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Former Mail Carrier: 1963 Studebaker Zip Van

As the sixties decade was approaching, Studebaker was struggling and the end of their car and truck production was just around the corner.  But a small ray of hope came about in 1963 when the company struck a deal with the government and began constructing trucks for postal delivery called the Zip Van, aptly named as this was the same year the zip code began being used nationwide.  Numbers indicate more than 4,000 of these workhorses were made, but I’m guessing most of them got used until they were toast so who knows how few are still out there.  One that has survived is in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, and can be found here on eBay, where the no-reserve auction has only reached $1,375 at this point, so there’s the potential this one could exchange hands for a reasonable amount.

Back in their heyday, these were sharp-looking transporters when dressed in red, white, and blue paint outside.  They were business-oriented with a spartan interior and had plenty of cargo room inside for carrying whatever was passing through the postal system that day, with passenger seating limited to just the driver who could operate the Zip in either a standing or sitting position.  The cage material might look more at home in a ’60s police cruiser, but it was probably put there as protection from flying boxes in case a sudden stop had to be made.

A company called Met-Pro provided the bodies for the Zip with Studebaker supplying the truck parts, and once the contraption was completed it tipped the scales at around 4,350 pounds.  The only specific information we get about this one is that the seller rescued it from the weeds last year, although the whereabouts between that time and when it was retired from USPS service remain unknown.  But overall the body seems fairly decent if you try to imagine what the metal looks like under all that patina.

Power comes from a 170 cubic-inch Studebaker inline-6 engine, which the seller did work on a bit and had running briefly before the starter failed.  A new battery and cables were installed and the motor was tuned up, with the cylinder head receiving a rebuild plus new push rods were also added.  Among the known needs are attention to the fuel system and a new starter, with the brakes stated as iffy.  But the cool factor here is pretty high and it is branded a Studebaker, so I feel it’s worth saving.  What would you do with this one?

Comments

  1. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    The post office, boy there’s an entity for ya’, projected to lose $4 BILLION dollars this year. You know, in ’64, we might have had Zip Vans, to us it was just a motorized box the mailman,,oops, I mean, letter carrier drove, while we waited for those xray glasses that never worked. All that cereal for nothing. I read a company named Bede Manufacturing, was set up to handle the ZipVan project. I believe they shared the mechanicals with the Champ pickup, complete frames the body was attached to. I doubt it helped Studebaker much, as I think by ’63, the truck portion of Studebaker shut down, and these were probably all parts warehoused and doing nothing anyway. Not sure what to do with it, as is. Food truck, maybe, but any kind of travel is not advised.

    Like 7
    • Avatar photo Richard

      You’re right, Studebaker truck protection ended with the closure of the South Bend plant in December, 1963.
      Dry Ridge KY is notable as the birthplace of Skeeter Davis.

      Like 2
  2. Avatar photo Chris Cornetto

    You buy this restore it like it was and then it becomes a movie star. I put this in the same category as my Vespa ape hotdog unit. I have enough projects and things I will never finish and others I will but otherwise I would be on this in a New York minute. I like off the wall stuff and really don’t care what things are worth.

    Like 10
  3. Avatar photo Yblocker

    4300lbs with a 170ci 6? No wonder our mail was always late lol. I vaguely remember these, I was born in 57, do the math lol. Would be nice to see it restored to what it once was, but then what, it’s not a cruiser, it should be in the Studebaker muaseum ,

    Like 12
    • Avatar photo Yblocker

      “Museum” Thanks again auto correct, Google, and any others involved with muffing up a simple comment

      Like 11
      • Avatar photo Karl

        What a gigantic windshield! I remember seeing these growing up but never remember a 1/4 acre of windshield!

        Like 6
      • Avatar photo BimmerDude Member

        Yes, we all love autocorrect.

        Like 2
    • Avatar photo justpaul

      I think the ducking spool chuck was going for “mausoleum”, which actually sounds right in Studebaker’s case.

      Like 1
    • Avatar photo MARK A. JACKSON

      Too funny.

