(originally posted 8/23/2011) As if Chevy wasn’t generous enough in gracing the autosphere with its superb new 1955s, it topped it with an unexpected boon, the Nomad. Not nearly as practical as the regular wagon, but that’s not what it was about, by any stretch. This was a sports wagon, the first, really, and a car with which to one-up the neighbors, even if they drove a Buick. And in doing so, the Nomad helped collapse the whole Sloanian GM hierarchy, which had already been tottering ever since WW2.
This 1955 ad is both prescient and ironic, since I shot this Nomad at a little local Concours. It’s not for the Nomad exactly, but it makes its point, all too well. Chevys were not going to be the dowdy little poor sisters anymore. And the Nomad drove home that point perfectly.
And here’s the same slogan applied to the Nomad itself.
It was one of those rare cases where a GM Motorama show car became available at your friendly local dealer. Maybe that’s why the 1955’s were called “Motoramic”. The 1954 Corvette Nomad Sport Wagon sat on the old 1954 Chevy frame, and of course had a Corvette-like front clip. But other than that, the production 1955 Nomad was a quite faithful execution of a concept that had been totally untried, anywhere in the world, for that matter. A sports wagon?
It started at $2608; that was more than a Buick Century Riviera hardtop coupe. Calling Mr. Sloan! And one equipped with the excellent new V8, automatic, and a few other amenities quickly vaulted a Nomad’s price above $3,000, a threshold into the mid-upper regions. 1955 Cadillacs started at $3800.
The Nomad got its own distinct upholstery, one that would leave a nice pattern on bare thighs. That was probably a status symbol in its own right: Nomad cellulite.
Needless to say, I’ve spent too much time deciding what my dream ’55 Chevy would be. Years ago, I saw a photo of a stark, all-white ’55 Nomad, devoid of all the additional chrome doo-dads that Nomad owners are so prone to ruining the clean lines of their Nomads with. I thought for sure I could find it, but can’t; this is as close as it gets. I’ll have it with the 195 hp Power-Pak V8, three-speed manual and overdrive. Nothing else could improve it further…except blackwalls and dog dish hubcaps. On second thought, maybe the whitewalls can stay…
But what wasn’t staying anymore was the clearly-defined pecking order Alfred Sloan had imposed on the unruly collection of essentially-independent car makers that constituted GM in the 1910s and early 20s. But that was a different era in so many ways, where each brand could be defined quite precisely by its price. And each brand produced essentially one or two lines of cars, all passenger cars with very little differentiation.
This all started to crumble with the Depression, as the wealthy lost much of what defined them during the go-go twenties. The post WW2 environment was marked by a tremendous rise in living standards for the average American and an incremental top income tax rate of 91% for the high-earners. And cars like the Nomad and Buick’s Special quickly blurred what had once been a clear structure into a free-for-all.