2 May 2005

Collectible Classic: 1955-56-57 Chevrolet Nomad

A cross between a sports car and a station wagon, Chevy’s Nomad must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Primarily the concept of designer Carl Renner, working under Harley Earl, the Nomad was unlike any wagon seen before. Though not a sales success in its time, the Nomad is the undisputed star of the fabled “Tri-Five” Chevy era.

The unique body was highlighted by two hardtop-style frameless doors, a steeply slanted tailgate accented by seven chrome strips that Nomad cognoscenti refer to as “bananas.” Nine grooved strakes, starting just aft of the rakishly sloped b-pillars with the end of the b-pillars, run transversely across the roof. Combined with the “bananas,” these yielded an effect similar to that of an illustrator’s speed lines. The rear quarter windows slide open for ventilation and wrap around to meet the top of the tailgate. Even at a standstill, especially when viewed in three-quarter rear profile, Nomads look fast. Inside, things are just the same as any Bel Air of that vintage, save for the chrome strips embedded in the headliner that mirror the roof grooves.

Of course, as with all ’55-’57 Chevys, there’s lots to love about Nomad from a drivetrain point of view. The range of engines includes the trusty “stovebolt” six and the lightweight, new-for-’55, small block V-8 that could be had with an optional power pack combining dual exhausts and a four barrel carburetor the first year. The ante was upped in ’56 with a dual four-barrel option and capped in ’57 with a fuel-injected version – it was the first American car that offered one horsepower per cubic inch. Transmissions choices range from manual three-on-the tree to 2-seed Powerglide with Turboglide debuting in ’57. These days, it’s quite common to install a contemporary 350 “crate motor” which can be tweaked to the limits of one’s imagination and resources.

The concept of a sporty station wagon (although they’re invariably called something else) seems to have been reborn with new models like the Dodge Magnum, Lexus IS 300 and Audi S4. Nomad’s two-door hardtop styling, while offering less utility, trumps all of these modern pretenders in terms of sporty swagger. Nomad recalls the best of 1950s culture when rock and roll was young and smoking made you look cool. Nomad is still the only station wagon that’s arguable sexier than – and almost as costly as – its convertible equivalent. Find a clean one or even a ratted-out version and, even if you don’t smoke, roll a pack of Luckys in the sleeve of your white t-shirt and American Graffiti-era nirvana can be yours. Besides, you can haul lots of stuff in the back because, lest we fail to mention this oft-ignored fact, it’s actually a station wagon.

What to Pay: $25,000 – $42,000. Expect to pay an average of 20 percent less for 6-cylinder cars, while the purchase premium on “fuelies” can run as high as 50 percent. Sorry, all the bargains are gone; you’d most likely be able get a hardtop or, in select cases, even a convertible for less.

Body Styles: Two-door, six-passenger station wagon

Production Figures: 23,167. The lowest production year was 1957, which is also the most sought after in a case of basic supply-and-demand economics at work and play.

Watch Out For: leaky, ill fitting tailgate; rust, especially in tire well

Nomad Clubs

Parts, etc.

Read On

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