The United States Postal Service employs private citizens as contractors to deliver large portions of the mail. These people usually drive their own vehicles to do so instead of actual USPS vehicles, especially on rural routes. Since mailboxes are often on posts curbside, it’s advantageous to have a right-hand drive vehicle for this in order to just stick the mail in the box through the window. Subaru and Jeep (amongst some others historically) have both sold select vehicles so equipped to special order (and Jeep still does but apparently not Subaru any longer), which wasn’t difficult for them to offer since both market their vehicles in right-hand drive countries. It takes no special qualification, your local dealer would order and sell you one if you asked and it would be perfectly legal to drive.
But what if, say, someone decided they already had a Subaru and didn’t see the need for a new one, wouldn’t it just be easier to convert it themselves and then drive all around the place delivering the mail while interacting with regular traffic? How hard could it be? Here is one such vehicle that apparently was used in this way and while I’m not necessarily of the mindset that we need a TÜV-style vehicle inspection and authorization system, seeing stuff like this does make me a little more leery of sharing the roads with others at times, and perhaps all the times. So let’s take a closer look.
Our subject started life as a 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback, the second year they were offered. These cars are everywhere around here in Colorado and the only reason I haven’t featured one yet in the Curbside Recycling series is that I can’t decide on one to feature, there are just too many of the damn things. And they never offered a red interior which generally guarantees you admission to the club forthwith. As much disdain as much of our readership pours on Subaru at times, they do seem capable of some impressive mileages before people throw in the towel, rare is the junked Subaru that doesn’t feature a six-digit odometer starting with at least a 2.
This one is fitted with the requisite signage that lets people know it’s being used as a US Mail vehicle, i.e. self-sourced stick-on black letters on the rear reflector panel. Some people also add a sign advising of Frequent Stops or reflective tape etc, but that all adds extra up-front expense. I have no idea if there is an actual rule or law that explains how a private contractor’s vehicle must be differentiated if used for this purpose, if there is it’s likely not enforced any more than numerous other rules regarding vehicles.
At first glance through the back things didn’t look all that bad, I really only looked at first due to the signage. Conveniently the driver didn’t believe whiplash is a thing so nothing to obstruct the view. Hey, a wheel on the right, haven’t come across a RHD Outback yet, cool. Oh, wait, wouldn’t the gauge pod be on the right too? Hey now, what exactly is going ON here?!? Which side to start on, do I head left or right? See, more conundrums every time I actually think about featuring an Outback.
Homebrew alert #1 – the Chevrolet steering wheel. While I’m well aware that Subaru and GM had a few tie-ups and I even owned a Saabaru at one point when GM had their fingers in both of those brands, this wheel is not part of any official conversion kit, in fact it looks like it came out of an Astro van or perhaps a Silverado.
It’s a bummer someone dropped the Subaru steering column to get to something else, but at least it’s here. There are in fact companies that perform and/or sell conversions for Subarus and many other vehicles to make a system that does this, briefly glancing at them seems to show a relatively robust system overall, but in essence boils down to the same principles, i.e. control the existing controls from the right side of the car instead of actually moving them to that side as a factory car would have.
The image above was from the website of Postal Things Inc. which provides kits for literally dozens of vehicles, this is I think of a Forester but they do offer one for this year Outback as well, their price is just over $2,000 for the DIY install or an extra $400 for them to install it, leading one to believe that it can’t be too difficult. I’d pay the extra $400 though so if it all went wrong I’d have someone to point at. Always try to have a deeper pocket behind you.
The Chevrolet wheel seems to be attached to a double pulley from I have no idea what, perhaps the same Chevy that donated the wheel, which is then (still?) attached to what I think may be a water pump housing which is then affixed to the dashboard with a bracket and some bolts. Note the airbag is still in place atop the dash, no guesses as to whether or not the functionality was disabled. Having been in a Subaru when an airbag, actually ALL the airbags, deployed now has me being quite concerned when there is anything atop or in front of them that ideally would not be there. The force is not imaginable unless experienced. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to eat a Chevy wheel and waterpump with pulleys attached.
Note the welded rods atop the column.
Yes, those rods seem to be there to control the turn signals. Lift to signal a right, lower to signal a left. Easy peasy if obviously not intuitive when transferred to the opposite side of the “column”.
Another perspective. The belt obviously slipped off when the original column was dropped. There is no tensioning device, I think a just right belt was employed and then the assembly was bolted into place. This system appears to have been in place for some time judging by the door panel, this side looks to be in far worse condition than the old driver’s side one two pictures ago. But wait, that’s the steering, what about the going and stopping?
This is the originally passenger side footwell (the Chevy side). These two pedals need to be imagined side by side, I wasn’t going to have my head in this footwell for very long to untangle the apparently jammed rods so please just imagine them as two metal faced (racy!) pedals next to each other, one to accelerate and the other to stop.
The aftermarket kits that do this have a seemingly very beefy pedal setup with a metal pedal box bolted into the footwell if you look at the vendor’s picture above again. This one not so much. Let’s now finally move to the Subaru side of the car and see how it all comes together!
No junkyard post would be complete without the money shot, in this context obviously the odometer picture. 225,410 of the king’s, er, president’s miles on this one. Not bad at all and it likely had more to give, I don’t think the powertrain was the issue that did this car in. It’s handy in this case that there was no wheel in the way, Subaru gauges are nicely clear and crisp in their presentation too.
This is the opening picture again for reference to locate what we are going to look at next. Note the turn signal rod (detached) at the top and the belt running behind the wheel. You might ask what is it going to, Subarus don’t come with a pulley back there.
No, they do not, but that doesn’t mean you can’t just remove the airbagged wheel, slot one in, and somehow put it all back together. Happens all the time somewhere, likely mostly in third world countries without any kind of safety inspections that seemingly let anything on the roads. Uh, wait a minute…
It’s not super easy to make out but below the turn signal lever is a rod with a 90 degree bend and then a hole, I was sort of able to hold it together with the actuator rod from the Chevy side to determine that it does seem to then enable the signals to activate when/as desired. Pretty ingenious actually but the least of concerns.
Here’s the footwell, the accelerator pedal has one rod mated to it (or at least on top of it), while the brake pedal’s actuator, complete with clamp, has come off the pedal and is currently adjacent to the accelerator. This is why the pedals are out of place on the Chevy side. If that pedal/rod was further left, then the clamp could/would be on the brake pedal. I just can’t see how pushing the pedal on the other side would generate enough force to provide enough braking action on this side using that 1/4″ rod, most importantly in any kind of emergency situation.
Ironically the damage that likely consigned the Subie to the junkyard occurred on the “Driver’s” side. I’m not a particularly litigious person, but if I was hit by this particular car and got a look inside, I’d be seeing dollar signs furnished courtesy of the USPS, contractor vehicle or not. At the very least perhaps free mail for life if I employed Jackie Chiles as Cosmo Kramer did…