The early eighties was the most revolutionary and unique time in the American automobile industry ever. Thanks to exploding oil and fuel prices, and with the expectation that the increases would continue indefinitely, for the only time ever Americans embraced radical downsizing with a fervor. It was as if the US was finally joining the rest of the world. Of course, it didn’t last; as soon as oil prices started dropping, everyone quickly forgot the whole episode, and the truck/SUV boom soon exploded. But for a few short years, it was out with the big, in with the small. The little relics from that era are becoming hard to find: K-Car limousines, Chevy Sprints, Diesel Rabbits (no worries; I have). And some of them I’d forgotten ever existed, like this tiny FWD diesel KubVan.
It’s hard to fully appreciate how small this thing is, without a frame of reference. Let’s just say it would look right at home on the streets of Paris. If it helps to put it in perspective, it’s powered by a VW 54 hp Diesel Rabbit FWD drive train, and it has an aluminum unibody, and a very low flat floor. The interior shot probably best helps put some scale to this thing.
There’s not a lot of information available about the KubVan, except that it was apparently built by van-builder Grumman with the hope winning a large contract with the Post Office. The USPS was mighty anxious about fuel prices too, and was looking for a new generation of delivery vehicles. It’s not clear whether the KubVan was built in response to an RFP, or on speculation, but by the time it had fully evaluated it, the Post Office decided it was too small, despite its 35 mpg potential. Well, by 1986, everything from the height of the crisis years was suddenly looking too small.
So Grumman went back to the drawing board, and came up with the Grumman LLV (Long Life Vehice), which was somewhat bigger and taller, given that it now sat on a Chevy S-10 frame/chassis with the Iron Duke four. Between 1986 and 1995, Grumman built 150k of the LLVs, and the USPS is still rebuilding them to keep them in service, despite the mediocre fuel mileage (15mpg).
Only 500 KubVans were built, and maybe 100 are left. Whether the USPS actually bought and used any or just tested them is unknown (to me). But apparently some were bought by delivery services and the like. And due to their light aluminum bodies and VW diesel power train, they have a bit of a cult following.
Curiously, the KubVan has been reprised, at least in concept form, by Ford’s 2005 Syn-us concept. If oil prices rise, as they undoubtedly will again, the KubVan may find itself reincarnated.