$2,500
Grand total real-world cost of owning & restoring M37 for two years$36,147
Cleaning the windshield on M37 Dodge M37 restoration finished
Betsy gives me a hand on the windshield. Note:
still lots of pieces to be reinstalled.

Finally finished.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that restoring a vehicle isn't worth every penny, every skinned knuckle, every broken stud, and every argument with the wife. It is. But if you want to justify the time and expense, be prepared to do a little creative accounting.

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