Dennis loves the Tri Five Chevys and has several to enjoy, whether it’s racing or cruising. This one is a cruiser and his only wagon – but a special wagon, a Nomad! Before we give you the lowdown on his Nomad, here is a quick look at the history of Nomads taken from the auto editors of Consumer Guide -
Where’s there’s a choice, collectors invariably covet the convertible and hardtop body styles over the other body styles in a given car line. One of the few exceptions is the Bel Air line, in which the 1955-1957 Chevy Nomad is perhaps the prettiest wagon ever built and a car with immense, longtime appeal simply because it’s a ‘Classic Chevy’.
Though generally credited to General Motors design guru Harley Earl, its actual creators were Chevrolet studio head Clare MacKichan and stylist Carl Renner. MacKichan’s group had suggested a “sport wagon” as one addition to Chevrolet’s all new 1955 lineup.
“The Corvette theme was a popular one” he recalled, and “Renner… had come up with a sketch for a station wagon roof that caught Earl’s eye. Bringing this idea to the Chevrolet studio, Earl asked that it be incorporated into a station wagon version as one of the Corvette idea cars for the 1954 Motorama”.
The result was the Corvette Nomad, a non running prototype with fiberglass bodywork on a 1953 Chevrolet wagon chassis. Renner’s roof nicely suited the lower body lines of Chevrolet’s recently announced sports car and the name was perfect.
Unveiled in January 1954, the Corvette Nomad was such a hit that an Earl assistant hurriedly ordered MacKichan to adapt its roofline to Chevrolet’s forthcoming 1955 passenger car styling – in just two days!
Renner hustled. “The show car’s roof was taken from a full size drawing, cut apart, stretched out, and mated to the 1955 Chevrolet lower body”, said MacKichan. “The hardtop front door glass framing, forward sloping rear quarters, side B pillar, fluted roof, wraparound rear side glass, the rear wheel housing cutout, and the seven vertical accent strips on the tailgate were all retained in a remarkably good translation from the dream car.”
Aside from all steel bodywork, the production Bel Air Nomad differed in using a conventional liftgate – a heavy, chrome plated affair, instead of the show car’s drop down tailgate window. The ‘fluted roof’ refers to the nine transverse grooves at the rear, a visual remnant of Earl’s plan for a retracting stainless steel section that was quickly nixed by leak worries and high cost.
The 1955-57 Chevy Nomad married hardtop flair to wagon utility, but it wasn’t wedded bliss. Though it looked like other ‘55’s, the Nomad shared little with them aft the cowl and was thus the most expensive Chevrolet ever at $2571 with a V-8, $265 more than a similarly equipped Bel Air convertible.
The lack of four doors limited its appeal among wagon buyers, its glassy interior could get uncomfortably warm, the liftgate sucked in exhaust fumes when open, and the slanted rear was prone to water leaks. With all this the nifty Nomad was Chevrolet’s least popular ’55 model.
Nonetheless, it returned in 1956, this time bowing with the rest of the line (the ’55 has arrived in February). Motor Trend named it one of the year’s most beautiful cars, but admitted that “its distinct personal car feel forces certain limiting features .. “One GM stylist disputed that, pointing out that the Nomad had more cargo capacity than some conventional contemporaries.
But price was still a problem and it prompted some economizing for the 1956 version. Seat inserts were now standard Bel Air hardtop (instead of the 1955’s unique “waffle” material). So was all exterior trim save for the “bananas” and, exclusive to the 1956, a small chrome “V” below each tail lamp (other Chevrolets signified a V-8 with one large “V” on the trunk lid or tailgate).
A nice detail touch was reversing the Bel Air’s short rear quarter “slash” moldings to match the B pillar angle. Chevrolet hoped that a full year’s production would push Nomad sales past the 10,000 mark, but it still had to raise the price more than $130 despite cost cutting measures, and production declined. With that, Chevy decided not to do a Nomad version of its all new 1958 design.
The valedictory 1957, like its predecessors, offered most of the same good qualities as other Chevrolet passenger models – it wore that year’s heavy face-lift particularly well – but cost another $150 more and thus saw the lowest production for the three year run. Trim was again stock Bel Air except for a Nomad script and a small gold “V” on V-8 tail gates.
Though the name has been used on conventional wagons and on vans, the first Nomad is the only one Chevrolet fans care to remember. And why not? To paraphrase a well worn cliché, the first shall sometimes be the best!
Now for some details on Dennis’s fabulous ’56 Nomad wagon – this Nomad has been improved since 1956. The color is a stunning black/turquoise two tone, with 20 inch Boyd Billet wheels. Power comes from a 350 small block crate motor pushing 325 HP though a Turbo 350 tranny. Power brakes, power steering with a AM/FM radio makes this a car Dennis loves to cruise in. Currently on display in the DACC space on Reliable Chevrolet’s showroom, this Nomad looks outstanding when parked next to all the new offerings from Chevrolet!
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