Black Plate Delivery: 1963 Studebaker Zip Van

With a triple blast of a siren, followed by the exclaim, “Mail’s in!”, Morticia Adams let the members of her Addams Family know that the daily mail has arrived. And in the 1960s, that mail was delivered in a Studebaker van like this 1963 8E5 example. These were known as “Zip Vans” to correspond with the Postal Service’s early ’60s introduction of zip codes. I had completely forgotten about these, at one-time, ubiquitous mail movers until I saw this example. Our subject van is located in Bellingham, Washington, and is available, here on eBay for a current bid of $1,488, eighteen bids tendered so far.

Image courtesy of Curbside Classic

Studebaker was in a tough spot by 1963. As it fought off competition from the big three and a half, their existing product line was not up to the task of keeping the company financially afloat. An opportunity occurred when the United States Postal Service (USPS) issued an RFP to supply mail delivery vans. Studebaker won the bid and provided more than 4,000 vans but it was not enough to reverse their fortunes. Studebaker ultimately succumbed to intense competition and closed its U.S. doors in ’64 and its Canadian operation in ’66.

The seller states that he purchased this zip van in 2003 and has had it in storage ever since. It was originally domiciled in the Long Beach, California area and has been off of the road since ’80. The seller adds, “We haven’t done anything to it and needs a full restoration. There is some rust at the roof overhang lip and side panel joints. Luckily Zip Vans use mostly flat metal and glass”. The referenced rust is obvious but it doesn’t appear to have perforated the steel panels of this Met-Pro supplied unitized body; the exterior of this mail hauler is intact, just very worn. Both the sliding driver’s door and roll-up rear hatch appear to work and the panoramic glass panels seem are clear and not cracked.

The interior isn’t much different now than it was when this van was in USPS service – it is spartan, to say the least! The seller comments on the two accelerator pedal configuration that allows the driver to progress forward or backward while either sitting or standing. As bare as the interior is, it does create a blank canvas for the next owner to perform whatever modifications that they see fit to facilitate.

Under the front hatch is a 170 CI, in-line, six-cylinder engine good for 112 gross HP. Borgwarner and Dana, respectively, supplied the three-speed automatic transmission and a limited-slip differential. The “Skybolt” six was an off the shelf item having been used in the Studebaker Lark. The seller states, “The front suspension, steering gear, engine, and radiator are all mounted on a cradle that can be easily be rolled out from underneath for service“. That’s a task that will probably have to be performed with this van as it is a non-runner and has been for some time.

The seller suggests, “If you are looking for something rare and unusual that grabs everyone’s attention, or want to make unique special deliveries, this is your opportunity to own a rare ZIP Van“! And that’s the critical question with a formerly specific purpose vehicle like a Zip Van, what do you do with it? A food truck seems logical, or perhaps a sales/marketing prop or…maybe just something different for Cars and Coffee gatherings and general puttering around. What do you think, what’s the best use for this, what was at one time, a very commonly encountered van.

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Comments

  1. Mitchell Gildea Member

    I saw one of these with a LS swap once. Probably wouldn’t do a LS swap in this one but a Trailblazer straight 6 or an Ecotec turbo four would be a feasible swap

    Like 5
    • Little_Cars

      I did too, Frosty Wheels show at the Nashville Fairgrounds in the early 2000s.

      Like 2
  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    These were kind of cute back in the day. Used to see them everywhere but that was also 50+ years ago. Definitely not a powerhouse with that small six/automatic combination. I wonder if you could break the wheels loose on ice. This would be a fun/different project. Interesting that there has been quite a surge in the popularity of the old IHC Metro. I’ve been hunting down a lot of parts for those. The Studebaker could prove to be a challenge.

    Like 3
    • DON

      Other than the sheetmetal and glass I’d bet a lot of parts are direct from Studebakers parts bin . Heck, even the horn button is Lark/Hawk etc, without the clear chrome dome

      Like 4
    • Howard A Member

      I remember seeing these too, city mostly, but I never knew they were Studebakers. It was probably the only thing keeping the company afloat.

