Pasteiner’s passion: Not a replica, but a tribute to the 1954 Corvette concept car

1954 Corvette Nomad

It was 1954, and things were looking up in the U.S. We had turned back the axis powers in WWII nearly a decade prior, and the conflict in Korea was over (if not fully resolved). Americans were ready for the good life, and an energized General Motors was eager to provide it.

With four of America’s top-selling cars wearing GM brand badges, the automaker celebrated sweet success with a lavish Motorama exhibit at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. To whet the public's appetite for things to come, the manufacturing giant displayed the kitchen of tomorrow, complete with Frigidaire appliances, and shiny new 1954 automobiles and futuristic concept cars—each with a name that would eventually appear on a showroom model: Firebird, Cutlass, Bonneville, Wildcat, El Camino, and Nomad.

Nomad was the oddball of the group. Rather than a sedan-based station wagon that would have teased the vehicle arriving soon at Chevrolet dealerships, Nomad was a Corvette wagon—a Harley Earl design exercise that turned heads and raised eyebrows. Before another year had passed, the more conventional Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad Wagon went on sale, and the Corvette one-off was forgotten.

Steve Pasteiner and retired GM Chief Designer Wayne Kady talk cars
Paul Stenquist
Steve Pasteiner is best known to enthusiasts as the owner of Auto Zone Hobbies on metro Detroit's Woodward Avenue and the host of "Parking at Pasteiner's" cars and coffee events. Here he and retired GM Chief Designer Wayne Kady talk cars at a 2015 gathering.

But Steve Pasteiner didn’t forget. A youngster in 1954, he was already developing a bank of design knowledge that would come to include memories of numerous concept cars, including the Motorama Nomad. An automotive designer by trade and a car lover by passion, Pasteiner would go on to shape Chevys and Buicks at GM for 23 years before striking out on his own in 1989. His business, Advanced Automotive Technologies (AAT), became a success, and he built prototypes for the automakers, restored classics, and did design work for automakers and suppliers. He continues to this day.

A fan of early Corvettes, Pasteiner took notice in late 2002 when GM talked about creating C5 Corvettes styled to resemble the 1953 originals, as part of the car’s 50th anniversary celebration. But before the project could get off the ground, GM dropped the ball. Pasteiner was there to pick it up, and he set up a production facility in suburban Rochester Hills, Michigan, where he could modify C5s to look like Granddad’s Corvette.

He went to work building them, employing 20 people at one point. He eventually produced and sold 200 faux ’53 Corvette roadsters. One buyer from Arizona asked Pasteiner if he could build a wagon version of the replica Corvette, in the style of the 1954 Motorama concept car. Since he had already produced most of the parts needed to transform a C5 into a facsimile of the ’Vette Nomad, he put petal to the metal and built it.

“I eventually built 14 Nomad ’Vettes,” Pasteiner says. “Sold 13, and I think they’re all still out there. I had to have proof of insurance to transfer title to the buyers, and since most were collectors, a lot of the cars were Hagerty insured at delivery.”

The nose of the Pasteiner Nomad is a close copy of the C1 Corvette front end.
The C5 engine of all of Pasteiner’s cars received special red covers.
The interior is largely standard-issue C5, but the shocking red upholstery is a Pasteiner plus.
The rear treatment incorporates taillights and bumper treatment that mimic the early Vettes. Note the exhaust port at the lower edge of the rear quarter panel, an authentic touch that requires some extensive exhaust system plumbing work.

Sales were brisk, but Pasteiner couldn’t bear to part with every last Nomad, so he kept one for himself. It’s been his daily driver ever since, and although it now shows 100,000 miles on the clock, it remains a beauty. The shape is unmistakably Nomad, right down to chrome strips on the rear. The Vette wagon isn’t just for looks, either; it has a cargo area, with a clamshell-style lifting roof and rear window.

Under the hood is Chevy’s 350-horsepower LS1 engine, putting out about 200 ponies more than the inline-six that powered the Motorama Nomad. Red engine covers, produced for the AAT 1953 ’Vette replicas, distinguish it from a C5 engine compartment.

The passenger cabin is blindingly red, a color that wasn’t even offered in the C5. The upholstery in Pasteiner’s car is well-worn through 14 years of use. The exterior evokes the concept car’s styling cues, including the tailgate chrome strips, the ’53 Corvette nose, and even the quarter-panel-exiting exhaust. But the Pasteiner replica retains the C5’s curved flanks, and the top has a chopped look that keeps things in sports car proportion. Unusual perhaps, but a show-stopper.

“I enjoy it,” Pasteiner says. “I’ve taken it to Florida and all over the country. People pull up alongside it and take photos with their phone. It’s fun to drive, it’s useful, and it turns heads.” More than 60 years have passed since the Nomad made a brief appearance at the Waldorf Astoria, but for Pasteiner, the Corvette wagon lives on.