      Like 0
    • Avatar photo stillrunners Member

      Base weight 3300…..max would be 4300….

      Like 3
  4. Avatar photo Richard

    You’re right, Studebaker truck protection ended with the closure of the South Bend plant in December, 1963.
    Dry Ridge KY is notable as the birthplace of Skeeter Davis.

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo Thomas L. Kaufman

      End of the World, by Skeeter Davis. Great song.

      Like 5
  5. Avatar photo Robert Proulx

    How the hell that thing could weigh 4300 pounds i’ll never imagine. This could be a very interesting project for whom has a lot of time. Once restored will bring a lot of attention. I’m just wondering if it has a decent heater because in winter that thing must be a rolling ice box

    Like 9
  6. Avatar photo geomechs Member

    Used to see these around Great Falls but I don’t recall seeing one around any of the smaller communities because people just went to the post office to pick up the mail. Great Falls and Billings were large enough centers where milk was delivered and so was the mail. Even people living out in the country came to town for the mail so there was no delivery there. I still find it interesting to go to Wisconsin to visit my daughter and her family and see all the mailboxes. Out west you just came to town. Aside from that I think that Studebaker scored fairly well with this van. I don’t know what I would do with it if it landed on my driveway but I sure wouldn’t scrap it…

    Like 9
  7. Avatar photo Joseph

    I remember these vans, delivered our mail everyday. They ran for years until they were replaced by the jeep mail vans. Would still make a cool delivery truck today for a small business. Sorry but they are nowhere near 4300 pounds maybe that’s there GVW. Empty around 3,000 pounds by guess.

    Like 10
  8. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    I had a nice, informative comment, I thought, about Studebakers involvement here, but was removed. Forget it now.

    Like 5
  9. Avatar photo Thomas L. Kaufman

    If I was younger, I would buy it and at least make a presentable daily driver out of it, bu at 76 years old, I’m too old to be rebuilding vehicles.

    Like 4
  10. Avatar photo Elbert Hubbard

    Restore it to original or convert it to an EV – much cooler than a Tesla Cybertruck :-)

    Like 5
    • Avatar photo Emmet

      Only if you keep the patina intact on the outside! Would be a way cool ride.

      Like 3
  11. Avatar photo Glenn Schwass Member

    Neat truck. I’m not sure if I’d rat rod it or keep it stock and restore it. I qonder how many times the odometer turned overd?

    Like 0
    • Avatar photo Robert

      Dang it must be the solar flare that’s screwing up everybody’s spell checkers, that or everyone commenting is gettin all sauced up early for the holidays lol… My stupid phone ruins my comments all the time, no solar flare needed! But this little mail truck that could is cute as a pail full of kittens! I can definitely see an interesting food truck from this, or an eye catching delivery truck for someone’s niche small business… What a canvas you have to work with! Hmmm, I’m a self employed plumber, all my tools/materiel would fit nicely in the back, and my logo on a black paint job would look awesome! But since I’m sure it’s not 4wd, my county and it’s remote back roads would ko this poor little guy pretty quick (and that’s kill off, not knock out)… Neat find!

      Like 0
      • Avatar photo Bill McCoskey Member

        Robert,

        With today’s drivers and congested roads, I would never recommend a Zip Van for everyday use. Back in the late 1970s I found a Zip Van in a local junkyard. It had been in an accident, and the front end had been pushed back. Not a huge accident, and something that could be repaired in most cases.

        However I noted one sobering situation about this accident. The steering box is literally right behind the front bumper. In this accident, the radiator was still holding water, yet the entire steering column had been shoved back and upwards and the steering wheel bent backwards. I’m a former Studebaker collector, and I know just how strong those wheels are.

        Postal vans like the Zip Van were designed for local postal use, and were never expected to be loaded with heavy letter trays or packages more than a couple of feet deep. When one puts heavy loads into the back of these postal jeeps, especially towards the upper cargo area, they become very unstable at higher speeds [and a higher speed for these is over 30 mph!]

