Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah: 1963 Studebaker USPS Zip Van

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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall keep you from buying and restoring this rare 1963 Studebaker Zip Van! It’s in Thomasville, Georgia and is listed on eBay with a current bid of $500. There is no reserve and this rare van will be sold in three days to the highest bidder. Don’t snicker, these things are few and far between and there are collectors who buy and restore these vans.

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Sure, it looks rough but that’s just from not used for years.. and years, and from sitting outside for years.. and years.. In 1963, Studebaker was on its last legs when they came up with a plan to snag some much-needed USPS business. The “Model 8E5FC” was hatched and it worked. The U.S. Postal Service put in an initial order for 3,391 of them; eventually, ordering 4,238 Zip Vans in total. I never knew that the mail delivery vans that I loved as a kid were made by Studebaker! Some collectors have restored them back to like new condition. I have no clue what a person would use one for other than car shows, and it may be confusing if you drove one regularly, it seems like it would almost be like impersonating an officer of the law or something.

These vehicles were replaced by the Jeep Dispatcher, or DJ, in the early-1970s (I remember having to lower the height of our mailbox), so the Zip Van had a fairly short life span with the Post Office, but they definitely created a long-lasting impression on those of us who remember these classic vehicles. It brings me right back to being a kid again to see things like this van. The USPS went to Grumman for 100,000 aluminum bodied “Grumman LLV” (Long Life Vehicle) vans starting in 1987, probably to keep them from looking like this rusty one, and maybe to help with the MPG. Just think if Studebaker had gotten an order for 100,000 vans instead of 4,238, it may have gotten them over the hump, who knows. The Zip Van was actually the last vehicle produced by Studebaker in the US.

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Technically, the drivetrains for these vans were made by Studebaker and the bodies were made by Met-Pro Products of Landsdale, Pennsylvania. It seemed to be a good match.  The interior of the Zip Van is all business, just a big, open space for bags and bags of mail. Of course, they’re right-hand-drive because your mailbox isn’t in the middle of the street, thankfully. The early-1960s was the era where the Post Office was trying to get people to use the new “ZIP” (Zone Improvement Plan) Code because of the incredible population growth and the amount of mail that was being delivered. They came up with an elaborate PR campaign using “Mr. Zip” to try to get folks to use the Zip Codes. Hence the Zip Van.

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Studebaker parts and pieces were used throughout the Zip Vans and Met-Pro shaped the grille like a keystone, as in The Keystone State – Pennsylvania – where they were located. There are no engine photos, probably because the seller says that this one “does NOT have a Engine or Transmission. It DOES Have a Dana 44 Posi. Differential.” That’s a bummer, but the engine would have been a 170 Studebaker Skybolt Six that would have had 112 hp. They were also equipped with a Borg-Warner Flight-O-Matic three-speed automatic. The engine should look like this once you find one and restore it. The instrument panel was taken directly from the Studebaker Transtar line of trucks and another cool thing is the dual-accelerator pedals: one for standing and one for when you sit down.

I love these little panel vans, I had a Chevy ex-laundry panel van a few decades ago and it was super fun (although, probably the most dangerous vehicle I’ve ever driven) with a single, pedestal seat and driving around with the sliding side door open. This Zip Van won’t appeal to everyone, but maybe there are Studebaker fans or collectors out there? If you are one, don’t you think this would be a fun project? Certainly it would draw a huge crowd at any car show. How would you restore this one: back to original spec or with a modified drivetrain, interior, and paint scheme?


  1. Alan (Michigan)

    That looks rough, but the linked photos of the restore unit really do show how cool this could be. Dig the picture-window windshield!
    I just spent some weeks in nations where RHD is the rule. Using one of these as a mobile home base for travel adventures would be perfect!

  2. John T

    Pretty sure that in 1961 it was still the United States Post Office. The Post Office was the envy of the world in terms of efficiency. In 1971 it became the United States Postal Service (USPS) and we all know the rest of the story……

    • Scotty G Staff

      Good catch, John.

  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    I’ve almost forgotten about this model. Studebaker really came out with a gem here; it’s got to be the nicest looking van USPO ever used. In keeping with my traditional purist attitude, I’d have to source out one of those six-cyl. engines and automatic transmissions. However, I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep at using something else. I might even take a good look at (whispering now) an sbc (notice that I used lower case letters so as not to attract too much attention?). Well, Stude used them toward the end of the line so it’s sort of in the family. However, looking at the age of this unit, it would have to be a 283.