      Like 1
      • Bill McCoskey

        Howard,

        Jeep also had a Postal Service contract to provide similar [So similar that they both have that angled indentation across the front, below the windshield] stand-up postal vans.

        So it’s very possible you’ve seen both, as the Jeep FJ version was made from 1961 to 1975. I seem to recall the FJ postal van production was over 7,000 units.

        A friend who is considered a post-war Studebaker expert once told me the 1963-64 Zip Van contract was kind of a “dog bone” thrown to the Struggling Studebaker Corp. by the US Government.

  3. Vegaman Dan

    If the drive train is solid, then keep it. Otherwise, be tempted to drop in a 90’s or 00’s S10 drive train, even a four cylinder. You don’t need crazy power for this to break the wheels loose.

    Short wheel base, unique, could be fun for restaurant delivery.

    Like 1
  4. R.Scot

    Would be a great vehicle for Borat to drive to California with Azamat, and the grizzly bear to joins hands in cultural marriage with his “Pamela” and bring back to Kazakhstan.

    Like 7
  5. k

    As small as that thing is, wouldn’t be a “food truck” so much as it would be a “snack truck”

    Like 8
  6. alphasud Member

    I live in a rural area where mail carriers deliver in their own cars. Gone are the Subaru right hand drive Legacy’s and Jeep Wrangler’s. Would be fun to restore with a modern drivetrain with fuel injection and a good heater and let it live another day as a mail carrier.

    Like 5
  7. Will Fox

    Probably the earliest mail truck I can recall seeing as a kid. They were everywhere.

    Like 1
  8. Vince H

    These had a 44 Dana rear and the automatic almost like the Ford Cruise O Matic. The 170 inch engine was not the best. If the were overheated the head cracked.

    Like 2
  9. Drake J Nailon

    I would love to drop a modern drivetrain in this, clean up the body and turn it into a mini camper!

    Like 4
  10. Maestro1 Member

    I think Ikey, Local_Sheriff, and several others should get the Barn Finders
    Lifetime Achievement Awards for coming up with their finds.
    This after spending some money on it, and the S-10 driveline is an interesting
    solution, could br a parts chaser and a cars and coffee winner.

    Like 1
  11. John

    These were still around when I started with the PO in ’68. The seat was removed, as well as the heater, so as to speed up collection and special delivery runs. Despite this, they were fun to drive once you could get them to start.

    Like 2
  12. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    They still use this style mail truck in my neighborhood. I would make one of two things out of it: 1) one man camper with overhead a/c, propane stove, 3 way refrigerator and a cot. 2) handicap van with rear entry for wheel chair.
    God bless America

    Like 5
  13. Bill McCoskey

    Back in the ’70s a close friend and mentor [as well as a serious Studebaker & Packard collector] bought one of these at a USPS surplus auction. He outfitted it as a mobile tool truck, with welding tanks, tool cabinets, heavy duty vise, etc. He was handicapped and had difficulty walking, so he could bring his tools to the various garages and sheds on his property. As he used a pair of crutches to walk with, the ability to stand up and drive made it much easier for him to get in & out, and drive around the property.

    Like 4
  14. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Yep they are kinda neat……keep passing on them though. Dash is from the E series truck.

    Like 1
  15. Royal

    This would make a great little food truck for a limited menu and maybe ice cream.

    You could also convert it to electric with litium batteries too.

    Like 1
  16. Phlathead Phil

    Coolest “Gumby” Cream-sickle delivery truck ever made.

    IMHO, of course!

    Like 1
  17. chrlsful Member

    and…
    looks like Whiting (Flint) made the rest (steel, not alu)

    http://www.american-automobiles.com/Whiting.html

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey

      Chrisful,

      Whiting made the roll-up door at the back. Met-Pro made the body shell, Studebaker made the frame, suspension and drive train, & assembled them in South Bend In.

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