Project POStal—my 1976 Jeep DJ-5 Postal Jeep—is officially dead. The Jeep, which started out as a hopeless pile of rust when I bought it two years ago for $500, came back to life last spring and completed an epic 4,000 mile road trip to the off-road trails of Moab, Utah. But despite having wrenched the Jeep into a dead-reliable machine, I decided to sell it. Now it’s in a junkyard.
Two Jalopnik readers, razorbeamteam and shop-teacher, recently discovered Project POStal’s lifeless body propped up in a Chicago-area junkyard. A visit to the yard’s website shows that the Jeep is sitting in row 10, just next to a blue Chevy Astro:
Razorbeamteam was first to notify me of the location of the dearly departed DJ (incorrectly labeled by the salvage yard as a CJ). “Hey David, I’m at a junkyard here in Chicago and I think I found the Postal Jeep,” he wrote me over Instagram DMs. He included a photo of the Jeep, which I immediately recognized as Project POStal:
I see the custom front shackles that I fabricated out of a 1/8" thick steel bar. I see the 215/75R15 Hankook winter tires on Ford truck wheels. I see a bit of the aluminum tape on the side cabin air vent from when I tried closing it off to keep wind and rain from freezing me as I drove through Ohio to Illinois.
Razorbeamteam also sent me a rear photo. Notice the dent in the bumper from when that Hummer H2 rear-ended me. Strangely, the National Rural Letter Carrier sticker is missing from the rear window, and it looks like someone tried spraying over the postal service number at the top of the Jeep, though that’s pretty obviously “611486.”
The photo above shows the custom ignition setup that I installed (see below) and you can even see my handwriting on the oil filter (I like to write the mileage on filters so I know when to change the fluid).
And in the photo below, you can see the alternator that I scored from a junkyard Pontiac Parisienne.
Here’s the Parisienne in question:
Reader “shop-teacher” also went out to the junkyard to check out the vehicle he’d read so much about on Jalopnik, and he took a bunch of photos. This image shows that the heater box has been crumpled, and the air cleaner lid hold-down on the top of carburetor is bent. (The air cleaner is in the back of the Jeep).
Here’s a close look at the grille damage:
This photo of the rear of the Postal Jeep shows that the left-side door is actually in the back of the vehicle along with the air cleaner assembly and parcel tray:
This picture from the driver’s side (right side, since this thing is right hand-drive) gives a pretty good glimpse of the cracked windshield. Also, like in the rear, it looks like the USPS identification number has been spray-painted over for some reason:
Here’s a closer look at the bashed windshield from inside the cabin:
This image shows a huge gash in the left front tire sidewall:
If I had seen these photos (I’ll post shop-teacher’s full photo album at the bottom of this article) two months ago, I’d have felt sad. I spent so many magical moments in that Postal Jeep, driving with my brothers from Michigan to Indiana to Illinois to Missouri to Kansas to Colorado and finally to the amazing off-road trails of Moab, Utah. I met kind and interesting people along the way, all of whom were thrilled to see and ride in this rusty little white cube that my friends and I had improbably resurrected from nothing.
The Postal Jeep brought smiles to everyone who saw it, not just because it looks silly, with its cube-like, stubby shape, its modest overall design, and its happy front face, but because it was the definition of an underdog. When I bought it, the frame had a two-foot rust hole in it, the engine’s cylinder head was cracked, the steering box was shot, the front leaf spring bushings didn’t exist, the brakes were garbage, the rear of the body literally wasn’t even attached to the frame—I could go on and on.
The point is that, when I first laid eyes on the Jeep, the idea of it successfully driving across the country was preposterous. The suggestion that I could get it through an off-road trail? Laughable. The odds that it’d make the trip to Utah, go off-roading, and make it all the way back with nothing more than a minor brake issue (due to a faulty new brake part)? That seemed impossible. And yet, thanks to lots of meticulous, hard work and help from my friends, the Jeep triumphed.
A few months ago I would have felt sad seeing these photos of the Postal Jeep in a junkyard, but through some hard knocks, I’ve learned recently that it’s important in this life to appreciate the good times, but not to dwell on them when things come to an end. And that applies to this Postal Jeep. Just look at the joy this machine brought me:
It even brought me to the edges of my own sanity:
On multiple occasions:
I will say that what does make me a bit sad is the fact that I know the Jeep still had plenty of life in it (provided it wasn’t driven in a moist, salty climate). And I realize that’s hard to believe (and for some people, impossible—I’m anticipating plenty of “that Jeep should not be on public roads anyway” comments) given how crusty that dash and much of the rest of the Jeep looks. But Project POStal was like a rat rod—hideous, sure, but it drove beautifully by the time my friends and I were done fixing it. It’s true that the Jeep still handled weirdly, with its high center of gravity, soft springs, lack of sway bars, and old-school steering-box setup, but it made good power, didn’t burn any oil, shifted well, had tight-enough steering and decent brakes, and was actually reasonably comfortable and a pleasant 55 mph cruiser.
I knew the Postal Jeep was going to have some strengths, as my friends and I had gone through all the steering and suspension bits; I had welded up the frame with input from a professional welder and multiple engineers (even though my welds look hideous—see above—the weld-job is incredibly stout); I had replaced all sorts of auxiliary components like the water pump, alternator, and fuel pump and pretty much every rubber part; and had I even had a certified mechanic give the Jeep a stamp of approval. Still, I wasn’t expecting the machine to be as good as it was. And that’s why I fell in love with it.
Though hideous and rusty, after the Jeep proved itself over those 4,000 miles and on those off-road trails, I’d have trusted it to drive me to the farthest reaches of this earth, which is why I’d really like to have seen Project POStal continue its life in the hands of a rural letter carrier or maybe a hunter who’d use it for recreation in the back woods. I don’t think it’d have been great as someone’s city commuter given the DJ’s handling characteristics and lack of safety features, but it could have been a trusty workhorse for many years to come.
I hate the idea of wasted potential, but alas, it just wasn’t meant to be. Project POStal is dead.
Back in November, I sold the vehicle to a gentleman for $2,000. I stored it at my house until May, when he and his buddies dropped by to do some wrenching to prepare it for an epic roadtrip. As you can see, the Jeep did not survive long under its new ownership. The new owner told me he had a good time with his friends, and was grateful for having taken some time to install safety modifications prior to his friends driving the Jeep. He tells me nobody got hurt in the incident that sent the Jeep into the salvage yard. Thank goodness.
As a sign of respect for the 44-year-old Postal Jeep that now finds itself on death row, I’ll pour out a few drops of engine coolant, as Project POStal liked to do from its rear freeze plug.