Last week, I delved into my dream classic car from the Japanese market, the 1971 ‘Hakosuka’ GT-R from Nissan. Continuing into week two of my four-week dream car History Hits series, we move east to the US of A, and the plethora of beloved classic cars my fine country has produced. My choice may be viewed as an odd one, but it is the ultimate version of a car I have always loved: The Tri-Five Chevy’s.
By ‘ultimate version’ I am actually speaking of a completely different model that often gets lumped in with the Bel Air model-line that comprises the beloved Tri-Five; the name comes from the three years of production, from 1955 to 1957. The model I am particularly lustful for is the two-door station wagon variant built on the Chevrolet Bel Air chassis, the Chevrolet Nomad.
The Nomad name was introduced in 1954, as a concept car shown at GM’s own Motorama automotive show. Based on a contemporary Corvette, the Nomad was a 6-seat station wagon ‘shooting break’ with Corvette styling and running gear—including the inline-6. Despite being labeled as one of the dream cars of GM designer and executive Harley Earl, the Corvette-based Nomad would not come to fruition.
Despite this, the concept was so well received that GM did build a Nomad for the next production year, 1955, instead based atop the new Chevrolet chassis, also underpinning the new-for-1955 Bel Air. Despite never being officially associated with the Bel Air nameplate, many people will recognize the front end, and label the Nomad the ‘Bel Air Station Wagon.
The Bel-Air-similar Nomad followed the formula laid down by Ford with their 1950’s Country Squire model line of station wagons. Namely, the Nomad was billed as a top-tier model by Chevrolet, coming with such standard features as full-interior carpeting, as well as styling cues taken from the much-loved concept Nomad. These styling flourishes—the B-pillar design and the rear chrome strakes on the tailgate—were carried into production by Harley Earl, who so loved the concept.
As a top-tier model, the Nomad came solely with the just-introduced Chevy small block. Depending on options, this engine would produce either 160hp, 180hp, or later in the ‘55 model year, 195hp. Buyers had a few selections when it came to transmissions to send the power through; a ‘three on the tree’ Synchro-Mesh transmission was standard, with an optional Overdrive to help highway cruising. For the real cruiser, a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission was an option.
The ’55 Chevy Nomad was the most visually unique Nomad model from its Bel Air brethren, compared to the models that followed. Not only did the ’55 feature such concept car cues as the rear chrome spears, the rear-quarter panels were unique to the Nomad, whereas starting in ’56 Bel Air panels were used. This unique panel allows for a pillarless-seeming (there is a tiny one), wrap-around, rear windows. This openness—while questionable in its safety—is stylistically perfect to my eyes.
As this is an article on my dream cars, I should admit that my dream ’55 Nomad wouldn’t be a perfect, factory stock example. Even the top-dog 195hp engine just wouldn’t cut it for me: I would shove the biggest, baddest Chevrolet V8 I could fit into the engine bay. Sorry purists, but I would then proceed to rip out all of the stock suspension, brakes, and wheels, and build everything up to be a modern Bruiser. If you are going to dream, might as well dream big, eh? For me, I have loved the styling of ’55 and ’56 Chevy’s, and having a two-door station wagon variant of one couldn’t sound cooler to me.
Over the years, the Nomad would become less and less unique. By the third generation of the 70’s, the Nomad had gone from a top trim level to the very bottom, being labeled a Chevelle. To cement the Nomad’s fall from the automotive heights, the Nomad nameplate finished its days as a trim-level on Chevy Vans. It is for these reasons—the uniqueness, the quality, and the pedigree—that I specifically want a ’55 Chevrolet Nomad.
What is your dream classic car from America? Anything 25 years or older! If you liked the article don’t forget to hit the like button and share the articles with your friends. The website has seen continuous growth, so you readers out there are doing your job. Thank you! Stay tuned next Monday for my dream European/UK car.
I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.