When I bought my 1976 Jeep DJ-5D postal Jeep back in August, I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. $500 cars rarely are. But after recently taking a closer look at my purchase, I realized that my long-time desire to own a postal Jeep definitely had gotten the best of me. Because this thing is rough.

Thousands of DJ-5D Dispatcher postal Jeeps used to roam America’s roads delivering mail, but now most of them have vanished, including much of mine. But that’s okay, for these machines were built to soldier on even in the worst conditions. Plus, if you think about it, how much could a compromised structure—and the fact that this Jeep is two-wheel drive, extremely top heavy, and devoid of a low range gear—really hurt me on the off-road trails Moab, Utah? It’ll be fine. Totally fine.

Anyway, let’s get to the good stuff.

Frame

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Backbones. Who needs them? There’s an entire category of animals that don’t, and it doesn’t stop them from fording deep water and crashing through thick mud. So why does my Jeep need frame?

Okay, I’ll stop trying to justify my Jeep’s primary problem, and just admit that it’s bad:

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Rust holes stretch from the very front of the not-driver’s-side (this Jeep is right-hand drive and a single-seater), where the bumper attaches, rearward about two feet, stopping just before the shock mount.

A closer look:

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This is an issue because much of the weight of the Jeep is held up by the fang-looking shackle at the front of the Jeep, which fastens to a largely nonexistent frame. The fact that the Jeep still sitting at ride height, and the front suspension isn’t collapsed, is remarkable.

The good news is that much of the frame is fully-boxed, so even though I have giant holes on the outside of the rail, the inside is still fairly strong—I could only poke a single hole in it with a screwdriver. Unfortunately, as you can see in the second photo in this section, the back side of the frame where the shackle mounts is toast, so this has to be fixed.

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Luckily, I recently started brushing up on my welding skills. Now to find a piece of solid metal that I can actually weld to.

Body

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If you asked the average person on the street what the image above depicts, they’d probably say “a Jeep,” and that I consider a win. At the very least, the general shape of the body is still there.

But there’s some rust. The driver’s side door, for example, is mostly brown:

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There are also a bunch of crusty rust bubbles in the side of the tub:

And some holes in the bottom of the left sliding door:

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And a few more just in front of the left door, through which you can gaze inside the vehicle:

The rear bumper and rear floor are also not looking so great:

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And if you look closely on the left side of that image, you can see how someone tried to use an extremely thin piece of sheetmetal, along with a self-tapping screw, to fix the vertical support on which the rear door hinges. Here’s a look at it from the inside:

Here’s the issue up-close:

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Also sitting squarely in the “suboptimal” column are these holes on the bottom of the roof’s drip rails:

Those holes might help explain why my dashboard looks like this:

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Here’s a closer image of the top of that dash:

And here’s how the switches look. Almost all of them are seized in place, and won’t plunge even if I exert all of my might:

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Also Fe2O3-laden are the floors, though they’re not really too bad. The driver’s side definitely has a few perforations:

From underneath, it doesn’t look particularly confidence-inspiring:

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And, strangely, I found a wood plank between the frame and the body. I have no clue what it’s doing there; probably fulfilling an important structural function:

The not-driver’s-side floor is beautiful, though—it’s definitely been replaced at some point:

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Here’s a look from underneath; again on this side, there’s also a dang piece of wood between the body and frame:

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Another body-related highlight includes a broken turn signal bracket that’s meant to bolt to a fender, which appears to be sitting too high, as the hood latch doesn’t create enough tension to hold the bonnet firmly in place.

In fact, there’s more wrong with the fenders than the latch not working and the turn signal bracket being broken off, because strangely, here’s how the left side fender looks underneath:

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It’s fiberglass. I’ve got one metal and one fiberglass fender. Presumably the old metal one had to be replaced in a crash. Or it rusted out. Probably the former, because based on the rest of this Jeep, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s been too concerned about rust mitigation or treatment.

Steering and Suspension

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Some play in the steering is normal for old recirculating-ball style Jeeps, but this one’s got about 30 degrees of dead-zone, which seems excessive.

As for the suspension, some genius installed the worst lift kit ever via these fang-like shackles in the front that ruin my ground clearance and approach angle:

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And in the back, they just threw in a big metal block. But instead of getting longer shocks, or even installing shock extenders, whoever put this “lift” on simply unbolted the shocks from their axle mounts:

And equally as terrible is the fact that, instead of simply buying a longer rear brake hose, the clearly budget-minded mechanic just unhooked the brake line from the differential cover:

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So instead of a rubber brake hose flexing as the rear axle articulates, it’s the metal brake line bending. Brilliant.

Powertrain

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There actually is good news to this story, though, and it’s that the 3.8-liter inline-six runs great! This is the predecessor to the 4.2-liter and the legendary 4.0 fuel injected Jeep motor, if you’re curious.

There’s a little tick somewhere in the top end that I’ll have to fix at some point, but it otherwise seems to run well off a fuel can. I’ve got a new fuel pump to bolt up, and I’ll probably rebuild the carburetor for good measure, and clean out the fuel tank. But when that’s all done, and I’ve got new filters and fluids in place, this engine should run and idle nicely without anyone having to actively pour gas into it.

I haven’t gotten the Chrysler 727 three-speed transmission past first gear, and I’ll need to put on some new tires before I try. But I bet it’ll shift just fine. As for the rear axle, it leaks a bit. I also doubt the factory limited-slip differential still works, but it doesn’t seem to make that much noise, so I’m not too concerned.

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Powertrain-wise, this Jeep seems solid.

But in every other way, it very much is not.