Last month, we went on a Sunday outing about 100km away from Tokyo. I was ticked off that day, because I had seen a very nice and very old car, but failed to document it. I’m pretty sure it was a 1946 Chevrolet six-light sedan. It pulled away from the stop light just as we came out of the train station. I was unable to catch up with it, of course. I thought: “Damn it, that was the CC that I was supposed to catch today and I missed it by a whisker. I’ll never be able to top this.”
I was resigned to having let slip the oldest car I had ever seen in motion in Japan. Nothing could be done, so I moved on with my family activities. About half an hour later, I was taking the pictures you’re seeing now. One should never underestimate the power of random chance.
We’ve had plenty of posts on the 1957 Chevrolets on CC, but never the Nomad, except fleetingly. And this is anything but a fleet Chevy. It’s one of the rarest variants of the breed – about 6500 were made, a mere drop in an ocean of over a million and a half ’57 Chevys.
The historical background of the Tri-Five Nomads was covered with customary eloquence by Paul in his ’55 Nomad post, which was re-run fairly recently, so I’ll spare myself the embarrassment of trying to reinvent the wheel (or rather rewrite the Bible). Suffice to say that the Nomad nameplate survived long after the two-door “sports wagon,” a Tri-Five exclusive, went out of production. It would have been hard for GM to justify making a product as niche as this for more than a single generation.
I suppose the concept never really disappeared after Chevrolet were done with it, because it was not really that novel an idea. European coachbuilders had been making shooting brakes for a while before the Nomad came to be – and that tradition continued on. The Nomad was just the first mass-market shooting brake, coincidentally available with the mighty SBC, with optional fuel injection and all. Or if you really wished to get the fanciest model with the weakest engine for some nonsensical reason, you could stick the with the trusted old Stovebolt six.
About 22,000 Bel-Air Nomads were made in three model years. But GM was a high volume producer and the Chevrolet division already had the Corvette as a halo car, so the Nomad was sacrificed on the altar of profitability. It’s sad, but probably inevitable. Similarly inevitably, the Nomad I happened to bump into had stupid donk wheels and a lowered suspension. A quick Google image search showed that a depressingly high number of 1957 Nomads are similarly afflicted. Mercifully, the owner’s customizing zeal seems to have petered out after that. Well, externally anyway – there were a few additional surprises inside.
The extra chrome on the instrument cluster is really not needed, but it’s just a minor detail. That console with those cupholders isn’t great either, but the desire to drink and drive is so deeply rooted in the 21st Century driver that it just cannot be denied. The steering wheel, along with the column and gear selector, look all kinds of wrong too, pointing to a more serious problem.
Who knows what’s lurking under the hood? Some huge mutant V8 mated to a fairly recent 4-speed auto, probably. Or a Nissan Diesel straight six – you know, Bangkok style. I get that originality was not the number one concern of the person who owns this Nomad, but it’s still a crying shame that one of the more usable ‘50s cars was gutted like that. Aside from all that though, this car’s interior is very nice.
The lack of heart does not imply that this car has no soul. I’m no Tri-Five expert, but the majority of this Nomad looks as superb as any 1957 Bel Air I’ve ever laid eyes on, with the two surface-to-surface missiles up front at the ready, the fins with afterburners at the other end, the distinctive side sweep and trim… Everyone is there, it’s a real party atmosphere.
Using certain angles and close-ups, I could get momentarily lost in the flashy detailing and be blinded by the generous chrome trim contrasting with the cliché-red body, despite having my sunglasses on. The more I saw this thing, the less I could stomach it.
Yes, these are rare cars – even more so on this side of the Pacific. And yes, ’57 Chevrolets are objectively iconic, one of the best designs of the decade. But the combination of the over-restored body, the incredibly collectible nature of the variant, the aggressively ugly wheels and the sneakily modernized engine / transmission were all a bit much.
The ‘46 sedan I had a glimpse of earlier that Sunday was mildly modified, as far as I could tell – no silly wheels though, which is a plus. With a ‘40s car, I could understand the need to drop a more modern engine and tinker with the suspension a bit, maybe. This Nomad though, to me, goes beyond my admittedly very limited tolerance for restomods. Besides, the very notion of an “exclusive” Chevrolet, which is what the 1955-57 Nomads are, is kind of an oxymoron, Corvette excepted. I’d take my ’57 Chevy as a bone-stock well-worn black 210 four-door over this red Nomad any day of the week.
