Gear Head Tuesday – USPS Jeeps

Gear Head


USPS Jeep DJ-5 Dispatcher

Today’s “Gear Head” post is adapted from On All Cylinders

The United States Postal Service was founded on 26 July 1775. Early on, the Post Office had a need for vehicles, particularly for mail delivery to rural areas. 

Before the Jeep showed up, the Post Office initially relied on horse-drawn carriages. Toward the end of the 19th century, the postal service owned an assortment of vehicles: steam powered, battery powered and gasoline engines being in the mix. Moving into the 20th century, there was no vehicle standardization with the Post Office fleet, causing much frustration with mechanics in the motor pools. At one point the Post Office owned 4,000 vehicles that included 43 models from 23 different manufacturers. This was the reality of the postal fleet going into World War II. Then came the Jeep.

Jeep is the vehicle that saved Willys as a vehicle manufacturer. Jeep also saved (for a time) Kaiser. After World War II, Willys turned to producing civilian versions of the Jeep. In fact, in Jeep model designations, the “CJ” means “civilian Jeep”. Woven into the fabric of Jeep’s postwar offerings is the work of designer Brooks Stevens.

Jeep wagon-USPS-rural delivery

A Brooks Stevens-designed Jeep wagon in use as a mail delivery vehicle.

The ruggedness of the Jeep made it a candidate for becoming the workhorse of the postal service. The Jeep also offered the post office the opportunity to better standardize its fleet and escape from the pre-war hodge-lodge of vehicles from so many manufacturers.

Sensing the opportunity offered by the U.S. Postal Service, Willys (as it was still known at the time), simplified the CJ by eliminating the four wheel drive, making a column shift optionally available to replace the floor shift and replacing the folding windshield with a fixed one. The company conjured up body style variations including a fully-enclosed panel van configuration. The version sold to the Post Office became known as the “Dispatcher Jeep”, “DJ”.

The DJ quickly proved itself to be a rugged, reliable asset on the nation’s dirt roads and snow-covered streets, just as its military antecedent had been for the armed forces. The Post Office had finally discovered its workhorse.

As the Civilian Jeep line evolved, so did the DJ, eventually adding DJ-5 and DJ-6 models. There was even a limited run of Scrambler models made for the Alaskan Post Office. DJs destined for mail service were usually right-hand drive to facilitate access to residential mailboxes.

Kaiser bought Willys in 1953. While Kaiser was not a successful manufacturer of cars in the U.S., the Jeep line soldiered happily on for Kaiser. American Motors, a.k.a. AMC, bought Jeep in 1970.

With AMC’s purchase of Jeep, the AMC 6 cylinder engine was fitted to the vehicles in replacement of the Willys-derived engines Kaiser had been using.

AMC-produced DJ-series Jeeps typically feature a unique “bump-out” grille, which allowed room for AMC’s inline-six engines. (Curiously, CJ models retained the older-style grille and instead had a slightly extended frame and front fenders to accomodate the AMC sixes.)

DJs also got a large sliding door, plus an assortment of mirror and lighting fixtures to aid them in their mail-delivering tasks.

An interesting aside to the USPS Jeep story is that shortly before Studebaker ceased production in the U.S., the USPS gave Studebaker  a contract to build a delivery vehicle known as the ZIP Van, weaning the post office ever so slightly away from Jeeps.

GH's Zip Van

Studebaker ZIP Van owned by George Hamlin

After AMC’s 1970 purchase of Jeep, AMC created the AM General subsidiary in 1971 to handle the fulfillment of Kaiser’s previous military truck contracts. Then, Jeep DJ production moved to AM General. Ironically, these Jeeps were built in the former Studebaker Chippewa plant in South Bend, Indiana where the ZIP Vans had been built.

Jeep production at Studebaker Chippewa plant

AM-General produced Post Office Jeeps being built in the former Studebaker Chippewa plant where the Studebaker ZIP Vans had been built.`

In the mid-1980s, when AMC was purchased by French-owned Renault, U.S. government regulations said that foreign companies couldn’t fulfill defense contracts.

Under those terms, AM General was sold separately to the U.S.-based LTV Corporation (formerly known as Ling-Temco-Vought), a defense contractor that specialized in aircraft.

As the Dispatcher Jeep entered the 1980s, the Post Office engaged in a search for a versatile replacement.

Instead of picking an off-the-shelf vehicle and tailoring it to mail delivery, the USPS called for a unique truck suited exclusively for the task. Several companies companies submitted designs but  the Post Office chose the Grumman LLV (“Long Life Vehicle”). The LLV is now nearing the end of its “shelf life” and the post office is looking for its replacement.

While it’s unlikely that you’ll see a new Jeep Wrangler delivering your mail in the future, mail carriers have used some off-the-shelf vehicles (like panel-wagon versions of minivans) in their fleet.

The Post Office is searching for a unique vehicle that expands the Jeep’s and LLV’s legacy. Early prototypes have teased gasoline, hybrid, and all-electric drivetrains – all with the expectation of long service intervals and anvil-like reliability.

Chrysler bought AMC mostly to get Jeep. Chrysler later joined with Daimler-Benz, only to be spun off to the investment banking firm, Cerberus. Cerberus, being out for the quick buck nearly ruined Chrysler by starving them of new product development funds. FIAT rescued Chrysler – mostly to get Jeep. Jeep is now the largest and most successful part of FIAT-Chrysler, but the company doesn’t seem to have any interest in reprising its former role as being the principal supplier of vehicles for the United States Postal Service.


CarToon:Flip the Frog Buys A New Car

An animated cartoon with sound from 1931
Click to play:


Classic cars



Add yours →

  1. Gary Lindstrom 02/10/2018 — 08:13

    Thank you for another good article, including the old cartoon (not related to Jeeps or postal vehicles).
    I also “restored” (replacement engine, repaint, etc.) a Zip Van. George’s is one of the few that are done to near correct standards. For example, it should have “U. S. Mail” above the windshield, not “Studebaker”. I also left the U. S. Mail off mine since I figured that would be illegal. I wonder what is hanging below the bumper on George’s Zip Van.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In my original post about the ZIP Vans, George explained that he put “Studebaker” there instead of “U.S. Mail” so the “mouth breathers” would know what it is.

      As I commented at the time: “Mouth breathers”


  2. that's jack 02/10/2018 — 09:39

    Again, I enjoyed the education. I knew a little of the story but this filled in a lot of gaps. I had to smile at the classic graphic, YES there WERE classic cars! Probably more out there but I won’t inherit any barns!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “AM-General produced Post Office Jeeps being built in the former Studebaker Chippewa plant where the Studebaker ZIP Vans had been built.”

    There were no Postal Vehicles built by Kaiser Jeep or AM General in the former Studebaker Chippewa Plant. We built all of them in Studebaker’s former Plant # 8 (world-wide parts warehouse) on W. Eckman St.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great write up. I’ve seen 2 of these out in the wild and it’s always treat. I run a Jeep blog if you’re interested in following along fellow Jeepers and their unique builds!

    Liked by 1 person

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