What is an LLV?

The Grumman LLV (or "Long Life Vehicle") is the mailtrucks. They were produced by 1987-1994, and have (typically) faithfully served their duty ever since. Many (including in our area) associate the white boxy-like vehicles whose duty is to carry the mail with the post ofofice. However, nobody knew about the lengthy story surrounding them - and their future.

Before the first LLV rolled off the assembly line in April 1987, the mail was delivered using Jeep Dispatchers. The Jeeps were old, falling apart, and very small. The postal service asked companies to create the perfect mailtruck, by following a list of criteria that would ensure a lifespan of at least 24 years. Three companies entered, one being the Grumman Corporation (specifically the Grumman-Olsen arm that made aluminum stepvans) - who teamed up with General Motors. (By the way, we're talking about the same Grumman that produced the infamous F-14 "Tomcat", stealth bombers, the Lunar Landing Module [LLM - coincidence?], and was a player in the rivalry against IBM in the 1960s. The company that merged with the Northrop Corporation in 1994 to form Norhtrop-Grumman that our military still relies on.)

The Grumman Corporation produced over 150,000 of the trucks in their facility in Montgomery, Pennsylvania. They're very simple vehicles - an pop-riveted aluminum body (produced by Grumman) mounted on a modified Chevy S-10 pickup truck chassis (the GM part.) The heart of the thing - the "Iron Duke" engine - produces 92 horsepower (at 4400 RPM). The highest speed in an LLV is 65 MPH (97 km/h), and it takes about 17 seconds to reach that speed. (However, it depends on the vehicle and its condition.)

The Recent Problems and Pending Replacement

While the LLV has served its time, many agree that it is due for retirement. Like all good things, the LLV has reached the end of its usable life (for the USPS).

Back in 1986 - when the LLV was still being designed - packages and parcels being delivered by the USPS was few and far between. However, with the dawn of the internet and "eCommerce" era, the LLV's space is limited. Since it was originally designed to haul mainly letters and flats, many mail carriers are angered by its limited amount of space.

The second problem is creature comforts. Please remember that mail carriers are humans, too (despite what Men In Black II taught you). The LLV, like other fleet vehicles, are limited on the creature comforts. Since the LLV is made of thin aluminum, there is no insulation. This results in the vehicle becoming a freezer in the winter (typically the heaters don't work so hot), and there is no air conditioning. Just a puny fan to circulate the air. (However, I heard the LARGE windows on the doors produce a nice breeze when going down the road.) There is also no radio, and the seats are fairly uncomfortable.

The third problem with the LLV is that it performs poorly in the winter. In other words, the LLV gets stuck easily. This is partially due to the design, but also the light weight and lack of front-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive attribute to this issue.

humanityLastly, and sadly (for us who want to buy one of them and transform it after the USPS gets done with them), they have been spontaneously combusting a lot recently. In most cases, the cause is unknown. However, you have to remember that the newest LLV is over 25 years old, and they don't get the best treatment in the world. Some (including myself) blame a lack of preventive maintenance, while others blame the general design for the things combusting. (I find it somewhat odd that I have not found a single case - outside of the USPS fleet - of an LLV spontaneously combusting.) When they do catch fire, they quickly melt like a soda can. Sadly, because of the low melting point of aluminum, it literally is melting. (Oh, the humanity!)

To increase reliability of their services, the USPS has been trying to get the LLV off the road for years (Seniority comes with drawbacks.) They're currently looking for a new vehicle to abuse for 30 years (plus use to torture our poor mail carriers.)

There is some good news, for the LLV at least. There are many people who are looking to adopt an LLV. Thankfully, they will give the LLV the treatment it's been waiting for for years. Finally, a good loving home?

Other USPS Vehicles

I live in a fairly rural area, so the LLV is fairly common. However, in a nearby city, the newer FFV is a common sight.

Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV)

The Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV) was constructed by the Utilimaster Company on top of a modified Ford Ranger chassis. Like the LLV, the FFV is right-hand drive and has a body made of pop-riveted aluminum panels. Unlike the LLV, the FFV features a huge window on the passenger side (driver side of a normal vehicle) that allows the driver to see to his left. The FFV also is styled somewhat differently, and can run off of Ethanol-based fuels (like E-85). (The LLV featured rectangular brake lights, while the FFV features round brake lights. The FFV has a black plastic grill, while the LLV has an aluminum grill.)

From what I've heard, the FFV was only used in areas where Ethanol fuels were sold. The FFV was short lived, seeing production for only a year or two.

Electric Long Life Vehicle (ELLV)

In around 2000, the USPS completed a chassis-swap on some LLVs, converting them to Electric Vehicles (EVs.) The ELLV is a rare sight, but can easily be noticed. The ELLV has a left window in the cargo area (like on the FFV), but everything else looks identical (because the body and shell are) to a standard LLV. The chassis was replaced with an electric version of the Ford Ranger.


I've never seen a Ram Promaster or Ford Windstar doing city routes, but this is a common sight in larger cities. I have, however (though rarely), seen a minivan delivering packages.

Rural Vehicles

Since I live in a fairly rural area, and I'm from the middle of nowhere, I have a lot of experience with this subject. Rural delivery vehicles.

In a lot of cases (at least here in rural Missouri), the carrier can purchase his/her own vehicle for use on their route. Unlike the LLV, they can get all the creature comforts they want (air conditioning, heating, electric locks/windows, radio, USB port, etc.) In most cases, this is a Jeep that has been modified to a right hand drive. However, others have not been modified and the carrier sits in the middle and drives from the middle. (They must be really talented... I could never do that!)

In some cases, they're not even Jeeps. One carrier in my town uses a Ford Escape. A more common sight is that rural carriers are starting to use LLVs.

In any case, rural delivery vehicles become very dusty very fast. This is because most of their route is done on gravel or dirt roads.

LLV Fun Facts

For More Information...

The websites below are dedicated to the Grumman-Olson Kubvan and Kurbwatt models, which were the spiritual predecessors to the LLV.

Former "Grumman World" Newsletters

When the LLV was still in production, "Grumman World" - the official newsletter for the Grumman Corporation employees and shareholders - has some pictures from the Montgomery plant. Links are below. (Special thanks to the Grumman Retiree Club for saving these resources.)

The February 22, 1991 "LLV: Life on the Line" article features extensive photographs and a "behind-the-scenes" look at the LLV facility in Montgomery, PA.

Last updated 12/03/2017 ; T420 (originally created 05/30/2017)