I’m with you. A sedan or 4 door wagon in an unpopular color would be so much more interesting. Powertrain upgrades are almost expected in these. Everyone loves the idea of an old car and the style of an old car, but nobody wants a 283/Powerglide in an old car. The Tim Toolman Taylor approach of “more power!” takes over. And the stock suspension is no good, so we have to gut and replace that too. Which takes care of the slow 6 turn lock-to-lock steering gear.
If I were to own a 57 Chevy I would enjoy the 57 Chevy-ness of it. Which includes slow steering, wallowy suspension and a crude driving experience. If you want a 70 Camaro or a 94 Impala SS then get yourself one.
Down the street from me is a mid-century modern house that was designed by a regionally semi-famous architect. It was neglected by an elderly owner and in need of a deep and expensive rescue. Someone bought it and has been slowly working on it. Then last week I saw why all the heavy equipment had been digging – they are sticking a damned garage onto the front like a giant wart. It’s not my house and certainly not my money, but it saddens me that everyone needs to go all “Burger King” on a rare or unique item and demand it “your way” rather than appreciating it for what it is. Rant over. Sadness begins.
I’m no fan of restomods, be they automotive or architectural, but I’m somewhat more forgiving of the automotive ones.
Any time I come across something about a Nomad I recall being about 10 years old in 1977ish and going with my father on his Saturday morning “Bullshit Parade” as my mother referred to it. (He was an insurance agent, and he spent Saturday mornings riding around stopping at this or that business to chew the fat, drink coffee and sometimes pick up a check or get some papers signed.) Anyway, one of our stops was a local body shop owned by one of his cronies, and I remember him pointing out a Nomad the guy owned that was kind of moldering away. His comment as we backed out of the side lot was, “See that? It’s a ’57 Nomad. That could be worth a fortune one of these days, but it’s sitting there going to shit.” He didn’t mince words, but as a kid into cars I remembered that spotting.
So when I see something like this (or a ’50 Ford delivery truck I happened across this weekend) restomodded I just prefer to think it originated as somebody’s neglected “someday” project that was rescued from oblivion.
Mid Century architecture, or Victorian, or Art Deco, that’s been “modernized” in a less than respectful way though? Nope. A most heinous crime. Period.
24 years ago, I visited my birthplace – Newburgh, New York – and stopped by to have a look at St Lukes Hospital where I was born in 1956.
On my birth certificate is a picture, showing a 3 or 4 story Victorian-era masonry building, with a left and right wing.
Imagine my shock in 1996, seeing two thirds of the original building, now sprouting at a 45 degree angle from what had been the left-wing, a giant modern brick box – looking very much like a giant cube-shaped tumor!
I wonder if anyone protested when that thing went up.
Probably not, as Newburgh’s been economically devastated for decades and getting a new hospital wing, no matter how ugly, was probably quite an accomplishment!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Completely agree on the restomod thing. While I understand the basic impetus behind this phenomenon – to make an old car more drivable and, thus, enjoyable – most restomoded old cars still don’t get driven much other than to a local car show or coffee & cars event. So, what’s the point?
Plus, you spend all that money on big power and suspension upgrades and at the end you still have a 50 or 60 year old flexi-flyer chassis with power and road holding potential it was never designed for. In essence, these are all show and little go.
And I can’t stand modern 18″ rims with ultra low profile tires on classic cars. They just don’t look right. Please, can we put an end to all this madness and go back to classic cars with a period-correct look, as the Detroit car gods intended?
I agree and disagree on some points. Definitely with you on the never driven to the car show front, I have never once seen a high quality restomod with rubber band tires and no ground clearance in any other environment. The thing I don’t like about this style custom is isn’t the whole point of souping up an old car the thrill of cheap speed? Building something faster than the expensive new high tech car another person simply signed the papers to get? This thing has $2500 billet wheels with $300ea tires! You can’t even peel out in comfort with this.
Where I disagree is throwing power and handling at an old unengineered chassis is quite fun. Maybe isn’t the most composed car or one to set lap records at a track but the sensations are unparalleled, they feel faster and more exciting than something engineered to stay composed and isolate harshness from the driver.
