Skip to main content

GI Joe Mobile Support Vehicle (MSV): Antenna Drive Belt Replacement and Electrical System Repair

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

I learned a great deal from repairing my GI Joe Mobile Support Vehicle, and I hope this information will be helpful to others.

GI Joe Mobile Support Vehicle (MSV)

GI Joe Mobile Support Vehicle (MSV)

This is a description of how I repaired my GI Joe Mobile Support Vehicle (MSV). This is a classic and collectible toy from the 12” GI Joe Adventure Team series of the early 1970s. It is approximately 21” long. It is equipped with a moving searchlight and antenna, and it is also able to launch flying discs. It is made in the USA and has a stamped date of 1972.

After decades of storage, the drive belt for the antenna on my vehicle had completely deteriorated and broken into several pieces leaving a sticky black tar-like residue. The light and motor were also not working. This was one of my favorite toys when I was young, so I greatly enjoyed repairing this vehicle and making it fully functional once again.

Important Note: This procedure is what worked for me. There may be other or better ways to do this repair. I am posting this because I learned a great deal from repairing my vehicle, and I am hoping this information may be helpful to others. These vehicles are now forty years old, and they have all been stored under widely varying conditions. This procedure may not work for everyone. Also, this repair requires drilling out the original rivets and prying loose glued plastic, so there is a risk of damage to the vehicle. Much of the work needs to be done working inside the tight spaces of the interior of the vehicle, so a great deal of patience is required. Please read through the whole procedure and understand the risks before attempting this repair. I am not at all recommending that everyone should attempt to repair their own vehicle, but if you have decided to do so, I am hoping this information will be very helpful.

Quick Overview

I have written a detailed description for every step, but here is a quick overview of the procedure:

1. Remove the doors and accessories.
2. Remove the old antenna drive belt residue.
3. Drill out the rivets on the roof.
4. Break free the entire motor box, or pry the motor box from its lid.

If all of the electrical systems are in good working order, the new belt can be installed and the vehicle can be reassembled at this point.

Optional Steps (As Needed):

5. Test electrical connections for the searchlight
6. Test electrical connections for the motor
7. Switch repair
6. Motor repair
8. Motor box reassembly
9. Launcher lubrication
10. Searchlight pivot repair

Here is a video clip of my fully functional Mobile Support Vehicle with the new antenna drive belt installed, a rotary switch installed, and the electrical system restored.

I spent a great deal of time and energy searching for all of the parts that I needed to replace the antenna drive belt. I have put together a small repair kit for the antenna drive belt which includes a new belt, brass screws and brass washers to replace the rivets, locknuts, a motor box screw, and even a machine screw and locknut for the searchlight. This kit is listed on ebay.

Detailed Descriptions of Every Step

Step 1: Remove the Doors and Accessories

Before starting, I detached the cab from the vehicle and removed the green trays and all of the loose accessories from the rear section of the vehicle. Working inside of the vehicle is a difficult part of this repair. To make this easier, I removed the rear doors, sliding side door, and camera launcher assembly from the vehicle.


When removing the rear doors and launcher assembly, I slowly worked each hinge loose from the vehicle’s round mounting bars one tab at a time. I supported the vehicle’s round mounting bars with a finger to keep them from breaking. The hinges may let loose more easily with the doors in different positions, so experimenting is helpful. Lubricating the hinges with a little spray wax or maybe a silicone-type spray may also help. Additionally, I removed the battery cover and batteries from the vehicle.

Scroll to Continue

A tab on the bottom track of the sliding side door prevents it from being removed from the vehicle. I straightened a larger heavy-duty paper clip and made a very small hook at the end with needle-nose pliers. Working from the underside of the vehicle, I used this paperclip to gently hook and pull the tab down, so that the door could be completely removed from the vehicle.

