story by Don Shollenbarger, photos by Michael B. Kelly
It’s hard for me to tell about the Nomad without telling that my love of cars started back in 1956 when I was 14 years old and bought my first vehicle, a 1941 Ford pickup, for $125. In 1963, when I got drafted, I had a 1955 Chevy 210 with a Pontiac engine. My birthday present to Nancy a week after we got married in 1967 was a paint job on the ‘30 Model A hot rod that I had been working on during our whole engagement. So you can see that she has had to be very patient putting up with my “other love” all these years!
After a 2-1/2 year frame-off restoration and modification of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air two-door post was completed in November of 1995, we have driven it for 15 years, all over the country. We have around 87,000 miles on it.
I traded a 1957 Bel Air two-door post for the Nomad in 2000. I never have been able to figure out who got the worse end of the deal. The Nomad was a rust bucket, but I didn’t want to fix up another ‘57. I had to replace the whole floor pan and about 6-8 inches of the lower part of all the inner panels. I also eliminated the spare tire well. At that point I decided to channel the body two inches. All the door skins and bottoms of the doors had to be replaced, along with both quarter panels and rocker panels.
At that time, tailgate skins weren’t available, so I took two tailgates and made one. By then I was on a roll and decided to put hidden hinges on the tailgate and modify it so the glass would electrically roll down into the tailgate. What a challenge! I also put a left side taillight on the right side to open up for a power cut-off switch. My snowball had begun.
The running gear consists of a long block LS 5.3 (327 cubic inches) with Corvette accessories, Corvette manifolds, stainless steel pipes and Flowmaster mufflers. The 4L60E transmission is out of a 2000 Silverado pickup. The rear end is a Ford 8.8 with 3.55:1 gears and triangulated four-bar rear suspension with coil overs. It also has a square tubing front clip with G-body suspension, KYB shocks, and disc brakes all around.
I shaved all the handles and locks, emblems and hood trim, and eliminated the cowl grill and vent windows. The hood latches are Mercedes. The custom metal dash was modified to accept a 2000 Camaro instrument cluster. It has ‘89 Thunderbird bucket seats, the tilt column was donated by a ‘95 Pontiac, the modified console is from a Jaguar, and the shifter from an ‘02 Saturn. The air conditioner is from Vintage Air with rear seat air in the right quarter panel. The inside rear view mirror has temperature and compass indicators, one of the few things that Nancy had an input on.
After two major surgeries, one in 2005 and another in 2007, it took me a while each time to remember where I’d left off working on it.
We had a hard time finding the right colors even though we knew the scheme that we wanted. We visited a lot of dealership car lots. Salesmen weren’t too happy when we told them we were just looking at colors for our classic car! We ended up with late model Corvette Red Jewel and Mercedes Silver, accented by REV chrome 5-spoke rims. The colors were the other thing that Nancy had an input on. (She had become very good at writing checks and paying the monthly credit card bills, though. She did give me static at times, but she knew what I was like when she married me!).
When we trailered the Nomad to the Chevrolet Nomad Association show in Rapid City, South Dakota in July of 2010 and got second place in the ‘55-56-57 Custom Trailered class, it had been driven only four blocks and really wasn’t finished to our satisfaction. Considering everything, we were very pleased. After returning home, we had some reupholstering done to the gray leather and vinyl interior, and put on a chrome alternator.
After word got out at the convention about the hidden third brake light that can only be seen when the brake lights are lit, I spent a lot of time showing it to people. I built it so it blends right into the roof contour and the paint.
I was still working when I built our ‘57 in 2-1/2 years. Now that I’ve been retired since 2002, it’s taken me over six years, on and off, to finish the Nomad, and I’m still putting more finishing touches on it!
I couldn’t have done as much as I did if it weren’t for two very good friends, John Santo and Allen Rice. They helped solve several very detailed mechanical and electrical problems that I had. Randy Irwin, from Eckler’s Classic Chevy, was able to come up with the answer to solve my problem with the brakes. Friends are really a blessing. We’ve always said that there are no better friends to have than car friends! CN