I don’t know about not seeing a vehicle like this on the road. Sure they certainly aren’t common, but I do see vehicles with similar modifications out on the roads on sunny weekends. This year more than ever, which I’m sure is a byproduct of the lack of shows to take the car to.
Fun maybe, but it’s still throwing good money down a rat hole. Most of the suspension and chassis bits people throw on these aren’t well engineered to begin with and they get slapped on without any thought to how everything will work together as a system. As a result the car usually drives and rides like crap, with horrendous NVH (ahem…rubber band tires + solid bushings). Definitely not “like a modern car.”
Hey, a person can do what they want with their car and their money, and Lord knows I’m as guilty as anybody of wasting beau coup dineros over the years on ultimately pointless car mods. It is fun, I’ll give you that. That is the point, after all.
When restomods are being done for investment purposes I agree with you, but for many of us die hard hobbiests NVH isn’t necessarily a bad thing and not being like a modern car is precisely the appeal of old cars.
I absolutely love that interior-the colors are fantastic-why can’t today’s cars have an interior like that instead of generic gray?
Don’t forget generic beige and black!
Hump consoles were fairly common aftermarket gadgets in the ’50s, but they wouldn’t have included cupholders.
I don’t know why Detroit was so slow to adopt cupholders. Even in the ’50s, not everyone smoked, but everyone enjoyed a cup of coffee on the way to work or a Coke from a drivein. There was never a place to put a glass or a cup. The glovebox door had useless indentations, which only guaranteed spillage if you tried to use them.
Well said and I agree about this ’57 Nomad.
Unfortunately way to many have been re-painted in just one color. Red, black, even orange seem likely candidates for the resto-mod. To my mind any Nomad should be a two tone. A local collector, now deceased, kept a bone stock ’57 in silver and white with the red interior. I thought it was a subtle and maybe unusual exterior scheme for a Nomad. It was quite attractive and had zero “improvements”.
If it has to be a Nomad, my preference is a ’56 in crocus yellow and laurel green but a ’56 Ford Parklane is a fine blue oval alternative.
Having owned a ’56 Chevy 150 2 dr sedan for 20 years I can testify to the pathetic suspension and “Barney Rubble” brakes. Vague armstrong steering……uh, yup! I bought mine 1 Fen, ’70 and 2 weeks later had to find a replacement for its instantly kaput 6. A ’66 275 hp 327 went in. Aftermarket wheels with modern tires went on: that helped on L.A.’s freeway system.
My ’56 never had the ma$$ive amount of moola lavished on it that this Nomad had, because I was a “poor” student going to ACCD. My ’56 was the oldest car in the student lot while at Art Center; which sort of surprised me given the College rep for car design. The ’56 was my daily driver, but she did get new paint plus other odds and ends. The years rolled by and family priorities came before the ol ’56. Despite NOT being a show car, I did have 20 years of enjoyable ownership with the old girl…..:) My regret, for a long time, was that I did sell her. She was simple enough so I could do most of the needed work on her by myself!! Hard to complain about that……DFO
As this appears to be two door wagon day on CC, I will just throw out there that there is a mid ’60s Chevelle two door wagon (’65 and ’66?), no special name or badging, with all the same exterior proportions, without most of the bling and over-the-top styling. The early Chevelle was sort of a reboot of the more boxy and sedately styled ’55, updated to the ’60s. The Chevelle two door wagons are not common at all, but don’t get priced up like these Nomads do.
I’m a big fan of the ’55 Nomad (unmolested). But the ’57 is too gaudy, and lost the distinctive big rear wheel openings of the ’55-’56. I’ve never been a fan of the ’57 restyle, although I respect its capabilities.
But this? Yuck. Seen it way too many times.
Having very rarely seen a full-on side view of one of these, I have to say that I don’t care for the proportions – the greenhouse seems too short or the fins too long; everything after the rear glass seems to droop.
Like another commentor, I too spied my first one of these in 1977. I was mowing lawns for the Summer at Heritage Village in Southbury, CT – the (claimed) very first luxury condo retirement community. A resident there had a ’57 two-tone Nomad in her garage with the door open. She was outside and I complemented her on her car. She said her and her late husband were the original owners and it had 10k miles on the odometer. I still wonder where that car ended up.
