On International Post Day, let’s recall the most non-trivial special vehicles for delivering correspondence.
Benz-Gaggenau Tour 2 C Reichspost-Omnibus, 1921
In the 19th century, the Pechkins (Pechkin was a mail carrier in the famous Soviet animated film) of all countries used the usual transport of their time to collect and send letters-parcels-wrappers—carts, stagecoaches, omnibuses. So the concept of "latest press" was relevant only in large cities where it was published.
Earlier than others, the car inventors, who gravitated towards punctuality in everything, thought about the logistics and timing of postal items. And already at the very beginning of the XX century, the Directorate of the Imperial Post Office of the Free State of Bavaria launched the first shuttle bus—Kraftpostkurswagen. Even then, it had a distinctive canary colour, worked strictly according to the schedule and was equipped with... mailboxes.
The concept of such post offices on wheels turned out to be so tenacious that the Reichspost, permanently suffering from world wars, used it until the early 70s.
Another modern standard for mail delivery was set by LAZ (Lviv Bus Factory) exactly 70 years ago. Its first production cars were not buses at all, but... cargo vans with the ability to recharge from a residential network. In 1951, a batch of 20 postal vans with a carrying capacity of 0.5 and 1.5 tons was assembled in Lviv. They became the first serial electric vehicles in the USSR.
As the cities destroyed during the Second World War were rebuilt, the issue of low-tonnage transport for the delivery of goods, garbage disposal and other municipal needs became very pressing in the country. And who better than electric vehicles to cope with work where high speeds and long non-stop races are not needed? Only electric vehicles. Alas, there were no proper motors in the country, and the designers of CSR (Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engines Institute, NAMI in Russian) were forced to adapt heavy and low-power stationary units. Because of their fragility, even the carrying capacity of the vans had to be sacrificed and the suspension mount made as soft as possible. Therefore, the engineers saved literally every kilogram in order to minimize the power consumption of the batteries. Hence the most memorable appearance detail—a single headlight that gave the model the popular nickname "Cyclops". It was believed that there was enough light in the city. Another original solution were cargo doors, for working in a confined space, that were made not hinged, but rising up and sliding under the ceiling.
The choice of materials was also non-trivial: the frame was made of an aluminum profile, the body shell was made of wooden beams, the roof was covered with leatherette, and the sides and doors were sheathed with plywood. As a result, even with a full load, the vans covered 50–70 km on a single charge. A specially designed charger with selenium rectifiers made it possible to recharge the batteries from the city power grid.
Alas, the USSR industry was completely unprepared for the production of electric cars. Even with an industrial scale of assembly, their estimated cost was twice as high as that of gasoline counterparts. But the most insurmountable obstacle was the USSR's nuclear program that absorbed up to 80% of lead and caused its deficit in all other sectors of the national economy.
Postman Pechkin could dream of a service bike Ukraine only in the imagination of the authors of the cartoon Three from Prostokvashino. For by that time the Ministry of Communications of the USSR had ordered, tested and commissioned a very unusual car. Outside, it was the same ZAZ-965 Zaporozhets, in the common people "humpback". The only difference were metal "plugs" with the inscription "Communication" on the doors instead of the rear windows, and the special shape of the side air intakes in 1984 would be copied by the designers of Ferrari Testarossa. All the fun was inside.
Firstly, it was the first right-hand drive car intended for internal use. Prior to this, "right-hand steering wheels" were made exclusively for export to "left-sided" countries like Great Britain and Sweden. Such a non-standard step was needed to maximize the safety of the driver, who in this case performed the functions of a freight forwarder. And on the right side it was easier and safer to get out of the car to the side of the road—to the mailboxes along the sidewalks. Secondly, the window wiper work scheme was left the same, and in bad weather the brushes cleaned the right, driver's side of the window much better than the passenger’s one.
Thirdly, the initially four-seater passenger compartment lost the backseat in favor of the cargo box. To say that it is inconvenient to rake 150 kg of mail out of it is to say nothing. The only advantage of Zaporozhets was the low—relative to other Soviet cars—cost. Nevertheless, not one of the "humpbacked postmen" has survived to this day—they never appeared on the free market even after they had exhausted their life span. After being written off from the balance of the USSR Ministry of Communications, they were cut for scrap.
Kalmar KVD Tjorven, 1969
The Swedes from the Kalmar engineering company, known today for their extraordinary forklifts and terminal tractors, went far further in terms of caring for the postmen. Their delivery van not only took into account all the specifics of the postal service, but was also prepared for operation in the harsh Scandinavian conditions. Kalmar estimated that a freight forwarder got up from behind the wheel and sat back at least 400 times per shift, plus the same number of times he opened and closed doors. And to facilitate his work, the designers made sliding doors. And since postal cars travelled at walking speed, they provided special locks that allowed Tjorven to move with the doors open. Of course, in the conditions of the Scandinavian winter, such a ride threatened at least a cold. Therefore, the Swedes equipped the driver's seat with a gasoline heater and an exhaust system.
In addition, the Swedes built a completely original body with a high ceiling, a passenger seat in the form of a folding chair and a low sill line that allowed freight forwarders to get in and out without putting head between knees, plus serve part of the mailboxes without getting up at all.
It is also interesting that the Tjorvens were not built on the basis of traditional Scandinavian Volvo or SAAB, but on the basis of the Dutch minicar DAF 44. It was an innovative continuously variable transmission that today is called a variator. Automatic transmissions, ideal for postal cars, were too expensive in the 60s and were found in those days only on executive sedans, while a minicar cost the whole "automatic" car.
Jeep Dispatcher Jeep, 1955
If the domestic Pechkins dreamed of a service Zaporozhets, then their American colleagues drove around in postal Jeeps. Which were also very affordable due to conversion. With the end of World War II, the demand for initially military equipment dropped critically, and the manufacturer saw a chance in a large government order from the US Mail. In fact, for the post agency, the maximum downshifting of the structure was carried out—the SUV lost its all-wheel drive and all post-war innovations, having got in return a voluminous body with sliding doors, a right-hand drive, a single driver's seat, and the name Dispatcher Jeep.
Jeep FJ Fleetvan, 1961
Even American fans of the brand haven’t seen this model with their oan eyes. Firstly, because it has never been available for sale. And secondly, because it was absolutely not like other Jeeps. Although the FJ Fleetvan was a further development of the Dispatcher—in order to increase the capacity, the designers used a single-volume wagon layout that was absolutely uncharacteristic for the brand. And if the carrying capacity increased by only a quarter, then the riding capacity doubled at once—up to 3.11 cubic meters.