By on May 6, 2012

US Postal Service-surplus right-hand-drive DJ-5s were once cheap and plentiful. Actually, they’re still cheap and plentiful. Some got converted to four-wheel-drive, some got used as farm vehicles, some ended up as urban hoopties… and many of them were bought cheap at auction and then sat for decades, awaiting a project that never got started. Here’s a 40-year-old mail carrier that looks like it went right from the post office to the junkyard. Quite a few rural routes in Wyoming and northern Colorado are handled by non-USPS-employee subcontractors who drive their own vehicles, so it’s possible that this Jeep stayed on the job well into the 21st century.
You get a steel box on wheels with a handy mail-sorting shelf next to the driver’s seat, which is located at just the right height for rural mailboxes.
AM General went through quite a few engines for the DJ series. This one has an AMC six, but DJs were also built with GM Iron Dukes, Willys Hurricanes, and even Audi-via-AMC 2-liter fours.
The instrumentation is elegant, but we must report that the DJ-5 suffers from understeer at the limit. In fact, it suffers from upside-down steer at the limit.

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1972 AM General DJ-5B “Mail Jeep”...”

  • avatar

    Always thought one of these would make the perfect city vehicle. Small, tight turning radius, sliding door that exits curbside, and metal bumpers all around.

    • 0 avatar

      You would think so. The neighbor kid down the street has one. When he first got it, I was allowed a test drive, but a 32 year old mail vehicle is not my idea of fun.

      But conceptually, it’s not a bad idea. If a Veloster can have three doors, why couldn’t something like this work, too? Maybe with a modern suspension and drivetrain, but that basic form factor and size? It would be great…

      • 0 avatar

        I’d venture to say that a right-hand drive vehicle with a sliding driver’s door would have massive “curb appeal”.

        So *this* was the inspiration for the Nissan Cube! :-)

        My mail is delivered every day by one of these, driven (most days) by a sweet girl in her late 20’s that wears her long black hair in a ponytail. If I take a day off work, I try to be on the porch when she drives up (to deliver mostly junk mail) – it’s not a problem, because I can hear that Iron Duke fart-canning up the street long before she arrives…

  • avatar

    I see the perfect solo camping vehicle. It would be fun to convert to 4wd and go on a trip with it. Though I imagine fuel economy is horrendous.

    I remember seeing ads, back when I was a kid, for really cheap Jeep kits. Do any of you have the same recollection? If so, were they these same government surplus Jeeps?

    • 0 avatar

      These are the fools gold of traditional Jeep. By the time you beef up the weak frame and swap in a front axle and transfer case you’re better of just having bought a similar era CJ.

    • 0 avatar

      The ads you are asking about for gov surplus jeeps were a scam. They wanted you to believe you were getting a military Jeep, or a crate full of military Jeep parts you could build into a functioning Jeep. As far as I know, the government started crushing unwanted Jeeps back in the 1960s to avoid any potential liability that would arise from selling them to the public.

  • avatar

    Living in a country town, my local post office still uses Jeeps for rural deliveries (especially in winter), though now they’re RHD converted Wranglers and an odd Cherokee or two. Still, this would make for a neat restoration- it looks to be fairly intact.

  • avatar

    Why does almost every junk yard find have the oil cap removed?

    • 0 avatar

      I believe all the fluids are drained out and to do this for the oil, the oil cap is removed to facilitate the draining of the oil by allowing air to get in while the oil is being drained.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    One of my best junkyard finds was a 1960’s era, ex-U.S. Postal Service Westcoaster Mailmaster that still had its USPS markings. Last year I ran across an early 1960’s Studebaker Zip Van in another junk yard.

    Back in the 1990’s Saturn and Subaru sold right-hand drive wagons for postal service use. There is a Rural Carrier in my town who drives a rhd 1997 Subaru Legacy wagon.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I’ve seen a few of these in the 4WD magazines converted for rock crawling duty… never understood why though. I would think the center of gravity would be much higher in these than in a Wrangler.

  • avatar

    I briefly worked for the USPS in the early 1970s. The DJ-5 is fun to drive in the same sense that an early split-window VW bus is fun to drive. As long as you stay within the performance envelope they can make you smile. Go outside the envelope and you’ll experience what Murilee described as upside-down steer. With the AMC six, they weren’t slow, had a very tight turning circle, but with a short wheelbase and live axles front and back it didn’t exactly handle like a Lotus. Back in the day, the USPS regulations meant that they only kept delivery vehicles for a fairly short period. I remember going to an auction and seeing DJs with ~40,000 miles being sold.

    There’s the question about maintenance – at the time I was impressed by the scheduled maintenance the USPS garage did. Today I’m more skeptical. Which do you think gets more scheduled and preventative maintenance, a car owned by a rental company or a car serviced by public employees?

    At one time in the late ’70s or early ’80s, Grumman proposed building an aluminum bodied small step van using FWD drivetrains supplied by VW as used in their then Pennsylvania factory building Rabbits. The Parts Place, a veedub recycler north of Detroit that thrived during the How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive For The Complete Idiot era, ended up with a couple of the prototype bodies, so they probably still exist somewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe the post office does better with its vehicles nowadays, but back in the 1970’s I went to several federal government vehicle auctions and found that the ex-post-office vehicles were always in worse condition than those from other federal activities.

