A Post Office Mail Carrier and an AM General-era DJ-5 Dispatcher Jeep. (Image/Stellantis)

Jeep is sometimes referred to as one of the most “patriotic” vehicle brands, and for good reason: Jeeps are often credited with helping the Allies to victory during World War II.

It’s one of the Jeep’s later gigs however, that perhaps cemented the Jeep’s image of tenacity and pluck.

We’re talking about the “Dispatcher Jeep” and its role with the U.S. Postal Service.

First, Some Pre-Jeep Postal Vehicle History

Before the Jeep showed up, the U.S. Post Office (USPS) initially relied on horse-drawn carriages, and then a mishmash of steam-, electric-, and gasoline-powered vehicles. The Post Office had no vehicle standardization in the first half of the 20th century , and it caused a ton of frustration with mechanics in the motor pools.

An early Columbia Mark 3 Mail Truck (Image/National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

In fact, as this article from the Smithsonian explains, the Post Office at one point owned 4,000 vehicles between 43 models and 23 different manufacturers.

Through the 1930s, the USPS slowly began streamlining its fleet of trucks to just a few manufacturers, but as World War II hit, focus shifted to the war effort.

After the war, the Post Office finally had the budget to start buying new vehicles to update its ragtag fleet. The first vehicles the USPS chose were dubbed “Sit or Stand” trucks, aptly named because the driver could sit or stand during transport.

Then, Post Office officials discovered a rugged design from a company called Willys.

Enter the Dispatcher

After World War II, the Willys-Overland company secured the rights to produce the vehicle that we all recognize as the “Jeep.”

To the public, Willys first marketed its Civilian Jeep (CJ) as an agricultural tool similar to a tractor, but the company soon began to explore other opportunities.

Seeing the Jeep’s potential as a delivery vehicle, Willys simplified the already-spartan CJ by eliminating its four-wheel drive capability. It also added a column-shift option and an assortment of body styles, including a fully-enclosed panel van configuration. The folding windshield, now unnecessary, was eliminated.

The result was the “Dispatcher Jeep” or DJ, for short.

The DJ series began as a variant of the CJ-3A, simply called the DJ-3A.

As its predecessors did on battlefields a decade prior, the DJ quickly proved itself to be a rugged, reliable asset on the nation’s dirt roads and snow-covered streets—the Post Office had finally discovered its workhorse.

1955 Jeep Dispatcher (Image/Stellantis)

As the Civilian Jeep line evolved, so did the DJ, eventually adding DJ-5 and DJ-6 models. (There was even a limited run of Scrambler models made for the Alaskan Post Office.) DJs destined for mail service were usually right-hand drive to facilitate access to residential mailboxes.

Later DJ-series Jeeps typically feature a unique “bump-out” grille, which allowed room for AMC’s inline-six engines. (Curiously, CJ models retained the older-style grille and instead had a slightly extended frame and front fenders to accomodate the AMC sixes.)

DJs also got a large sliding door, plus an assortment of mirror and lighting fixtures to aid them in their mail-delivering task.

AM General is Born

It’s important to realize that, technically speaking, the DJ wasn’t always built by “Jeep.” To understand how that came to be, let’s try to understand the Jeep brand’s lineage along the Willy-Kaiser-AMC family tree.

Willys originally made the Jeep, but the company was soon bought by Kaiser in 1953. The new corporation was first called Kaiser-Willys, then it changed to Kaiser-Jeep.

Next, AMC bought the Jeep division from Kaiser in 1970 and Kaiser got out of the automobile business altogether.

In addition to the Postal Jeep and Hummer, AM General also built the Mighty Mite. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

To handle the fulfillment of Kaiser’s previous military truck contracts, AMC created a subsidiary called AM General in 1971.

Then, Jeep DJ production moved under the umbrella of AM General.

Finally, when AMC was purchased by French-owned Renault, U.S. government regulations said that foreign companies couldn’t fulfill defense contracts.

Under those terms, AM General was sold separately to the U.S.-based LTV Corporation.

From DJ to LLV

As the Dispatcher Jeep entered the 1980s, the Post Office was already engaged in a search for a versatile replacement.

Instead of picking an off-the-shelf vehicle and tailoring it to mail delivery, the USPS called for a unique truck suited exclusively for the task.

A number of companies submitted designs but, in the end, the Post Office chose the Grumman LLV—and acronym that stood for “Long Life Vehicle.”

Grumman-LLV Postal Truck
The Grumman LLV Postal Truck (Image: Grumman LLV Drivers Side by Austin102 | CC BY-SA 4.0)

The LLV is the truck most folks born after 1990 are familiar with. Rugged and versatile, Grumman (a company that also helped build the Apollo Lunar Module and F-14 Tomcat fighter jet) created the LLV with an expected service life over 20 years.

Though it was a largely one-off design, the LLV’s chassis is based off an early Chevy S-10 Blazer. Most LLVs are powered by the venerable “Iron Duke” Pontiac 2.5L engine connected to a light-duty Turbo-Hydramatic 180 transmission.

The Future of Postal Delivery

The oldest Grumman LLVs are reaching beyond their expected service life, and the Post Office has once again started searching for a new mail delivery vehicle.

Update! It looks the Post Office found its next mail truck!

While it’s unlikely that you’ll see a new Jeep Wrangler delivering your mail in the future, carriers have used some off-the-shelf vehicles (like panel-wagon versions of minivans) in their fleet.

The reality is the Post Office is searching for a unique vehicle that expands the Jeep’s and LLV’s legacy. Early prototypes have teased gasoline, hybrid, and all-electric drivetrains—all with the expectation of long service intervals and anvil-like reliability.

The Post Office recently selected a winning design for its next mail delivery vehicle, Oshkosh Defense’s NGDV. (Image/U.S. Post Office)

Jeep DJ Collectability

Similar to their CJ counterparts, DJ-series Jeeps have a growing collector’s market. The fact that the DJ shares so much of its chassis and running gear with other vehicles can make it easier to repair/restore than other niche automobiles. Better still, one of the core tenets of the DJ Jeep was serviceability, which means that Dispatchers are relatively easy to wrench on, without breaking your budget.

The problem with Jeep DJs (like the CJ) is rust. The days of scoring a cheap junkyard DJ are long gone and finding one in a farmer’s field that hasn’t returned to Mother Earth is nigh impossible.

Most Jeeps from the Dispatcher era are gone, so you’re basically searching for a historical vehicle now. (Image: JeepMailTruck by USPS, Creative Commons)

If you’re looking to restore a DJ, start with the best body/frame possible. Drivetrain, chassis, and suspension issues can usually be resolved with much greater ease than, say, a frame repair or the need to custom-fabricate body panels.

Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in an old Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.