By on October 24, 2010

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.

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29 Comments on “KubSide Classic: 1983 Grumman KubVan...”

  • avatar

    Huh.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one of these before.  Interesting.  Or maybe I did and just didn’t notice.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve never seen one, either.  Maybe all 500 went to Eugene, OR.

    • 0 avatar

      I have owned a kubvan since 1984. Picked it up at the Grumman factory in Sherman TX. It had been sitting in a field for about a year, poor thing. I still drive it everyday. It is a 5-speed diesel and gets @38MPG in town. On trips @45. It used to get 40 in town and 50 or so on the road, but it’s 28 yrs old.

      I love my grumman even without radio or A/C [and Texas is not cool in the summer]. I’m looking to go with something safer [the aluminum shell is very thin], but I can’t imagine giving it up for good.

  • avatar

    Interesting.  You could say it has already been reincarnated (sans the diesel) as the Transit Connect.  Actually, I could see Transit Connects being awesome postal vehicles if Ford decides to import the RHD versions.

    • 0 avatar

      Having driven postal Connects for several years, I can tell that they are anything but awesome. They have horrid handling, awfully cramped interiors, and they fall apart in a couple of years.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      More or less, inasmuch as this KubVan is substantially smaller than the Transit Connect. But similarly in concept.

      • 0 avatar

        We have a 1984 Kurbside Grumman, yellow in color. It has a VW diesel, automatic. It has 47,000 miles on it. We get around 30 miles to the gallon. And we love it.

    • 0 avatar

      Handling and Postal vehicles are NEVER, NEVER used together on the same page, let alone sentence.

    • 0 avatar

      Handling and Postal vehicles are NEVER, NEVER used together on the same page

      Trust me, when you drive narrow gravel roads at illegal speeds, handling really becomes an issue. VW Golf Variants, Yaris Versos and even VW Caddys can take corners like a rally car, but the understeering, yawing and rolling Connect ends up in a ditch.

    • 0 avatar

      Canada Post started replacing Grumman LLV with  Ford Transit Connect:

  • avatar

    Paint it red with some gold lettering and we suddenly have Pat I

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Hey FWD so it would be easier for the mail man to get down snowy urban streets on those crappy almost truck tires that they stick on most of their vehicles.

  • avatar

    Funny, my first impression from the first picture was: “looks like some sort of Mail truck”. I’d love to own one just for the weird factor. With that VW powertrain, I suspect a VR6 would bolt right in. That’ll take care of the “54hp” issue.

  • avatar

    Obviously build for the escort mail carriers, light enought not to need to need a cat-shot out of the motorpool.

    I want that badge.

  • avatar

    Canada Post had a fleet of these in the mid-80’s before they upgraded to the larger successor.  I occasionally see one around Vancouver still… but no longer wearing its post office livery.

    The side streets here in East Van are full of many of the same curbside classics that seem to dwell in Eugene.  And the Gulf Islands near here are full of “island cars” that could provide fodder for many an episode of curbside classics!  And lots of right-hand-drive JDM cars more than 15 years old are now showing up in BC due to a loophole in the importation laws which allows otherwise “illegal aliens” to be legally imported.

  • avatar

    There’s something very right looking about those 12 hole steel wheels.  If I’m remembering correctly, they were at one time fitted to the sporting & pseudo-sporting Mk1 & Mk2 Golfs (Golf Driver & GTI) and they looked great on them too.

  • avatar

    Years ago, this place,, in Pontiac, Michigan, had some of the Grumman KubVan shells for sale. They said that Rabbit mechanicals would bolt right up. I think that they may have gotten them via Chrysler, who bought Rabbit parts from them while designing the Omni, which used a VW powertrain.

  • avatar

    That thing needs to be slammed and chopped.

  • avatar

    I’m selling my kubvan. I live in Victoria BC. You can go to for information.

  • avatar
    7th Frog

    A few years ago some older guy, i think he may have been a coal truck driver, used to run around in one of these things. He was a pretty big guy and looked funny driving it. It was super small. He had it painted up like a UPS van.

  • avatar

    While (sort of) on the topic of the Grumman LLV, whatever happened to the demonstration fleet of Chrysler minivans that they were grooming to replace the LLV?
    This article came out Earth Day, 2009, which would have been squarely in the middle of the carpocaylpse.

  • avatar

    lol…now I know where the scion xb came from.

  • avatar

    I own an ’84 Kubvan and have been attempting to do some serious research into it’s history and have not arrived at many certain facts.  There seems to be a lot of different information floating around out there and I am starting to wonder what the actual production numbers were.
    I know that all or most of the Kubvans were built in the Grumman Allied Montgomery, PA plant, as were the US Postal Service LLV’s    My Kubvan lived most of it’s life as a VW dealership’s  parts delivery vehicle after the original purchaser traded it back in after 1 year.   Along with it came the factory service, parts and warranty manuals as well as Grumman factory correspondence.  The letters clearly indicate that production started sometime in ’83 of the diesel Kubvan,  and must have been abruptly halted in late ’84 or very early 85,  so some 85 model year vans were produced.
    Prior to 83, the Diesel Kubvan was preceded by the battery-electric Kurbwatt,  built on the same body,  and also produced in limited numbers.
    I still have no idea if the Kubvan was originally designed to be a postal vehicle, and then sold to the public when those contracts fell through,  or otherwise.   I do have an 83 Kubvan sales brocure which is clearly aimed at the general “civilian” market,   and indications that the dealer network was primarily VW dealerships who would have been equipped to handle the repair issues.
    Glad to see there is still interest in this somewhat obscure piece of US automotive history that must have been a huge commercial flop for Grumman.   A great idea that sadly never really went anywhere.

  • avatar

    I saw one today in a very snowy Walmart lot that had a Volvo grill on it?  Whats up w/ that?
    I took a picture or two if anybody is interested.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Granted I have had the Transit Connect only 3 months and 6 kmiles, but it is way betterer handling than the E 150 it replaced

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