Cars Of A Lifetime: 1981 AMG DJ5 – The Mailman Never Knocks

Despite the Ford Courier’s best efforts to keep me from the Induction Center, I served in the US Army at Fort Sill Oklahoma. I learned a lot of things in the Army, for better or for worse, but I wanted a change. So I returned to live in my home town of Salem Oregon and I got a job in a coffee shop down the street from my parents house where we were staying.

It was very different indeed from the Army or anything I’d ever experienced before: crazy hippies, addicts, and all manner of deadbeats, pundits, and poets. We consumed a lot of “medicinal herbs” and alcohol while not working much. But that was OK since the boss seldom paid us with working checks. I needed a cheap car and one day after “work” I was walking home and I saw a glistening metallic blue Jeep in a front yard for 500 dollars. I just had to have it. Why? You may well ask.

Somehow I managed to get the money together and buy it. It was an 80’s era DJ5, equipped with an AMC 232 straight six and Chrysler 904 auto transmission. It had been professionally repainted a nice metallic blue and had chrome wheels and a new front seat with a passenger seat added (on the left hand side of course). Funny thing, it felt almost natural to be driving on the right hand side to me though. Other than it’s right handedness, the first thing I noticed was that it handed like a roller skate. A small twitch of the steering wheel and you were over three lanes to the left!

Now I still didn’t know much about cars, or I would not have bought that DJ5. So I was not aware of what happens when you severely overheat a motor. One day I was driving back from the store and it started making funny noises. I looked at the gauges and discovered that the temp gauge was in the red. “I can make it home” I thought to myself. I didn’t, the motor gurgled, spit and died. I rolled to a stop in front of a house where some good ol’ boys were working on a Camaro. I popped the hood and they moseyed over like moths to a lamp. And then one of the worst things anyone has ever said to me about my preference in vehicles was uttered. One of the two good ol’ boys took a look under the hood and said “you like them Rambler motors do you”? I had no idea what he meant so I said sure, I guess and he shook his head in a slow shameful manner. Now that I do know what he was getting at, it really irks me. Even though after owning several rigs with “Rambler motors” (with the exception of that old 232-258 six) I really don’t like them Rambler motors all that much. And as a testament to the toughness of the Rambler six it ran just fine once we let it cool down and added some water.

For some reason, I guess it was that Jeep, I started to enjoy learning about working on cars. As I did, I started collecting projects as well. During the time I owned the Jeep I also owned a couple of VW buses, one of which never did run. I never took the Jeep anywhere very far away, because firstly it was terribly uncomfortable to drive, and secondly it was actually a bit frightening. Sort of like piloting a life sized Hotwheels car down the highway.

I didn’t have it very long, for the aforementioned reasons.  Eventually I sold it to an aspiring heroin addict named Billy from the coffee shop scene who promptly blew up the weak little 904 tranny and was sure I had rigged it that way.  But he somehow got the money together to fix it and started selling ice cream out of it. A few years back I went to see the film Borat. There was a scene in which Borat and his producer and a bear take to an old ice cream truck. When I saw that, I immediately thought of  juiced up Billy selling ice cream to poor little urchins out of that old mail jeep. And that is how I will always remember it.