When the U.S. Postal Service liquidated its AM General DJ-5s for cheap and in large quantities in the early '90s, the temptation to make something useful out of one was hard to ignore. This particular vehicle had two things going for it-at $600 it was certainly affordable, and it was a Jeep of sorts. Of course, the negatives by far outnumbered those positive points. A butt-ugly two-wheel-drive with 3.08:1 gears wasn't the most ordinary project vehicle we'd ever suggested, but oddly enough, the editor agreed. Stranger yet, it became the longest running project in Four Wheeler's history and sparked so much interest that readers are still requesting reprints, which is also the reason this retro-recap is being written in the first place.
Still ugly, still plenty useful, the Jeep for Cheap is alive and reasonably well. It started life as a mundane Postal Jeep in 1975 and when the U.S.P.S. discarded it with a mere 42K on the odometer in 1992 for a paltry $600 ... well, it was irresistible. Between the April '93 and August '94 issues of Four Wheeler, the DJ-5D changed from a useful 4x2 utility to what's basically a CJ-5 with a hardtop. It never became a truly trailworthy vehicle-despite a 740 RTI and Detroit Lockers front and rear-because of three inherent drawbacks. One, the doors prevent a wide-enough rear track width to keep the body away from trail obstacles, or running larger tires. Two, the top and doors are so darn heavy, it wants to tip over at just 40 degrees. Three, the top and doors are so darn heavy, it doesn't have enough weight up front. But dig the shovel on the cowl, held on by the old hood safety latch.
Since it's short and turns tightly, the Postal was the vehicle of choice to pull this trav
Starting with the April '93 issue, which described how to go about buying an ex-Postal Jeep, and which models offered what drivetrains, the '75 DJ-5D slowly shed its urban past and had turned into a practical four-wheeler by the May '94 issue. Mechanical highlights were the gear swap (to 4.10:1) and Detroit Locker in the flanged rear Dana 44 (Nov. '93); the installation of a Dana 300 transfer case (April '94); and the completion of the four-wheel-drive conversion the following month, when a Detroit-equipped Dana 44 front axle was bolted into place. Many of the modifications made to the DJ were equally applicable to a CJ, but few readers seemed to acknowledge that.
For pure aesthetics-if that word is even compatible with a Postal Jeep-putting CJ blinkers in the grille and removing the fender-mounted stockers (October '93) was a major improvement. This simple operation made it look more like a CJ, and far more importantly, less like a Humvee. Before this minor mod, it was frightening how similar they looked when parked side by side, especially with identical turn signals (Oct. '94). We certainly didn't want anybody to mistake the capable and affordable DJ for some overpriced former military Humvee. Especially since the Postal, still in two-wheel-drive form, would ramp a respectable 556 on a 20-degree ramp versus the Humvee's dismal 385.
Not much has changed on this DJ since 1994, including the mileage on the odometer. It showed about 42,000 at time of purchase. Now it reads 45,475 and isn't likely to increase a whole lot over time. This isn't from a lack of use, but due to the type of use. What started as a frequently street-driven, long-legged two-by became a low-geared, do-it-all machine that didn't stray off the dirt very often. When the biennial 30-mile roundtrip to the smog check station was no longer required in California for this '75, annual mileage in general, and pavement driving in particular, went down even more. That was just as well, since the Postal apparently dislikes pavement and had started to protest by overheating when asked to regain the 1,500 feet in elevation on an 8-percent grade during the hottest part of the year.
Consequently, the locking hubs haven't been unlocked in years, and the transfer case stays in 2-Lo, or goes to 4-Lo as needed. Exceptions have included attending Top Truck Challenge, where the roof helps against the beating sun, and using the DJ as a runabout in Moab, where the roof and doors keep out rain, snow, and sleet. Other than that, the poor Postal usually doesn't get more than a mile or so at a time on the ticker, but an hourmeter would show an entirely different story. Winching, welding, dragging vehicle and trailer carcasses, pushing cargo containers, moving trailers around, and generally being a useful neighborhood rescuemobile is what this imitation-Jeep gets to do these days. It may sit for three months, and then be used daily for two or three weeks. Despite batteries that are over 12 years old, it always starts right up-once fuel reaches the carb-thanks largely to a solar-powered BatteryMINDer.
Naturally, a few things have changed over the years, some even on purpose. Numerous dents, dings, scrapes, and bruises just happened over time. It was never intended to be a good-looking vehicle, but the closest it ever was might've been right after the $99.95 Earl Scheib paint job (July '93). We were told not to wax it for two weeks, and have willingly obeyed. Actually, the only time it's ever been washed was when the SEMA people refused to allow its nice, natural coating of mud and grime indoors, together with the $100,000-plus show vehicles.
Unfortunately, this Novak adapter that mates the stout TorqueFlite 727 to the added-on Dan
Many generations of rodents have given it their best, but AMC wiring (technically AMG) mus
Planning for more than casual use, the DJ-5D received a Dana 44, built by Tri-County Gear,
With limited highway use, off came the radials and on went a set of tiny 29x8.50-15 Super Swamper TSLs, resulting in very high contact pressure under the portly Postal. As long as the ground is not soft, that setup works surprisingly well. Front disc brakes were installed to help when descending steep slopes, especially when pulling heavy trailers, which required ditching the high-positive-offset wheels in the front for caliper clearance. Since the Tri-County Gear-built Dana 44 was already wider than the rear axle, the new standard-offset white spoke wheels made the front quite a bit wider than the rear. It looks funny, but works just fine.
Replacing the puny OE muffler was a new and better-flowing (but not much bigger) DynoMax muffler was installed. With the stubby exhaust pipe exiting under the body in front of the left rear tire, there is now an annoying noise to go with the heating problem when the trusty 232 is asked to produce more than about 60 hp. Much like the inevitable ATV running circles around our campsite, we can't easily get rid of this irritation-there are no tunes left to overcome the exhaust noise since the stereo's speakers fell off several years ago. Not that it matters. One noise source is bad enough when 'wheeling.
An unintended modification was to crunch the fuel tank down from 13 to maybe nine gallons on a large rock. This worked out quite well since dumping just one can of gas into the tank now makes the fuel gauge read at least half full. Especially with the current fuel prices, it feels very gratifying to get the tank half full with only a single jerrycan.
Also not planned was pulling the rear bumper off the frame during a winching operation. Of course, with dual batteries feeding the potent Warn 8274, and using two snatch blocks in an effort to free a very stuck 16,000-something-pound forklift, something had to give. Actually, two things did. Aside from the bumper, the 80,000-pound (empty) concrete building we'd used as an anchor also moved on its skids. So apparently we weren't the only ones who thought it'd never ever budge. A new rear bumper made from thick-wall square tubing replaced the failed stocker.
One of these years we'll have to figure out the overheating problem, and some sort of axle-locating device for the rear. Sprung over from the factory and with supple three-leaf springs, 10-plus years of mostly two-wheel-drive low-range use have taken their toll on the springs. Not helping matters are the lift blocks, taller tires, lower gearing, and the traction afforded by the Detroit Locker. Other than that, it'll hopefully stay together and we'll just keep enjoying the multitalented DJ.