        Like 1
  12. Avatar photo RMac

    Why would Howard’s comment be removed I love reading them

    I remember these being used in North Jersey until the postal jeeps came on and some hung on long after that until the s-10 based postal trucks

    Like 2
  13. Avatar photo ALKY

    Yeh right 4300 LBS …… by the looks of that ridiculous windshield 3000 LBS of it is glass!

    Like 2
    • Avatar photo Bill McCoskey Member

      ALKY,

      The windshield is very tall for a couple of reasons.

      First, because it was possible to drive this vehicle either standing up or sitting in the seat. In order to safely see out the glass and view what was on the ground as well as things like suspended traffic lights, the windshield needs to be tall enough to handle both driver positions.

      Second, it’s cheaper to make a flat glass panel than to make a steel panel that is often heavier.

      Jeep also made a very similar postal van that had an equally large windshield.

      Like 5
      • Avatar photo stillrunners Member

        Yep….all the mail van manufactors had the big glass – Dodge and the reast way into and beyond the 60’s…..not sure where these folks lived they didn’t see any of the others….

        Like 2
      • Avatar photo Moparman Member

        That reason is STILL not an excuse for the INCREDIBLY ugly electric replacements for the Jeeps! My postman says that they’ll only be good for extremely local runs, and even with that, their efficiency will be problematic. Right now, he just got one of the M-B vans which he says is light years better than the Jeep; but he plans to retire before the electric monstrosities come on line! :-)

        Like 2
  14. Avatar photo Joe Mec Member

    The box looks to be very intact. It looks to be great starting point for whoever decides what and how to do it!! It is probably so simple to work on. For me,
    I would put a decent paint job on the exterior and clean up the inside. I would make a professional sign to advertise my home remodeling business! I promise the calls would come in just as an advertising piece and a truck to bring to job sites. It would bring many smiles to the mile! In regards to the windshield comments; it’s an easy replacement for glass place as it is just a flat piece fo safety glass to make! : > )

    Like 3
  15. Avatar photo V12MECH

    “Dry” Ridge, Ky. By the looks of this they get plenty of wet weather. With a few exceptions, museum’s are unloading stuff like this because they are going broke.

    Like 1
  16. Avatar photo Gary

    Make a cool camper …. RV in style….

    Like 1
  17. Avatar photo Gary Bowers

    Mini camper patina outside.

    Like 1
  18. Avatar photo BigDaddyBonz

    Would love to leave a comment but it’s been a busy day and I’m dozzzzzzzzing off.

    Like 1
  19. Avatar photo Bill McCoskey Member

    Over the last few decades I’ve worked on a few of these, and I’m fairly familiar with them, as I collected Studebakers.

    I’ve seen examples of Zip Vans that were terribly rusted, and this example is better than most. Note on the left side of the van, above the rub strip, there is a long metal patch screwed into the body shell. The original bodies had a horizontal seam there, where the upper and lower body sides were attached together and spot-welded. This rusted area will need to be cut out and replaced.

    The driver’s door area was often a rust problem, I’ve seen them so bad that there was literally nothing for the door to slide on, and the floor panel would flex on getting in. This example is nowhere near as bad as most.

    In the late 1970s I remember visiting SASCO in South Bend [SASCO was the Studebaker parts division] and seeing hundreds of Zip Van sheet metal parts [as well as pre-1953 sheet metal body parts for the older cars & trucks] being tossed out of the upper floors into waiting railroad gondola cars below. That leads me to believe original body panels for the Zip Vans will be hard to find. The good thing is that most of the body panels needing repair or replacement are flat panels, or have straight 90 degree bends. Anyone with a MIG welder and basic sheet metal tools can do the work.

    I once saw a Zip Van in a large junkyard in central PA, it was used by the parts pulling guys to go from vehicle to vehicle. They used the Zip Van because it had a full set of mechanic’s tool boxes bolted down inside, along with the full cutting torch set-up. They could jump into the driver’s area and drive to the next vehicle, without even sitting down. While it looked like it was running on borrowed time, the guy who was using it said it was the most reliable vehicle they had and “It just refused to die!”

