Once upon a time (1998), I purchased an MTH State Set with a Proto 1.0 381E loco. When the headlight needed replacement, I encountered an issue with the hot contact tab slipping out of the socket. No matter how I tried to reach this tab from the motor side, I could not do it. So I decided to try going thru the window in the front door by snipping out the cross braces and inserting a forceps. I fixed the headlight at the expense of the cosmetic appearance of the front door! My OCD kicked in and I decided I could not live with it, so I tried to sell it to a friend. He actually only needed the shell and frame, and offered me a good price for it. So to make a long story short, I wound up with the large, apparently high-torque Pittman motor, the front and rear trucks, and the complete drive wheel sets. So, that is why I have these spare MTH 381E parts!
I had a misadventure with a MTH 381E, too. Contacts inside were bent and not making electrical contact. Long story short, I did not enjoy the experience of taking it apart, bending the contacts back, reassembling, testing and repeating as necessary. Like you, my OCD kicks in when I see a real or perceived scratch or blemish of what might have been a result of my surgery.
I love working on trains and love enameled tinplate but I sure don't like chips or scratches that could have been avoided. The 381E was the only train I sold because it gave me a bad memory when looking at it.
The MTH Proto 1.0 381E is a MAJOR BEAR to work on, and does require serious disassembly! 😐
As I recall, the Lionel Classics 381E was much easier to work on with its dropout Bild-a-Loco motor.
Interestingly, the MTH 408E's had a retaining clip to keep the headlight hot contact tab from slipping out when the lightbulb was unscrewed. The irony is even if it did slip out, the 408 shell was easily removed by means of four screws, allowing ready access to the headlight contact tabs! NOT so with the MTH 381's! 😐
At the time MTH apparently did not realize that the headlight retaining clip for the contact tab was especially necessary for the Proto 1.0 381E due to the complexity of the disassembly to get to the fallen tab! 😐
I have the MTH 381E but with the open frame AC conventional motor. I bought that version about 7 or 8 years ago because I like conventional better and I thought it would be more reliable than the Proto 1 version. Big mistake because this is by far the worse engine I have ever owned. Bad armature right out of the box, followed up very soon thereafter with a malfunctioning E-unit. Even with the Build -A-Loco motor it was still a pain in the butt to disassemble to get to the headlamp wiring. To this day it runs terrible. I still have this engine with all of its cosmetic blemishes and operational problems because I don't have the heart to sell it to any other train lover.