Step 2: Remove the Old Antenna Drive Belt Residue

On my vehicle, the old drive belt had broken into several pieces that were like small lumps of sticky tar. Moving these pieces caused them to smear and streak the inside of the vehicle with a sticky black residue. Using tweezers worked well to remove the larger pieces. I discovered that a Q-tip dipped in isopropyl alcohol worked well in cleaning off the old belt residue. This residue is also difficult to get off of skin, so avoid touching it. Again, alcohol seems to work well in cleaning it off. Both pulleys eventually need to be removed from the vehicle, so it is much easier to clean these off completely once they are out of the vehicle.


Step 3: Drill Out the Rivets on the Roof

To replace the antenna drive belt with a seamless belt like the original, the four rivets holding the motor box and the two rivets holding the antenna pulley must be removed. To remove these rivets, I used a small hand drill. The rivet holes in the roof of the vehicle are 1/8” in diameter, so this is the largest drill bit size that should be used. These rivets are very light, and the roof of the vehicle is 40-year-old plastic, so great care and a light touch should be used in drilling out the rivets. If the whole rivet begins to spin while being drilled, be careful not to let it enlarge the hole. If the whole rivet does begin to spin, the weakened head of the rivet can sometimes be carefully crushed together with small needle-nose pliers, and then, the rivet can simply be pushed through the hole. Some people suggest drilling at an angle to prevent rivets from spinning. I also suspect that a small Dremel-type rotary tool may work well for drilling out these rivets.

Once the rivets are out, the pulley and bracket under the antenna mounting hole can be removed and cleaned.

I purchased small machine screws with washers and nuts to replace the original rivets.

Step 4: Break Free the Entire Motor Box, or Pry the Motor Box From Its Lid

The motor box is on the rear inside roof of the vehicle below the searchlight hole and will still be glued in place at this point. To replace the belt, either the whole motor box needs to be cut or pried loose from the inside roof of the vehicle, or the motor box needs to be pried loose from its lid, leaving only the lid attached to the inside roof of the vehicle. On my vehicle, I needed to open the motor box to service my light and motor, so I choose to pry the motor box loose from its lid and leave the lid attached to the inside roof of the vehicle. However, if all of the electrical systems are in good working order and only the belt needs replacing, it would be easier to cut and pry the whole motor box loose from the inside roof of the vehicle.


Option 4a: Breaking Free the Entire Motor Box and Reassembling

The lid of the motor box is glued to the inside roof of the vehicle along the length of approximately a 3” tab that runs alongside the battery compartment. If nothing in the motor box needs to be repaired, it may be easier to cut or pry this tab loose and detach the motor box from the vehicle’s roof as a sealed unit. Be careful not to damage the roof of the vehicle when doing this. A hacksaw blade may work well for this. I found it easier to work on the motor box with the vehicle standing on its front end with the rear facing up.

Once the tab that is glued to the inside roof of the vehicle is broken loose, the entire motor box will be detached from the roof of the vehicle. The motor box will still be attached to the vehicle by three thin electrical wires coming from the switch, so be careful not to damage these wires.

The whole motor box can be lowered or tilted until the searchlight socket is out of its hole in the roof of the vehicle. The searchlight pulley can be removed from the socket and thoroughly cleaned. The new belt can then be slipped over the searchlight socket and pulley.


Also at this point, the nuts for the small machine screws that will replace the rivets can be glued to the four motor box mounting tabs with a drop of silicone sealant or a similar type product. Temporarily screwing the machine screws through the holes in the motor box mounting tabs and into the nuts will align the nuts correctly and help hold them in place until the silicone sealant dries overnight. Having the nuts glued to the motor box mounting tabs can be especially helpful for the two inner tabs which are difficult to reach during reassembly.


The motor box can be reinstalled with the machine screws and washers. The four new screws will attach the motor box securely to the inside roof of the vehicle, and the tab that was broken loose can be left unglued. This will also make future servicing of the vehicle much easier. If you wish to reglue the tab, I can recommend Super Glue Future Glue, as I had good results using it to reglue parts to this vehicle.