    • Scotty G Staff

      Geo, now that’s a restomod-SBC usage that I can get behind! That’s thinking outside the box to relate that 283 engine to this Studebaker since they were used in the Lark-like Daytona. Well played, sir.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Please, Scotty, shhhhh–whispers only. I don’t want people to think I’d actually consider a resto-mod. It might tarnish my image…

    • Joey Kelley

      Geomechs – I’m not claiming to be an expert – but I was under the impression the only Chevy engines related to Studebaker were AFTER Studebaker sold off the Avanti and they used 305’s in the Avanti II’s. (and I could be wrong so if you can find a source that says otherwise, I’ll be happy to change my statement) FWIW – Stude had a 259 and 289 V8 that they used in the 50s and 60s, the 289 in the Avanti. -Joey

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        Hi Joey. I’m no Stude expert either but here’s what I understood as told by an avid Studebaker collector out west: In 1964 Studebaker folded up its tent in South Bend and moved its car production north of the 49th into Canada. Once there Stude continued production using its own six cylinder engines which were in somewhat of a surplus at the moment. It would eventually switch over to Chevy sixes as well. It was already short of V8 motors so it bought them from Chevy rather than retool and resume engine production on its own. Now that’s my understanding of what went on. The guy who told me was showing off his ’66 Studebaker wagon, complete with slide-in roof and Chevy 283 power. I don’t know anything more than that but it looks like Studebaker’s parent company could see the writing on the wall and decided to start downsizing right away.

      • Joey Kelley

        @geomechs – Apparently I was wrong – I have been a student of Avanti History – specifically as it is a fascinating model and a personal favorite – You are quite correct – for 65-66 you could get one of four GM engines in your Studebaker:
        It would seem that my correctness ends with the production moving to Canada – up until that point – it was Studebaker engines. After that point, it was not. Whoops. Hey, I learned something! -Joey

  4. JW454

    That is one heck of a windshield! All one piece! That thing has to weigh a lot. That side glass is large too but that windshield is huge. I hope someone saves this van.

  5. Alan Brase

    A larger cube in-line 6 light truck engine would be the ticket if repowering. Like a 292 Chevy or a 300 Ford. I’m a fan of the Ford, myself. PCC (Purolator) had E-250’s and would get over 400,000 miles on them. Very late ones had EFI. Don’t know if it is easy to adapt, but that would be so maintenance free.

  6. Ed P

    I learn something new every day on BF. Ralph Nader would really love that front seat. LOL It would be nice to make it look like a mail truck again.

  7. Alan Brase

    Just think, they brought out the Avanti, got several speed records with the R4 version, then the ZIPVAN. No wonder people love em.
    (probably mostly the Loewy designed 53(?) was it? Did so well at Bonneville.)

  8. Jeff

    The Zip Van was named that because it was brought out the year the Zip code was introduced.
    They all came with the Studebaker 6 cyliner overhead valve six engine with a Borg Warner auto trans. The trans had a large band brake on the tailshaft and a truck lever to actuate it so the driver could exit the vehicle quickly.
    There is no rear frame (the leaf springs mount directly to the body structure.
    The front suspension, steering gear, engine, and radiator are all mounted on a cradle that can be removed from underneath for service. All the glass is flat glass.

    • Ed P

      It sounds like the Zip van was the model for the Grumman LLV.

  9. Rock On Member

    Certainly it would draw a huge crowd at any car show if you converted it into a food catering truck!!!

  10. Steven C

    Someone should turn this into like an R4 Zip Van with a supercharged 289.

  11. Jeff

    An R4 is dual 4bbl naturally aspirated.
    An R3 is supercharged, and so is an R2…

    Hmmm…. I wonder…..

    Ever drive a supercharged V8 Stude standing up?

    • Alan Brase

      In 1966 I worked in a shop that reconstructed a supercharged R3 that had a small engine fire. At that time, they were able to get all the parts they needed through the skeleton factory parts plan. The local vendor was a gas station in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I think they bought a new hood as well as all the other soft parts. As a 16 year old, it was my job to go fetch parts and put mufflers and rocker stud repair kits on 40hp VW beetles, so I made many trips back and forth.
      No, I think the R- Studie 289 parts need to go into something less vertical. A 1953, maybe?

      • Joey Kelley

        I looked up the following because I couldn’t remember the number of R3’s produced. Have a look:
        According to that – there were approximately 140 R3 and R4 engines produced. They were a special order, and not readily available. Of that 140, approximately 8 were R4s, leaving about 132 for R3’s. I am not saying you didn’t see an R3 – but – its more likely that you saw an R2 – the R2 is a single barrel Paxton Supercharged 289 – and was most commonly used in the Avanti, although it was available in other models. Again – not saying you didn’t see an R3 – but you’d be one of a very small number of people who did! -Joey

      • Alan Brase

        Well, it WAS 50 years ago and the 63 Avanti was not the most interesting car in the back corner of that shop (RuLon Automotive Imports, btw). Others being: Cooper Monaco/ Maserati; Maserati 3500GT with the ZahnradFabrik 5 speed all spread out over a bench being rebuilt, 1951 Porsche #11101 and the Jag XK140 race car that placed (2nd?) in the 1966 SCCA run offs.
        Having said that, it WAS a 4 bbl AFB Paxton supercharged car. (I was quite aware of Ford 300hp 312’s and its McCollouch was a close relative of the Paxton- so I studied it closely) It is possible and likely the car owner and the head mechanic took advantage of the situation to build the car to up rated specs. I do remember bumping into the owner some decades later and he still had it, so it must have been a keeper. My memory says it was a 1963 R3. The high hp supercharged car.