My brother’s 98 y.o. MIL has lived there since 1987. It was designed by a California architect, so some things aren’t made for CT winters, like plumbing in outside walls and electric-resistance heat coming from the ceilings. There are some pretty steep hills which could tax an old car and old drivers.
Jeez people so much hate or at least dislike for this. Yeah the wheels are a bit large, but the 5 spoke style and polished rim just look right on a Tri-Five like they have for 60 years. Plus they just bolt on and could be changed in under an hour.
Chances are this was well beyond ever being a numbers matching restoration 50 years ago. Chances are the original engine and trans were long gone by 1970 after years of just being a old, mostly used up, car.
In the end a proper restoration would give you a car that isn’t worth the really big bucks since it is unlikely it would have been a numbers matching car but not something you can really drive and enjoy trouble free on a regular basis. So it would spend most of its life sitting inside, under cover, rarely leaving the garage.
The interior looks stock in most respects, only the power windows, extra chrome and steering column letting on that it isn’t stock, and only people in the know would notice that.
So yeah way better than an over restored trailer queen, that doesn’t get out and be enjoyed by driving it, like it was intended. To quote Paul “Yuck, Seen that way to many times.”
I mostly agree with you. Most sixty-plus year old cars are missing so much original content that to me a faithful restoration and a resto-mod are really six of one; half a dozen of the other – a mostly new car. Better to make it a bit more drivable and comfortable, and not so valuable that you can’t drive it anywhere, so you can drive it and enjoy it. It’s like all those classic Les Paul and Stratocaster guitars that are too valuable to play and are locked away in vaults, instead of being on the road with a real musician who can make them scream like God intended.
Seriously. I mean I have never been a fan of the trend of 18” wheels on old cars either but I’m not so much of a snob that I’ll look away in disgust if I saw this among the sea of greyscale crossovers.
+1 Alan, and the cruel irony of those highly collectible and hoarded away vintage Strats and Les Pauls is the players who made them so collectible through their fame more often than not modified them to better fit their needs for sound and stand up to the rigors of touring, often having higher output pickups installed, bigger frets, removing the pickguard and pickup covers, and having more precise tuners added.
And like old cars things break or wear out and just need to be replaced. Just like old cars there came a time when original parts were no longer available, so the newer equivalent was installed to keep it on the road. If that new part is also better that what was originally available, then great.
Yeah, people really take for granted the huge reproduction industry for popular classics like these, without them retrofitting factory or aftermarket components from other vehicles would be the norm in order to keep them on the road, many of which would unintentionally be upgrades. Most classic American cars in Cuba are further from original than restomods are because of this reason, their lack of access to the industry is why we have seen these odd component mishmashes sourced from a motley crew of iron curtain sympathetic makes. They fit the CurbsideClassic aesthetic better than a high end restomod, but the driving experience is just as far removed from it was in the 50s.
While I have my standards, I’d definitely take this car if it was given to me.
Then I’d sell it and buy an unrestored classic.
Since a long-time friend has owned a 1955 Chevy Nomad for a half century, the topic comes up in conversation at times. That caused me to take a look at the larger picture of that unique body shared with Pontiac. The total production for the three years of Nomads and Safaris was 29,186 cars, divided two-thirds Nomads (20,092), one-third Safaris (9,094). The conclusion I draw is production planned 30,000 sets of stampings and components to build these cars as well as meet the replacement parts requirements for the three-five years demand for such that would arise in the field.
Just another 57 Chev to me now though I do enjoy seeing the odd stock or restorted one but these big wheel rubber band tyred resale red jalopies nope not interested I must be getting old.
Yes, they are rare, but personally I’d never go in a Nomad that wasn’t substantially modified. They had a some bad habits, and some bad crashes.
I LOVE this car. It’s cartoony enough in stock form, but I think this takes it to Hot Wheels levels. The wheels are good, but I love the low stance, I love the extra chrome on the dash, and the cupholder setup looks like a nice idea for long drives.
Then again, I’m also a fan of shakotan cars. I like the weird and wild stuff. With that said, here’s a stock Bel Air to soothe your burning retinas.