The new antenna drive belt can be guided through its opening in the vehicle’s partition. It can be wrapped around the antenna pulley and then tensioned by moving this pulley to its proper location. The pulley must be held in place while its bracket is installed with the machine screws, washers, and nuts.

If no other repairs are needed, simply reinstall the vehicle’s doors and accessories, and the new drive belt installation is complete!


Option 4b: Opening the Motor Box and Gaining Access to the Electrical Components

This is the option that I chose in repairing my vehicle. Opening the motor box on my vehicle enabled me to install the new drive belt, as well as, gain access to the motor.

To open the motor box, I first plugged the searchlight back into its socket to hold the socket and pulley in place while I opened the motor box. Working inside the vehicle, I used a pocketknife to slowly cut along the seam of the lid of the motor box. I used a sawing motion with my pocketknife and then pried the motor box open. On my vehicle, most of the glue was on the left side of the box. Once this seam was open, the rest of the box popped open fairly easily.


I had my vehicle standing on its front with the rear opening facing up. The motor box has three thin wires that run to the switch and keep it attached to the body of the vehicle. I was careful not to damage these wires and carefully lowered the motor box onto the partition on the inside of the vehicle.

I studied and took pictures of the inside of the motor box and then removed the searchlight which let me remove the searchlight socket and pulley from the vehicle. I cleaned the rest of the black residue from the old belt from the pulley with isopropyl alcohol and used a paper towel with alcohol to thoroughly clean the space between the inside of the rear roof and the motor box lid.

If no other repairs are needed, the drive belt installation can be completed by the procedure described in step #9 which describes the motor box reassembly.

Optional Steps (As Needed)

Step 5: Test Electrical Connections for the Searchlight

My motor and searchlight were not working, so I needed to determine if the problem was with the switch or the motor and searchlight themselves. I put the batteries back into the battery compartment.


First, I tested the searchlight itself. I placed a straightened paperclip on each of the battery contacts at the front end of the battery compartment. I squeezed the searchlight’s contact prongs between these two paper clips with one paperclip contacting each prong. If the searchlight does not light up, the bulb is probably bad.


Next, I turned the vehicle’s switch to the light position. I used an electrical multi-tester to test for voltage at the two searchlight socket contacts on the bottom of the motor box. The contact with the brown wire is positive, and the contact with the blue wire is negative. Since there are two batteries, I tested for 3 DC volts. If there is no voltage at the contacts, there may be a problem with the vehicle’s switch. A simple bulb-type tester can also be used to test for current at these contacts.


The vehicle’s searchlight and a straightened paperclip will also work as a tester. To use the searchlight as a tester. Hold one prong of the searchlight against one of the searchlight socket contacts on the bottom of the motor box and connect the other searchlight prong to the other contact with a straightened paper clip. If there is current at the contacts, the searchlight will light up.


If there is current to these terminals and the searchlight works when connected directly to the batteries, but was not working when mounted on the vehicle. The problem may be with the round green searchlight socket. The contact holes on this socket point straight up, so the contacts inside these holes may be dirty. A miniature screwdriver can be used to reach inside these holes and scrape the contacts clean. A very small round wire brush may also work well.


The contacts in the searchlight socket may also no longer press firmly against the searchlight contact prongs. Reaching in from the base of the socket with a miniature screwdriver, it is possible to gently bend these contacts so that they will more fully contact the searchlight prongs when the searchlight is plugged into the socket.

Step 6: Test Electrical Connections for the Motor

Testing the electrical connections for the motor is very similar to testing the electrical connections for the searchlight. I turned the vehicle’s switch to the motor position, and I tested the motor terminals sticking out of the white rear plastic cover plate of the motor for electrical current. The red wire motor terminal is positive, and the blue wire motor terminal is negative.


I used a multi-tester, but again, a simple bulb-type tester or the vehicle’s own searchlight can be used to test for current at the terminals.