  • avatar

    I love the basic, stoic, simple, and rudimentary nature of this vehicle. Complete lack of comfort and safety systems. Screams out for modification.

  • avatar

    I’m curious about that brick. Footrest for a short driver, or parking brake?

  • avatar

    Drove one of these while working for Navy security in Guam. Needed two so there would be one to drive while the other was in the shop. I think it was still running when I left but not really.

    I have never missed it.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t mind making this into a lowered mid-engine and throwing it into the Lemons races.

  • avatar

    One of the best things about driving one of these must be watching the faces of oncoming drivers noting the expected driver’s seat is unoccupied, or occupied by a sleeping person, child, or large dog.
    I was stationed in England while in the USAF. Driving our US spec car there got some attention, but there were enough visitors from the continent throughout England, and enough Airmen in the area that most people were used to it.

  • avatar

    is it just me or does this look like it’s in decent shape?

    How much are they going for these days anyway? Certainly could make a fun Father/Son project vehicle that would probably be relatively inexpensive.

  • avatar

    Our local post office sold off the remaining jeeps in 1994 for 50 bucks. Many of them were still in good shape. If you look closely at the last thumbnail you can see what brought this one to the boneyard, there is a hole in the side of the block, which means it threw a rod.

  • avatar

    I drove these and other mail trucks in 1979. They were in horrible shape, and I would report serious problems, but the next time I got that truck nothing had been fixed.

    A buddy kept complaining about the brakes on his jeep pulling to the right, but nothing was done. A guy cut him off and when he jammed the brakes it went straight on the roof. He wasn’t hurt and passers by helped him roll it back over. It was so beat up already the Einsteins back at the office never knew anything had happened. An accident counted against you regardless of cause.

  • avatar

    I also love the (mail-aise era) 85 MPH speedo – when anything over 40 in that thing would be suicide…
    The huge overhangs on that vehicle facilitate access to mailboxes, but the result is handling like a skateboard.
    I’m not holding my breath, but the Postal Service could save a crapload of money on fuel by replacing these things with purpose-built hybrids that would take advantage of the extreme start-stop nature of many suburban postal routes.

  • avatar

    You’re killin me Murilee!! I would LOVE to drop a Cummins 4BT or a VW 1.9 TD (non-TDI) motor in this thing and just drive!

    You say they are cheap and plentiful? WHERE?! I’m in Southern California where old cars abound, and the last DJ-5 I’ve seen around was in the 90s!

    • 0 avatar

      I have a DJ-5D Jeep 1974 (right hand drive) that I’m selling. Here’s the link Asking $1500 for it, it runs great. The body is in good shape. Check out the ad if you want to know more and see some pictures. I have a second DJ-5 Jeep (1976) that I’m rebuilding, I can’t afford to keep two of them so this one is for sale.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Why was the grille on these things different from the regular CJ’s, I mean, why did it bulge out like that? Any mechanical reason?

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    Robert, the front end sticks out like that because this is “left-over” CJ sheetmetal from the inline four / ex-Buick V6 era prior to AMC’s take-over of Jeep in spring 1970. The inline six was too long so they had to extend the nose. The “real” Jeep CJ bodies were retooled with much closer production tolerances and a longer length to utilize AMC built engines – obviously making the vehicles more profitable to AMC by sharing their own parts rather than borrowed GM V6’s which were very agricultural. GM did buy the V6 tooling back as a knee-jerk response to the first fuel crisis and this engine ended up being one of the best GM ever built – but originally (starting in 1962) the thing had a shake and wobble all its own, because it fired 150 degrees – 90 degrees – 150 degrees – 90 degrees – 150 degrees – 90 degrees. Rough as a proverbial cob.

    I recall seeing a Buick Special V6 (probably ’62 or ’63) when I was a kid in the 1970’s – and when it idled, the soft motor mounts LITERALLY allowed the engine to rock left-to-right about 5″. Jeep added a massive heavy flywheel but of course this meant the engine then had the upper end response of a container ship engine….

    By the way, these were built in ex-Studebaker plants in northern Indiana (not the closed South Bend Main plant, but Chippewa Avenue or Mishawaka) that Kaiser Jeep bought in 1966 and AMC inherited in 1970. The ‘division’ was renamed AM General and sold off when AMC was partly bought by Renault – AM General is still in biz – until just lately it had been building HUMMMVEES.

    Too bad AMC didn’t buy the tooling to the Studebaker ZipVan, which was the only unit-body Studebaker ever developed. It had a much lower center of gravity, shorter turn radius, more room inside and could have used AMC’s engines with little modification. It looked – and was – a little box on wheels. If I recall, Messrs. Newman and Altman (who bought the rights to the Avanti) bought the ZipVan rights and never bothered trying for a contract with the post office again.

    AM General did build something similar but it wasn’t half as good.

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