The history of my jeep

My DJ-5L was manufactured by the A.M General Corporation in April 1982 as part of USPS Order No. 104230-81-N-0917.

DJ jeeps are “dispatcher jeeps” (as opposed to CJ “civilian jeep” and MJ “military jeeps” you may have heard of).  The DJ-5L model has the 4 cylinder 2.5 litre Pontiac 151 “Iron Duke” engine coupled to a 3-speed Chrysler  automatic transmission.  The engine is simple and reliable and the vehicle is easy and fun to drive.

It was used in California until retired from service in October 1997 when I bought it from the maintenance facility located in Long Beach, CA.

Whilst I am British I was working in Long Beach on a project from 1997 until 1999 and shortly after arriving was looking out for a small run around vehicle that was cheap to buy and simple to maintain. I loved Land Rovers back in the U.K and these jeeps were similar in design and their simplicity. As I went past the Long Beach USPS maintenance facility every day to work I noticed when they had a sign up indicating that postal jeeps were for sale. After enquiring at the office I wandered around the lot and tested a few (there were dozens, if not hundreds available!) and selected this one. After exchanging the princely sum of $600 for it I was told to return the next day to collect it.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that the lovely looking little jeep would be somewhat aggressively stripped of it’s USPS colours with a grinder removing any logo / colours right back to bare metal! A very hasty spray with a can to cover the metal would than stand for the next 21 years!

I used the vehicle every day for 2 years and every time I visited somewhere in the U.S I’d try to buy a sticker and place it on the vehicle – it soon became a mobile souvenir!

I returned to the UK at the end of 1999 and decided to bring the jeep with me. I imported the vehicle and got it through it’s MoT test (it just required white side lights instead of orange!) and then used it for a few years driving to work etc. Time (and the British weather) took it’s toll and I needed something a little more comfortable / reliable / faster to get to work as I was working 50 miles from home so the jeep was moved in to the garage where it sadly wallowed for the next 10 years and only occasionally was backed out and started up and put back in.

Rust had started to spread (albeit slowly as luckily it was in the garage) it became clear in 2018 that I needed to do something about it.

So I decided on a strip-down and repaint and a serious effort to get it ready for the next 21 years and most importantly of all, to start driving it again! I’d long wanted to restore it to it’s original USPS colours and some years ago had tracked down the side stripes and US Mail stickers that I’d need to do it, now was the time to actually use them!

First off came the strip down of the old stickers which was a little sad but a necessary evil in order to clean off the rust and patch and fill the body work suitable for repainting.

Next, after a lot of sanding and smoothing down work began on priming and painting.

There then followed lots of layers of paint, leaving each layer a week in the hot sun to dry to get it good and hard.

Once the final coat had been left for 3 weeks to harden it was all flatted back and polished to give a good finish and then the application of the US Mail stickers and stripes could begin.

With the bodywork complete I then removed all the wheels and gave them a good clean and a wire brushing down to remove all the rust and grime.  A couple of coats of primer and some good quality black gloss and clear coat had them come up a treat.

With the wheels back on it was really starting to look good now and I was keen to get it legal and start driving.

With the paint and body work now over with and the jeep looking the best it had for many years it was time to turn to mechanical issues.  Only one of the wheel cylinders appeared to be working so braking was fun (!) and clearly a high priority.  Each wheel was stripped down, cleaned and a new cylinder installed along with flexible host and rigid brake line if required.  

After the brakes had been bled and were feeling good at the pedal it was now time to make it go.  (I always make a vehicle stop before I make it go!).  Whilst the engine would start it would stall very quickly unless the choke butterfly was covered with a rug or something similar to choke all the air.  This made the engine run very rich and really with very little power.  As soon as the rag was removed the engine stalled immediately.

I tried removing the air horn (cover) from the carb and then lifting out the the needle and main jet and giving them a good clean but this really didn’t seem to make much difference.

Various test then followed in which I checked the vacuum lines, engine compression, replaced all HT leads and rotor arm (they needed doing anyway), tested the mixture solenoid and choke and cleaned and replaced the fuel filter.  Again, no difference at all so it was time to bite the bullet and give the carb a proper clean.  I removed it and stripped it down to the main components which were then immersed in an ultrasonic cleaner for about 30/40 minutes.

Careful re-assembly and re-installation of the carb yielded immediate results – the engine ran, warmed up and then slowed down the idle beautifully with no need for any rags.  Time for a test-drive!

Everything seemed to be behaving at that point so it seemed like a good time to go and take it for it’s MoT test at the local testing station.  It was duly booked in and passed with flying colours!

So now it’s ready for work for another year.  It’s superb fun to drive and really flies along beautifully.  The engine is so smooth and the transmission changes gears quickly and easily, and the brakes are rock solid too now!

I’m sure they’ll be little issues along the way, it is 36 years old after all, but the foundations have been laid for another 20 years of ownership!