1955 CHEVY NOMAD BACKGROUND
In the early 1950s, the flamboyant Harley Earl was still running GMs styling department, and used GM’s famous Motorama Shows to push not only new products but exciting new concept cars on the public. One such car was the Nomad, introduced, prior to its tour with the Motorama traveling show, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1954. This first Nomad was actually based on a Corvette, previewing the trademark Nomad greenhouse that would sit atop every Tri-Five Nomad in production. Because of the place of its debut, this unique one-off show car became known as the “Waldorf Nomad”, and today it has become popular again for kit car builders. I’ve seen a couple at shows and they’re nice. Just months later, Chevy unveiled the production 1955 Nomad and that same greenhouse was now grafted on top of a standard 1955 Chevy passenger car body. The look was stunning, clean and uncluttered. And practical. Having owned a ’55 Nomad myself, I can attest to its space inside, and the utility of the cargo hold in back and the fold-down rear seats (although they didn’t fold flat). Unfortunately, the pricing of the Bel Air-only top-of-the-line model was higher than any other 1955 Chevrolet passenger car, only the Corvette was pricier, and the Nomad found few takers, barely 8,000. The following year, the styling changed along with the rest of the 1956 Chevy line, hotter engines were offered, and the styling juiced up, but sales actually fell. 1957 was the final year for the classic 2-door Nomad, which despite the extroverted fins and trim of the ’57s, declined in sales yet again. When the Nomad returned in 1958, it was in name only, slapped onto the top-of-the-line 4-door Biscayne station wagon. There would never be a unique, stand-alone Nomad body style again.
1955 CHEVY NOMAD STYLING CUES
First off, let’s talk about those styling cues that are common to all Tri-Five Nomads. The rakish greenhouse, that is the windows and roof, were the same from 1955 through 1957. They all shared the same signature 9-lines stretching side-to-side across the roof, and the sloped tailgate with 7 vertical chrome spears. And of course, all Tri-Five Nomads were Bel Airs, in terms of their trim level. Now, onto what makes 1955 Chevy Nomads unique. Up front, chrome eyebrows arch over the headlights, then run down the front fenders and doors. These are unique to 1955 Nomads only, no other ’55 Chevy has them. The same goes for the rear wheel openings. All other 1955 Chevy passenger cars have a squared-off rear fender opening that covers the top half of the tire, much smaller than those of the Nomad. This severely limited tire size and still does to this day. But the ’55 Nomad had a rear wheelwell that was nicely-shaped with the entire wheel/tire exposed, allowing wider tires without clearance problems. No other ’55 Chevy has them and no other Nomad does either. One last note on the ’55 Chevy Nomad is that its styling is clean and understated. By employing the eyebrow and front spear, they eliminated the full-length Bel Air trim. It was a daring move in the age of chrome, and especially with all those acres of sheetmetal out back, but they pulled it off beautifully, and many think it is the best looking of the Tri-Five Nomads because of it.
MY OWN 1955 CHEVY NOMAD
In 1973, fresh out of high school, my best friend Don brought me to a friend of his older brother’s who had this awesome ’55 Nomad for sale. It was black (it looked very much like this one), had custom black vinyl diamond-tuck interior (that was actually done quite well), and a ripping 375-horse 327 out of a ’65 ‘Vette, with the Rochester mechanical fuel injection on it. The guy who sold it to me was a master mechanic and machinist and had built the car for street racing (circa 1973, of course), and it was fast. So fast that I never got beat anywhere near my hometown of Hanford CA for over 3 years. I paid $1,200 for it when I bought it, and for the money, I could also have had a ’68 Corvette with 350, 4-speed and T-tops. But I took the Nomad, and it became the focal point of my life for the time I owned it. As a result, ’55 Nomads have always held a special place in my heart.
1955 Chevy Nomad SPECIFICATIONS
Price when new
Weight ENGINE OPTIONS:
235cid OHV inline 6-cylinder
265cid OHV 90-degree V8
265cid OHV 90-degree V8