Home » Forget The Grumman LLV, Studebaker Made The Ultimate Mail Truck

Forget The Grumman LLV, Studebaker Made The Ultimate Mail Truck

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For years, the legendary Grumman LLV has been a forbidden fruit for the kinds of postal vehicle enthusiast who wants a durable way to haul stuff. Sadly, the LLV remains so rare in the public marketplace that they might as well not exist. Fear not, because there’s another mail truck worth considering out there and you may end up wanting it even more than the Grumman. The Studebaker Zip-Van is cooler and rarer than a Grumman LLV, but you can sometimes find them for sale.

There is a madness within me. Yes, I suppose there is that madness that has me as the caretaker of two dozen vehicles, but there is a part of me that yearns to experience a mail truck. It has been the driving force behind me researching mail trucks and trying to buy the few that pop up for sale. I’m not sure what it is about a mail truck that gets my motor running. Perhaps it’s the utility of a freight truck, but shrunken down to a maneuverable size.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

For others with the postal truck affliction, the grail may be the backbone of the United States Postal Service, the Grumman LLV. Sure, it’s just a Chevy S-10 with an aluminum body and nothing for creature comforts, but can you imagine anything else delivering junk mail straight to your door?

1963 Studebaker Zip Van 16172994
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For some of our older readers, or perhaps readers around Seymour, Connecticut, the iconic truck might be this, the Studebaker Zip-Van. I got highly specific there because as of 2023, one of these vans was still driving around out there.

Studebaker’s Possible Savior

This wonderful truck came at a dark period in Studebaker’s history. The ancestors of the Studebaker family emigrated from Germany during the 1700s. The first Studebaker wagons were built in 1740 out of a factory next to the Studebaker home in Hagerstown, Maryland. Amazingly, that home is still around today.

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S L1600 (81)
eBay Seller

The Studebaker we know today was formed in 1852 in South Bend, Indiana by Henry and Clement Studebaker. Back then, the firm was known as the H & C Studebaker blacksmith shop and it was here where the Studebakers continued the family tradition of building wagons. The company would expand into electric cars in 1902 with the Studebaker Electrical Automobile. This car was pitched as being so simple that a child could drive it no harder than riding a horse.

Just two years later, the company would produce its first gasoline-powered car, a touring car with a two-cylinder, 16 HP engine. A period of expansion followed in the 1910s with Studebaker acquiring the Everitt-Metzker-Flanders Company and rising to become America’s third largest car company behind Ford and Overland. Eventually, cars became such a big business for Studebaker that wagon production finally ceased in 1920.

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A Studebaker Champion at Streetside Classics

Sadly, Studebaker’s history is filled with peaks and troughs. Studebaker lost momentum during the Great Depression, necessitating its rescue. Yet, Studebaker also managed to capture a portion of the heavy truck market while also introducing hot sellers like the Champion. Studebaker even managed to capture the famed Raymond Loewy to design its vehicles in 1938.

The company would struggle again in the 1950s. Joining forces with Packard and updating its lineup produced some gorgeous vehicles with neat inventions, but not a profit. Eventually, Studebaker started grasping at straws. By the early 1960s, Studebaker had its hands in commercial refrigeration, Onan generators, Gravely tractors, home appliances, STP, an airline, and even some missile technology. The company kept its truck business alive thanks to military contracts.

In 1963, Studebaker made another bid to rake in more cash by developing the Model 8E5-FC.

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S L1600 (80)
Studebaker

Studebaker raided its parts bin to make an appealing vehicle for the postal service. The Model 8E5-FC had a 169.6 cubic inch 112 HP gross Skybolt Six from the Champion, a Borg-Warner Flight-O-Matic transmission, plus Champion platform components including a frame and suspension. The finishing touches include a steel body from Met-Pro of Pennsylvania and an instrument cluster borrowed from the Transtar truck. Reportedly, these came with Packard’s Twin Traction limited slip-differentials, too.

One unique feature of the Model 8E5-FC was its seat. The driver — the sole occupant — entered the vehicle through the sliding door on the right and could drive sitting down in their seat or standing up with the seat folded out of the way. To get a sense of the scale, the Zip-Van rides on an 85-inch wheelbase, and total length is 12 feet. So, it’s about as long as a small wagon.

S L1600 (82)
Studebaker
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USPS

The Post Office liked what they saw and awarded Studebaker a contract for $9 million. That year in 1963, the Post Office introduced the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) system and as a way to educate the public, the Mr. Zip cartoon character was created. The Studebaker vans driven by mail carriers would be called Zip-Vans. Just 4,238 of them were built and while they helped Studebaker, the company wasn’t able to score another Post Office contract. A story in Ride-CT suggests that Studebaker lost the next contract by a margin of just 19 cents per unit. Unfortunately, pivoting to mail trucks couldn’t stop Studebaker’s bleeding. The company faltered just a couple of years later.

You Can Still Buy Zip-Vans

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Thankfully, the Zip-Vans stuck around after they were retired from postal duties. That means you can still find and buy one for sale today. However, there are reasons to temper your excitement.