If there is no electrical current at the motor terminals, the vehicle’s switch may have a problem. There still may be a problem with the motor, but first, power must be restored to the motor terminals. I had to replace the switch on my vehicle.


Step 7: Switch Repair

The switch assembly is located inside the vehicle directly behind the exterior knob for the switch. It is mounted on a plastic plate that is glued to the inside roof of the vehicle.


There are three thin wires to the switch. The white wire is the power wire from the batteries. The brown wire is for the light, and the red wire is for the motor. The switch works by sliding a thin plastic tab between contacts for the light and motor circuits. When the switch is turned to the on-positions, this plastic tab is rotated out from between the contacts and the circuits are completed.


On my vehicle, the switch was erratic. I discovered that the plastic tab was leaving a residue and sometimes even some small shavings as it was moved back and forth between the contacts. This residue and these shavings would sometimes prevent the contacts from closing.

I removed the original switch from my vehicle in an attempt to repair it, but then simply replaced it with a modern rotary switch. When replacing the switch with a modern switch, the old switch can be left in place rather than risking damage to the roof of the vehicle by removing it.


I used a modern 3 position rotary lamp-type switch for my vehicle. Instead of a back and forth switch like the original, this switch turns clockwise through a full circle. The positions on this switch are also different. I positioned this switch with off at 9:00, light at 12:00, motor at 3:00, and motor and light at 6:00. While this is different from the original, I believe it is a good fit for the vehicle. The switch position labels on the vehicle still line up fairly well with this setup. Only the 6:00 position is very different, and even this still makes sense as it is one click past the motor position. The new switch adds the choice of having just the motor on by itself. I liked this change, but there are numerous electrical switches available. I believe there are many other replacement switches that could be found to fit this vehicle. Although I decided to upgrade to a modern switch, there may also be a way to repair the original switch.

Before installing the new rotary switch, I removed the batteries from the vehicle, and I switched the exterior knob to the motor position to free the internal green plastic switch tab from the contacts. I cut the three wires off as close as possible to their contacts. The white wire connects to the middle of the switch plate, so it is more difficult to get to. It may be possible to simply break this wire off of its contact by pulling on it. A sharp tug with small needle-nose pliers may work.


To install the new rotary switch, I needed to remove the original green switch knob and its shaft from the vehicle. The shaft has a thin green end with a round retaining clip which is clearly visible through the side door of the vehicle. I pried off the retaining clip with a larger screwdriver and cut off the protruding end of the green shaft. The shaft of my new switch is 3/8” in diameter and would pass through the same hole as the original green shaft, so this hole needed to be enlarged.

With the original green shaft still in the hole, this hole can be enlarged by starting with small size drill bits and then gradually increasing to a 3/8” bit. At the same time, the green shaft of the exterior knob will be drilled away. Drilling through to almost the exterior of the vehicle will help to remove the old green shaft. I reused the green exterior knob for my new switch, so I was careful not to damage it in the removal process. At some point, the green shaft may become so weakened that the green exterior knob can simply be broken off, and the green interior tab and remains of the shaft may simply fall out.


Once the original knob and green shaft have been completely removed, and the hole has been enlarged to 3/8”, the new switch can be installed. My new switch had much thicker and longer wires. I could have simply cut these new wires to a much shorter length and attached them to the original thin switch wires using wire nuts. Instead, I pried off the cover for the wire channel on the inside roof of the vehicle and ran the new wires in this channel into the motor box. I also replaced most of the wires in the motor box with much thicker gauge wires. I used small sections of heat shrink tubing to make everything neat. I filed down the corner of the motor box where the wires enter to make room for the new thicker wires. I left the cover off of the wire channel on the inside roof of the vehicle as the new wires were much thicker.