      • Joey Kelley

        Alan – I apologize I mistyped – I didn’t mean to say single barrel carb – I meant to say single carb – there were rumors and possibly some actual engines built in the Studebaker line that had multiple carbs – it would have been a 4 barrel carb on a R2. Sorry for the confusion! -Joey

  12. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    The ’63 & ’64 R-2 engines used a special pressurized 4 barrel carb. [If my memory is right, it was a Carter AFB.] The earlier Golden Hawks of ’57 & ’58 used the single barrel carb with a pressurized compartment surrounding it. The 63/64 cars used the Paxton centrifugal blower, the earlier cars used the McCulloch version [also used on the ’57 T-bird & the ’54 & ’55 Kaiser Manhattans, as well as the ’57 Packard Clipper sedan & wagon, & the ’58 Packard Hawk.

    As far as I know, once production shifted to the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada assembly plant, because Studebaker had no ability to assemble or make engine parts, ALL the ’65 & ’66 cars used various Chevy engines, both 6 cylinder & small block V8s. The remaining small number of engines from the South Bend plant were needed to supply warranty replacement engines, & complete engines for the parts division. Some people have suggested that ANY Chevy V8 engine could be ordered for a Studebaker. However from my measurements taken years ago, a big block Chevy V8 will not fit in the Studebaker chassis without major mods.

    • Joey Kelley

      My Dad once owned a 1941 Studebaker Commander that had been dropped onto a 77 Monte Carlo frame – believe it or not, most of the body mounts were pretty close. Minimal fabrication. A Mustang II front end clip was used for IFS and the stock 305 was retained. We dropped a 1995 350 out of a Caddy into it – built up to a mild hot rod spec. It was a DANG tight fit. Headers would not work owing to clearances around the steering box – ported and gasket matched stock exhaust manifolds were used instead. A bigger problem was actually heat – even with multiple electric cooling fans and no A/C – the 350 ran hot. We eventually pulled the Inspection panels off and that managed to keep it within reason.
      As to stock Studebakers – the post Studebaker Avanti production (through all the various owners) pretty much used GM Powertrains – early ones used GM engines, but the standard Studebaker left over transmissions, but as Studebaker bought them from (I think) Borg Warner – this was not a difficult matchup. The Avanti was purpose designed around the Studebaker 289 – for those that haven’t seen one – it is a relatively low profile V8 – meaning the cylinders are splayed pretty wide. It is wide – and short. The Chevy small Blocks are, by comparison – relatively tall and narrow. This is one reason they make such good hot rodding engines, as they more easily slip into an older, taller engine bay. (Such as one designed for an inline 6) The Avanti’s that came out post Studebaker were initially jacked up in the front end to provide the clearance required for the taller engine – you can look at an Avanti II – compared to a 1964 Avanti and see – visually – that the nose is higher. Later production re-worked the front end (I’m not exactly sure how) and achieved the lower nose that the Avanti was known for. Outside of the Avanti line, I can’t see that Chevy swap would be a major problem – Studebakers were not known for having cramped engine compartments – so a little size difference in the power plant would probably be a small problem. As I said – I believe they used Borg Warner transmissions – as did a lot of Chevy’s at the time – so that would have been a relatively minor (if any) modification to make. A big block? I don’t think so. No production Studebaker automobiles in the 1960s had anything larger than a 289, or in the rare case of an R3 or R4 special order engine, a 304, but based on the same block. A big block would have required a serious amount of re-working and fabrication. -Joey

  13. Jeff

    Robert Paxton McCulloch started bulding superchargers in the 1930’s.
    His automotive division developmed several successful kits for cars.
    During the 1950’s he also branched off into government contracts building air blowers for submarines.
    Studebaker was his largest OE customer. Studebaker showed interest and bought the automotive division.
    Because of McCulloch’s gov’t contracts, the automotive division was renamed Paxton Supercharger.
    Andy Granatelli was McColluch’s chief test enginner. He came to Studebaker in the deal.
    Studebaker owned Paxton until the 1970’s.

    Additional info at:

  14. Alan Brase

    I suspected the single barrel term was a typo. I know of no US v8’s that did not use a 2 plane, 180 degree intake manifold, and therefore, needed at least TWO barrels! I recalled there was such a thing as an R4. Having now refreshed my memory, not sure why it existed.

    • Joey Kelley

      The R3 and R4 engines were strictly special order – and only for performance reasons. I believe the intent of the R4 was for racing. I don’t know if that ever happened. Studebaker was a company that tried to think forward – and it often bit them.
      As to your single barrel comment – my Dad once had a propane fired stationary generator that had a Chrysler big block V8 – since it was setup to run at only a certain RPM – I recall it had this dinky little carb and I THINK it was a single barrel. This was obviously NOT an automotive setup of course and I cannot recall the particulars to be honest.

    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Alan — You are correct, the 1 barrel note was a typo, thanks for noticing. The carb on the 57 Packard & Golden Hawk, as well as the ’58 Golden Hawk was a Stromberg WW, a 2 barrel. I’ve had several of the Packards & Hawks over the years, and rebuilt many for customers over the last 40 years. An easy to repair & adjust carb, very simple to overhaul.

  15. Rob

    This one is over the top cool, it’s not mine nor do I have any connection to it.

  16. Dustin

    This is way cooler than the LLVs.

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