The first problem is just that there weren’t many made. These trucks were made from 1963 to 1966 with steel bodies. It’s been 60 years since then and who knows how many Zip-Vans have been lost due to rust. Then there’s just the fact that there are only 4,238 of them to the six-digit numbers of postal trucks running around today. So, these are rare everywhere. Still, you can find them if you look hard enough.

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I found just one Zip-Van currently for sale and it’s an interesting one.

The Studebaker engine was removed for the fuel-injected 1.6-liter four from a Geo Tracker. That should be making about 80 horsepower and 94 pound-feet of torque, or probably roughly about what the original Studebaker engine made in net power. The seller claims work in the form of brakes, tires, a master cylinder, and sealing in the patina of the body. That’s the catch with this one. The rust appears to be largely of the surface variety, but it’s everywhere. So, if you want to bring this truck back to its prime you’ll be spending a lot of time or money.

Here’s what these look like inside when they’re all dolled up:

153859292990c5bfront Inside
eBay via Bring a Trailer
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eBay via Bring a Trailer

Even less appealing is the asking price of $25,000. You can get one of the super rare Grumman LLVs on GovDeals and have cash left over for that price. A minty Zip-Van sold for $28,500 on Bring a Trailer in 2021. Other rougher examples have sold for far less.

So, maybe you won’t get this one, but keep your eyes peeled. If you’re a postal enthusiast with a soft spot for blocky trucks, the Zip-Van looks like a cool cutie. While not as legendary as the LLV, this Stude’ is still a great part of postal history.

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
17 days ago

I’m surprised no one has done Seinfeld jokes yet so I’ll do mine as usual since it’s my favorite show…Newman would love this Zip-Van!
“I’ll tell you a secret about zip codes…they’re meaningless!”
“Of course nobody really NEEDS mail!’

DrDanteIII
DrDanteIII
17 days ago

how is this not a knockoff of the Jeep FleetVan which was first sold in 1961?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_FJ

They’ve got to be related somehow. That window setup is too peculiar to be a case of convergent evolution.

Last edited 17 days ago by DrDanteIII
TDI in PNW
TDI in PNW
18 days ago

As someone who drives a boring looking LLV every day, I would rather drive this adorable Studebaker. The windows! To have all those sightlines in my cave-like LLV would be glorious. I can see forward, right and just barely to the left.

MrLM002
MrLM002
18 days ago

It definitely has the edge when it comes to optional driver positioning, however it needed an aluminum body to truly be the Ultimate Mail Truck.

That being said if the USPS said they were restarting production of these things I’d argue that would make more sense the what is set to replace the LLV currently.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
18 days ago

This reminds me of the Buddy-L Mail Van that I got for Christmas 1967…

Highland Green Miata
Highland Green Miata
18 days ago

The Studebaker Museum in South Bend IN is well worth a visit. I don’t recall they had one of these, though. This form factor seems much like what they ought to be going for with the new postal vehicles (although necessarily scaled up due to the volume of packages)

Jlacourt
Jlacourt
17 days ago

They do have one. It’s in a corner though so easy to miss.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
18 days ago

Onan generator sounds like something one would find in those odd Japanese sex dolls.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
18 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Onan was a company out of Wisconsin that built small engines; Studebaker eventually bought them and they continued on to be well-known for their opposed-twin engines used to power generators and other industrial equipment. In an interesting bit of history, another South Bend manufacturer, Wheel Horse, used Onan engines in some of their larger tractors, although that was after Studebaker was gone. Onan was eventually bought by Cummins; their small engines aren’t made anymore due to no longer being able to meet emissions requirements, but the Cummins-Onan generator line goes on.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
18 days ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

Onan is also the name of a biblical character who, in an effort to avoid impregnating his dead bother’s widow in accordance with law, “spilled his seed on the ground” instead. God killed him for that. Over time, the word onanism was coined referring to masturbation, hence the humor implied by the phrase “Onan generator.” It’s even funnier that Onan became part of Cummins.

Bobfish
Bobfish
17 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Absorbed by Ford, renamed “Powerstroke”

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
17 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

” God killed him for that.”

I’m gonna bet that was a lie. I bet Onan’s murderer just used the “God made me do it” line. And that defense was allowed because the murderer had ties to people in power… or was the person in power.

Last edited 17 days ago by Manwich Sandwich
Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
18 days ago

My neighbor two doors down is trying to sell one of these. The paint job is trash, but it looks fairly complete.

No idea what they’re looking to get for it. The widow who lives there is who I talked to, but her son is in charge of moving it.

EDIT:
Nope! It’s an incredibly similar looking, roughly the same sized, Jeep FJ Fleetvan.

Last edited 18 days ago by Shop-Teacher
A. Barth
A. Barth
18 days ago

I love the license plate on this one, and that the rear cargo opening is on tracks like a garage door, rather than on hinges.

the Grumman LLV. Sure, it’s just a Chevy S-10 with an aluminum body

Hmmm… *goes to ebay motors*

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
18 days ago

“…drive sitting down in their seat or standing up…”

To facilitate this there’s both a conventional accelerator pedal mounted fairly high for use while seated and a low-mounted accelerator lever operated by pressing sideways while standing:

https://classiccars.ride-ct.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/20_FEA_112021BW05-copy-1-1024×683.jpg

I regret missing a chance to get one of these a few years ago. It was in, ah, let’s go with “adequate” condition.

