My 1976 Postal Jeep was the least safe car I ever drove despite it being in excellent mechanical condition. The fact is, the vehicle came from the factory with only two crash safety features: a lap belt and a steel bumper. The thing was a deathtrap, which is why today I’d like to celebrate the fact that an Ohioan named Jeremiah Langley is still alive.
When I bought my $500 Postal Jeep and prepared it for a cross-country drive, I knew I had to be especially diligent about safety. I replaced essentially all the brake parts, many of the steering bits, and lots of suspension components. I welded up my frame with input from a professional welder, installed new-ish tires, and just made sure the Jeep was in truly excellent mechanical condition before I ever set out. (I did make a mistake by using wheels with different backspacing, causing my front brake hoses to rub, but luckily I caught that during a routine inspection. Also, I wish I had installed shoulder belts).
Why? Because I knew that if I were to lose control and crash the Jeep, it’d be over for me. A head-on crash with a modern vehicle constructed of high-strength steel, and almost certainly weighing at least 1,000 pounds more, would be akin to an elephant stepping on an aluminum coke can.
The U.S. government didn’t want to pay much for the Postal Jeep, so to describe the Jeep DJ’s structure as anything other than “Clearly optimized as the cheapest bid for a government contract” would be giving the cube-on-wheels too much credit. Let’s be honest: The entire vehicle was a crumple zone.
For this reason, I think it’s worth celebrating the fact that a fellow human who crashed his Jeep DJ-5 recently escaped with most of his faculties intact.
This all went down near Freemont, Ohio.
“Her car is on the left, mine is on the right. I was driving...55 [mph] which is the speed limit, and I see a semi truck with a whole bunch of cars behind it in the opposite lane,” Langley told me over Facebook Messenger. “So I’m just driving past it and the lady behind the semi truck wants to get to a house on my side... Instead of waiting for the semi truck to move so she could pull into the driveway she thinks she could just turn [and] drive straight into the yard.”
“So she turns without checking for oncoming traffic and by the time I see her it’s too late. It did not matter what I was driving or who would be driving; nobody would have been able to stop in time.”
Here’s a look at the resulting carnage:
“I hit the steering wheel so hard I cracked the bottom of it” Langley writes in his Facebook post on the “Jeep DJ - Postal Jeep” page. Here’s a look at that damaged steering wheel spoke:
Notice that the base of the dash, where the steering wheel is fastened with two bolts, has been crinkled.
“Honestly that’s probably the only thing that stopped the engine from reaching me in the driver’s seat,” Langley wrote me. “Without the steering [column] to stop it it probably would have broke through the metal.”
Here’s a picture of that Iron Duke four-cylinder engine trying to ram itself through the firewall:
“I remember the crash and I remember thinking I was flipping but evidently I was not. I don’t know how long I blacked out for but it couldn’t have been too long because I woke up on the steering wheel I then unbuckled my seatbelt and got out of the car but I should say more like limping out of the car because both my knees hit the dash.”
Luckily, after a few days of limping, Langley’s knees healed up and now just feature a few bruises. The biggest injury to his body, though, was to his head. He received a concussion and a pretty banged up right eye:
Langley, a Fremont, Ohio native and factory worker who spent two years fixing the DJ after buying it for $1,000 as a way to “combine [his] love of weird cars with [his] love of off roaders,” says he was surprised by how well the vehicle held up.
“Considering it was basically a box made from sheet metal with no modern safety features yes it did surprisingly well,” he said.
Langley hit the side of a Lincoln MKX. The collision spread the crash loads across Langley’s rather substantial steel front bumper, though you can see that the left side of the Jeep took the bigger hit. Nonetheless, had this been a head-on collision, Langley — who was only wearing the vehicle’s lap belt — would likely have been in much worse shape.
The postal Jeep is a deathtrap. Sure, there’s a steel bumper whose outer ends are tied into the frame via reinforcement brackets. But the body itself? There’s absolutely no crash structure there. It’s all just flimsy sheetmetal.
A modern Jeep has actual crash structure under the fender and behind the grille (see JL below), but the DJ has just the stamped steel fender and stamped steel grille — there’s nothing else.
The image above shows what happens when you remove the grille and fender from the JL; there’s still the front end module and the longitudinal hydroformed rails in place. Here’s what happens when you take the grille and fenders off the Jeep DJ — there’s literally nothing left:
Any modern car would have fared much, much better in the crash. The fact that Langley made it out of his tin can-on-wheels with just a concussion and a banged up eye is a miracle.
“After I get money from insurance I plan on looking for another one,” Langley told me. I totally understand; these old postal Jeeps are just enchanting, even if they are also endangering.