For three years now, I’ve been buying junkyard-quality Jeeps, fixing them, and embarking on long trips to the off-road mecca that is Moab, Utah. Last year, my project was a rusty $800 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The year before, it was a dilapidated Willys CJ-2A farm Jeep. And the first year I took a highly perforated $600 Jeep Cherokee. Now it’s time to introduce this year’s project: a $500 right-hand drive 1976 Jeep DJ-5D postal carrier.
Young folks may not know this, but before the now-ubiquitous Grumman LLV took over the duty of bringing Americans mail, the United States Postal Service used Jeeps. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was flat-fender CJs and Willys Wagons that dropped off parcels to rural homes, but by the mid ’60s, the Jeep DJ-5 “Dispatcher” took over pretty much all mail routes. Between then and the mid 1980s, the DJ-5 came in a number of submodels with different engines and drivetrains, including an all-electric setup. The DJ was a fascinating machine (just look at the vehicle’s spec sheet):
I’ve been dreaming about owning a DJ for quite some time now, so it’s no surprise that in early August, while ogling over a beautiful Willys Forward Control during my hourly Craigslist Jeep search, something caught my eye. In the listing’s text, the Indianapolis-based seller mentioned that he also had some postal Jeeps for sale. I shot him an email.
He responded within a couple of hours with his phone number, which I called immediately. After he told me he only wanted $500 for one that allegedly ran and had a decent frame, he sent me the two jankiest photos anyone actually trying to sell something has ever sent:
Naturally, I needed more intel, so I arranged for my college buddy, who lives in Indy, to take a look at the boxy little letter carrier. Since I nursed him through his first few years of engineering courses, my friend’s become a bit of a genius, and is now a hot-shot jet engine developer. So I knew I could count on him for an accurate assessment.
His photos weren’t all that much better than those the seller had sent me. Sure, they weren’t blurry, but apparently the car was jammed pretty tightly into a garage, so getting a wide-angle view photo wasn’t possible. Still, everything looked like it was mostly there.
My friend’s assessment was fairly positive. He said the frame looked fine from what he could see, the 232 inline-six (the predecessor to the 258 inline-six, which preceded the legendary 4.0-liter) engine was intact, and the body wasn’t all that bad, sans some rust on the floors and the obvious door rust. Here’s a look at the floor photo he sent me:
There were also a couple of other little issues he spotted, like a leaky diff and disconnected shocks, but overall, it seemed okay, so I sent him a $500 Venmo payment and arranged with him to buy the Jeep for me. A few days later, I rented a U-Haul trailer, begged Fiat Chrysler for a Ram 2500, and headed down to Indianapolis with my Willys CJ-2A, which I planned to drive in the parade at the Toledo Jeep Fest.
My friend Jamie graciously volunteered to join me on the quest, which took us to Toledo to drop the Willys off, and then to the seller’s house on the southwest side of Indy—approximately five hours from our homes near Detroit. As the sun began to set, Jamie and I rolled up to the postal carrier sitting on the side of a dead-end road. Here’s the first time I laid eyes on this wonderful machine:
Incredibly, after slapping a battery in, the motor turned over with vigor. I dribbled some starting fluid in, and BOOM, that inline-six fired up great. So Jamie and I pumped up the tires with his cigarette lighter outlet-powered air pump, we put a fuel hose from the fuel pump inlet into a jerry can, and began cranking the motor.
It wasn’t long before we realized that the pump wasn’t sucking, so Jamie—brilliant man that he is—shoved the rubber hose into the carburetor on one end, and into the jerry can nozzle on the other. Then he tipped the jerry can, gravity feeding the carburetor.
The motor fired right up and actually idled!
Not only did the motor run, but the Jeep drove onto the trailer. Jamie then towed the postal Jeep to his house, and I later picked it up, towed it to my house, and shoved it off the U-Haul trailer’s ramps into my backyard, where it now sits among a fleet of rusty misfits:
So yes, the good news is that the two-wheel drive Jeep drives (yes, two-wheel drive. This will make for some...interesting off-roading). Will the transmission shift past first gear? Will the engine make enough power to go more than 3 mph? These are all things I don’t yet know.
What I do know is that my friend’s assessment and the seller’s assessment of the vehicle’s condition—were both totally wrong. Looking underneath, the Jeep—which, by the way, my coworker Jason wants to paint in the scheme shown below (I’m amenable to the design)—is in much worse shape than I expected, making it, quite possibly, the rustiest, crustiest vehicle I’ve ever owned. And that’s saying something.
I’d say buying this Jeep was a mistake if it weren’t for my sheer love of the postal Jeep design. Gosh I love this thing already.
You can expect a full rundown of the postal Jeep’s copious problems in a forthcoming article. Expect it to be a long one.
More photos of the postal Jeep: