Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Classic 1955, 1956, 1957 Chevrolet Nomad History

Classic 1955, 1956, 1957

Chevrolet Nomad History

  -Alan Arnell

One of the best beloved Tri Five Chevys ever is the Chevy Nomad.  The Nomad was a station wagon model that was sold on and off from 1955 until 1972.  Sadly, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the Nomad was a Chevy Van trim package.  We will ignore that error in judgement.

In the world of wanting, selling and buying Tri Fives Chevys the Bel Air 2-door hard tops are at the top of the pyramid.  However a Nomad is a close second in the like time line.  I will not go out on a limb when I say that the prettiest wagon ever made was the Nomad.  

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General Motors in the mid 1950’s had Harley Earl.  He was a great design manager and was a huge part of making the Tri Fives such classics.  In the design of the Nomad, Clare MacKichan and Carl Renner were the main people in the actual design of the Nomad.  As almost a lark the Nomad duo made a sketch of a two door Sport Wagon.

At that time the Corvette design was a big hit. They drew up a Corvette as a wagon.  With Harley Earl on board a station wagon version of a Corvette concept car was made for the 1954 Motorama.  

Useless fact: How did the station wagon get its name.  When trains came into the station luggage was carried on wagons.  After the introduction of automobiles into the movement luggage a special car was developed for that purpose.  You did not want to ride in a truck to a classy hotel now would you?  Since you rode in these cars from the railroad station to your final destination, the cars were coined as Station Wagons.  Watch the movie “White Christmas.” When the 4 main characters are picked up at the train station in Pine Tree, Vermont they were picked up in a 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe Woody Station Wagon.

The youth market was big in the mid 50’s.  So all Chevys in 1955 in one way or another was made sporty for the youth market. Thus called the “Hot One.” So, a sports station was not really out of left field.  The Corvette wagon was such a big hit the marketers and designers took the concept to a more workable product.  

Harley Earl recognized that the Corvette wagon’s roof line would look great on lower body lines of a 1955 Chevy. Things were able to move fast in those days.  Harley Earl told MacKichan to adapt its roofline to the ‘55 passenger car and that he needed it done in two days!  The Corvette wagon’s top being made of fireglass was cut off stretched out and put on a 55’s lower body.  

MacKichan later wrote, “1955 Chevrolet lower body,... the hardtop front-door glass framing, forward-sloping rear quarters, wide 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 remarkable good translation from the dream car.”

One major difference done in the production run vs. the concept car was the use of a conventional liftgate instead of the concepts car’s drop down tailgate window.  And, according to my friends in the Dallas Area Classic Chevy Club all Nomad’s rear windows leak.  There is nothing you can do about that sad fact.

The Nomad had a relatively short wheelbase and overall length like as the coupes, sedans and station wagons of the same time frame.  

At first glance the Nomad looked like all the other wagons in the Chevrolet product line.  However the ‘55 Nomad after the cowl was in reality the most expensive Chevy to produce.  A whopping $265 more than the hot similarly equipped Bel Air Convertible in 1955.  

All in all, the lack of four doors kept traditional wagon buyers away from buying the Nomad.   Besides water leakage there were also complaints that the vast rear slanted window could make for a hot car.  Exhaust fumes had a tendency to leak through the rear tailgate especially with the window open.  The Nomad was the least popular Chevy in 1955.

Despite less than expected sales Chevrolet stuck with the concept and made a 1956 model.  However, some price cutting was done to the Nomad.  Changes for the ‘56 was to not have a unique seat pattern, but to incorporated the standard Bel Air hardtop pattern.  The ‘56 V-model did have a small chrome “V” below each tail lamp vs. the non nomad that only a large “V” on the trunk lid or tail gate.

The rear-quarter “slash” molding was made to match the B-pillar’s  unique angle in 1956.  

Even with the changes, the Nomad still costed $138 more, thus sales were not stellar. Not making its sales goal of 10,000 units in 1955 and 56 prompted Chevrolet to suspend sales in 1958.

Yet, Nomad lovers were blessed with a 1957 nomad.  The ‘57 model year retained the good parts of its predecessors and passenger models. Yet, designers could not get the price down as the ‘57 Nomad was $150 more in 1957.  The Nomad in ‘57 saw its lowest production of units of the Tri Five era.  Trim on the Nomad was basically stock Bel Air.  The only difference was the Nomad script and small gold “V” on the V-8’s tail gates.   

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The Nomad’s specification for 1955 were either a 6-cylinder 235.5 cid at 123/136 bhp or a V-8 cylinder engine with 265 cid at 180 bhp with a power pack option.  Transmissions offered were either a 3-speed manual; overdrive, 2-speed power-glide.  The wheelbase was 115 inches.  Top speed was stated as 120 but really 90 mph.  A turbo-glide and a 283 V-eight engine was offered.

So you ask, why is the Chevy Nomad so popular and valuable?  It had a small production run compared to other Tri Five Chevys,  that could make it worth more, the old supply and demand thing, but the real reason is for the same reasons in

“Ode to the Fins” LINK.  The real reason is because people love the Classic Nomad Tri Five Nomad.

From Ode to the Fins: “What makes the Tri-Five Chevy the car which set the pace for all other older cars? Why has this car received so much attention and recognition, even more than the 1957 Ford, which out sold the '57 Chevy? Well if you don't know by now, you may never know. Everyone knows that the '57 Chevy is the greatest general use passenger car (This man's opinion) of all time is because of its styling, engineering, performance and the millions of people like you and me that love the fabulous 1957 Classic Chevy.”


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