To install the switch, I placed the vehicle on its left side. I placed a 3/8” internal tooth lock-washer on top of the thin silver nut for the switch. I slid these two pieces underneath the vehicle’s yellow switch plate, so that they were between the cardboard backing for the instrument panel and the yellow switch plate. I used a miniature screwdriver and a straightened paperclip to slide them into place directly underneath the hole I had just enlarged. This was difficult and took me several tries before I was able to position these pieces successfully. I also put a 3/8” internal tooth lock-washer on the shaft of the switch.


I pushed the switch through the hole being certain that it went through both the lock-washer and nut.

Looking down the left side from the rear of the vehicle. Here, I am using a  hooked paperclip to thread on the silver nut.

Looking down the left side from the rear of the vehicle. Here, I am using a hooked paperclip to thread on the silver nut.

Getting the thin silver nut threaded onto the shaft of the new switch was very difficult. The space between the cardboard backing for the instrument panel and the yellow plastic switch plate is very small. I positioned the vehicle on its front side and worked through the rear opening. Working along the inside left side of the vehicle, I was able to reach the switch’s thin silver nut with a large straightened and hooked paper clip. I used the hooked end of the straightened paperclip to thread the nut onto the shaft of the new switch. This was not easy!


I used a very thin 13mm bicycle wrench to reach into this space and tighten the nut. There is a small plastic peg on the switch plate which makes tightening the nut even more difficult. I was able to work around it, but this peg could also probably be cut off with a hacksaw blade before installing the new switch to make things easier.

Additionally, a new switch could probably be installed far more easily if the original switch plate were simply removed or cut off near the roof of the vehicle. My new switch came with two nuts, so once the old switch plate was removed, the new switch could simply be installed directly through the left side of the vehicle with a nut and washer on each side.


To finish my switch installation, I drilled a 5/16” hole completely through the vehicle’s original green switch knob and pressed it into place on the end of the new switch. The new switch switches every time it is turned clockwise by 90 degrees. Turning this switch counterclockwise will not switch it, but it will change the position of the knob. If this happens, it is a simple matter of continuing to turn the knob counterclockwise until it is back in the proper position.

Step 8: Motor Repair

If there is current to the motor terminals, and the motor still does not work, then the problem is with the motor.


To service the motor remove it from its mounts and gently bend up the two small metal tabs that hold the white plastic rear cover plate. A miniature screwdriver works well for this, and I suspect a dental hook-type tool would also work well. Be careful not to break these tabs. I marked one of the tabs and made a corresponding mark for it on the white plastic cover plate so that I could exactly reassemble the motor.


The white plastic cover plate with the wires still attached can now be pried from the motor. Again, a miniature screwdriver works well for this. There are two very small delicate contacts attached to the inside of this plate. Be careful not to damage these contacts when prying off the plate. These contacts are supposed to rub against the center shaft of the motor and bring current to it.

These contacts were originally covered with grease, but on my vehicle, this grease had dried to such an extent that it was very much like dried candle wax. The delicate motor contacts were imbedded in this dried grease and could no longer contact the motor shaft. I carefully cleaned away all of the dried grease being very careful not to damage the contacts. I greased the contacts with just a little bit of new grease and reassembled the motor. There are two tiny plastic pegs on the inside of the white plastic cover plate that guide the two small contacts. Be certain to position the contacts correctly against these pegs when reassembling the motor. The contacts can also be slightly bent to ensure that they will rub against the motor shaft.

My motor worked perfectly and sounded great as soon as I had completed this procedure!

If the motor still does not work, it would be fairly easy to install a new motor at this point provided that a replacement could be found.

Notice the plastic ridge on the motor box lid which runs along the right side of the searchlight socket.

Notice the plastic ridge on the motor box lid which runs along the right side of the searchlight socket.

Step 9: Motor Box Reassembly

I discovered that the inside of the motor box lid has a ridge that reaches into the box and provides support for both the motor shaft and the white plastic gear shaft. For this reason, the tension of the motor box lid greatly affects the performance of the whole mechanism. If the motor box lid is too tight, everything binds up and the mechanism will not turn freely. Too loose, and the mechanism r