10001010
10001010
18 days ago

My dad’s hobby is baking, not cakes so much but all sorts of obscure types of breads and such. My dad’s other hobby is obscure and impractical vehicles. A couple of years ago one of these came up for sale near him and I tried so damn hard to talk him into buying it and opening a STUDEBAKERY bread truck. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to talk him into my obviously brilliant plan for his retirement.

A. Barth
A. Barth
18 days ago
Reply to  10001010

That is an excellent name!

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
18 days ago
Reply to  10001010

My Grandpa drove a Bread Truck for a living –
– And he owned a Studebaker.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
18 days ago

If I were going postal I would get a Grumman KubVan. Perhaps take it to the airport for a polishing.
I can’t think of another vehicle weighing less than 20 tons with a windshield facing the ground.

MrLM002
MrLM002
18 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Aluminum body on frame, FWD VW Golf Drivetrain, lightweight, box van.

What’s not to love?

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
18 days ago
Reply to  MrLM002

Don’t forget sliding driver door!

MrLM002
MrLM002
17 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

Damn, I may never forgive myself for such an oversight, sliding doors are the best doors!

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
17 days ago
Reply to  MrLM002

Oh how I long to drive a step van wearing shorts with the door open to fulfill all my UPS driver fantasies.

NewBalanceExtraWide
NewBalanceExtraWide
18 days ago

I’m currently dating a mail carrier. She was very unimpressed when I asked her tons of questions about the LLV.

VanGuy
VanGuy
18 days ago

Cons: doesn’t share interest, or possibly just annoyed with it after regularly dealing with it

Pros: patient enough to answer your questions 🙂

D-dub
D-dub
18 days ago

If you’re looking for a RHD breadbox, the Daihatsu Mira Walkthrough is the correct answer.
https://prestigemotorsport.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/1994-DAIHATSU-MIRA-19.jpg

Uberscrub
Uberscrub
18 days ago

there is a part of me that yearns to experience a mail truck.

I’d be interested to read an article about mail delivery and mail trucks from you. Reach out to some local local offices and do a ride along and write it up!

Pisco Sour
Pisco Sour
18 days ago

Sees Mercedes as the author. Reads article. Is confused by the lack of images showing it converted into a camper.

Diana Slyter
Diana Slyter
18 days ago

Studebaker had the right concept, but two decades too soon. And if you want an LLV, hold on a while- If the Oshkosh replacements ever appear in substantial numbers LLVs will go for scrap prices. But IMHO, the coolest postal vehicles are the Mack MR cabover semi-tractors, but my opinion is colored by the fact I got to drive them!

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
18 days ago
Reply to  Diana Slyter

MR tractors are pretty much unicorns, but I happen to have a picture of one hooked to a flatbed test trailer from my time at Mack! This picture was taken in 2013. https://photos.app.goo.gl/7njr8iXTiYGHPnMz5
This one was super-extra rare, because it was our testbed for a 13 liter and manual transmission in the MR chassis. You usually only see those in concrete mixers, but we couldn’t put enough weight on a straight truck to test it properly without having to get exemption licenses from the surrounding three states, so we just made a tractor and pulled a heavy trailer instead. 450 horsepower is about all the little bitty radiator in an MR can handle, but that still makes for a hot-rod truck for a thing that size.

Because both the truck and the flatbed trailer are much lower than the sleeper cab tractor + van trailers that you normally see, this rig looks super long, even though it is actually shorter than most tractor trailer combos.

Diana Slyter
Diana Slyter
18 days ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

That may have been the last MR tractor ever built, Postal Service did a big emissions pre-buy of Macks in 2006, most were CHs but a few were MRs. Most of our loads were less than 60,000 pounds GCW, but we occasionally pulled loads right up to the 80,000 pound legal limit with our Macks. Even though their Mack 12 liter engine was only rated for 300 horses they ran like 350s and gave credibility to the legend that a Mack engine’s power was rated at the drive wheels, not the flywheel like other brand’s engines!

MrLM002
MrLM002
18 days ago

See my above comment in this thread, 99.99% of them lack VINs, so they can’t be registered.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
18 days ago

If they’re in condition similar to the one that runs the route in my neighborhood, by the time they’re retired they won’t be suitable for anything other than recycling the body into beer cans. The rest of the truck is going to be toast. (Possibly literally, since their ancient electrical systems are developing a tendency to catch on fire…)

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
17 days ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

Can confirm. Have a friend who is a fleet mechanic for the USPS. By the time one of those LLVs get scrapped, it’s because it’s literally scrap. (And most of the ones in use aren’t much better.)

MrLM002
MrLM002
18 days ago
Reply to  Diana Slyter

99.99% Of LLVs lack VINs, so they can’t be registered.

You’d need a different frame with an actual VIN to register them.

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