    Like 5
  20. Avatar photo Big Bear 🇺🇸

    I would make this into a parts delivery van. Drop a GM 350 with a turbo 350 trans. Repainted some nice colors and named of company on it. Fix up the suspension add Cragar wheels . It would be a cool van that would stand out!. That’s a hell of a windshield there. And you preserve a bit of auto history.. 😊. Good luck to the next owner. 🐻🇺🇸

    Like 4
  21. Avatar photo Moparman Member

    I’ll just leave this here, LOL!!! :-)

    Gone Postal! – LS Swapped Mail Truck
    https://youtu.be/Z7-scO-gUtA?si=h2KErYw8Iv-zxuy6

    Like 1
  22. Avatar photo RMac

    Moparman that’s not the studebaker postal van the Grumman postal van was s10 chassis based so v8 swap kits for s10 work easily still a pretty unique radical but trying that on the Studebaker zip van would not be an easy chore I think

    Like 0
  23. Avatar photo CalypsoDave

    I don’t know how many of these are left, but I know of one besides this example. A mechanic shop a few miles from my house parks one outside his entrance every day as an advertisement. No idea if it runs, I assume it may as he moves it inside the fence at night. Looks about like this one, tons of patina.

    Like 0
  24. Avatar photo chrlsful

    shorter than the cady deVille shown here 2day.
    I like it. Want @ least 10 ft length inside tho. Much
    better base to start w/than the LS swapped grumand
    (for the eye’n motor anyway).

    Like 0
  25. Avatar photo Neil

    It’s literally inconceivable that Studebaker could end production right after introduction of the new 64 line. Ending it at the end, and not starting up another year makes more sense. Studebaker had 3 lines of car models, a small truck line, and large one. It built these Zip Vans, military vehicles, had a conglomerate of several Divisions which brought in 100’s of millions and yet the Board decided to kill the Studebaker namesake automobile. Senseless! Then the same 2 years later killing the 66 car line after dealership suits were no longer an issue. The President Byers Burlingame was an old Packard man I’ve always felt he determined to kill off Studebaker for killing off Packard. Studebaker is the only car company in history to stop production while still making a profit.

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo Joe

      I always felt the same way. It happens so often when a companies board, is filled with people who are not company loyal and are more or less investment bankers who are more about making money with the least amount of effort. I believe that’s what happened with Studebaker.

      Like 0
  26. Avatar photo Bill McCoskey Member

    Joe,

    Studebaker-Worthington Corporation had to make a painful decision, and the final choice was to close the automobile/truck business, for multiple reasons;

    1. The traditional source of financing was insurance companies who had lots of cash/credit. Studebaker was turned down in every attempt to find sources of cash to re-tool. [See #2 below]

    2. Studebakers had basically had no real chassis and body overhauls since 1953. The 1959 lark was basically a trimmed down 1958 body on chassis design dating back to the1953 sedans. The Hawks were also based on the 1953 2-door cars.

    3. Discussions between automakers and the new government regulations coming in the near future, meant Studebaker would have to spend large amounts of money on meeting those regulations, money they didn’t have.

    4. Studebaker was hemorrhaging dealers who were switching to other car makes, Especially foreign brands.

    5. The company vehicle production figures were dropping as the big 3 continued to introduce better selling models that were cheaper to build & sell.

    I love Packards & Studebaker cars, and have owned hundreds of them over the last 55 years. I also mourned the loss of the company, but as far as a business decision, the company got it right. With a lack of outside funding, in order to compete with the big 3, they would have had to access money from the other successful divisions like Gravelly tractor, and that was probably not an option. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy a failing car company with huge financial obligations. Their most valuable asset was the defense contracts, but Curtiss-Wright had siphoned them off in 1956.

    Like 1
  27. Avatar photo Rfordeck

    I’ve seen these restored into pretty cool little trucks with a nice set of wheels and tires they look really good. Along with the Studebaker cool factor. If my garage wasn’t already full I’d be on this little guy!!!!

    Like 0

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