Junkyard Gem: 1983 Jeep DJ-5L Mail Dispatcher


When it comes to putting mail in boxes, a simple and reliable vehicle works best. Say, a zero-frills steel box on wheels, with right-hand-drive, a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine, no-hassle automatic transmission, sliding doors, and a big mail-sorting table instead of a passenger seat. That’s what the AM General Mail Dispatcher DJ-5 was all about, and these bouncy little trucks were everywhere for decades. Here’s a late-production example, still in USPS colors, spotted in a Denver-area self-service wrecking yard.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed this courier from the swift completion of its appointed rounds. Note the “Sonic Eagle” USPS logos on the doors; this became the official USPS logo in 1993, nearly a decade after the final Jeep DJ-5s were built. Plenty of these trucks stayed in service into our current century, and a few are still being used by private mail-delivery contractors in rural areas.

During the American Motors era of Jeep DJ production (1970 through 1984), a bewildering assortment of engines went into postal Jeeps. This is a 2.5-liter GM Iron Duke four-cylinder; before that, DJ-5s came with Audi power (more or less the same engine used in the Porsche 924, in fact), AMC straight-sixes, and Chevy Nova four-cylinders. The 1984 DJ-5Ms ran the AMC 2.5-liter four-cylinder.

The earliest DJs were equipped with three-speed manual transmissions, but the American Motors-built postal-delivery versions all had automatic transmissions. This one has a three-speed Chrysler Torqueflite A904, a weird engine/transmission combination that should help you stump your friends during car-trivia debates. Check out the ultra-bare-bones heater/ventilation controls!

These trucks were badged as AM Generals, not Jeeps (I couldn’t find a single Jeep label anywhere on this one), just like the original HMMWV. However, you’d have to be a real hair-splitter to refer to this as an AM General DJ-5 instead of just Mail Jeep or Jeep DJ-5.

Next time you complain about your subcompact rental car lacking driver-comfort features, consider this vehicle.

I had a few high-school friends who owned DJ-5s, back in the early 1980s when they were available for a couple hundred bucks at government-surplus auctions. The first thing civilian DJ-5 owners always did was tear out the mail-sorting table and replace it with a random junkyard bucket seat (or an aluminum lawn chair). These trucks were very noisy, very bouncy, and very slow, but they always ran.

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