The Virginia Muscle Car

Andy, Bill, and Bob's Nomads of the late 60s and early 70s: L79, L84, L88

(This is where it all started for us)

(Someone had a Wonderful time)

The 55, 56, and 57 Chevy Nomad wagons are classics and evolved from a 1954 Corvette station wagon concept car. They were classics back in the late 60s when we had them and may have been classics just as they rolled off the production line. To some they were thought to be "wonder" wagons (Andy had all the luck) Andy was able to "enhanced" the above picture to bring out the best things in life. The Nomad was produced other years too, but the mid 50's are the most desirable, even now. These wagons are different than the standard 210 series. Their rooflines are different; they have the distinctive chrome slats on the tailgate; they have chrome accents strips along the sides; and they had plush interiors. The Nomad's uses are what made them so popular. The California beach crowd used them along with woodies and sedan deliveries to tote around their surfboards. Back in the 60s, several movies/TV shows had Nomads on a California beach with a surfboard sticking out the back tailgate or tied on to the roof. In addition, when we went to the drag strip there were guys hauling their race car trailers with Nomads. We could not see beating up a Nomad by using it as a beach buggy or a tractor trailer. We just liked them for what they were but made them go a little faster.

Andy had two Nomads, as did Bill and Bob. The first picture above was Andy's "Wonder" wagon - his first Nomad. See (Andy's Nomad WEBpage). for more details. The second picture above was taken just when he took possession from the original owner in Springfield and was before the "Andification." Andy had the interior redone along with adding Keystone Mags. Andy's second Nomad was a bright orange and had a 327/365hp - L84. Unfortunately I do not have a picture. Andy bought it from a guy named Billy (see Andy's recollection in the Recollection Section). Andy's second Nomad really stood out and was very fast.

The red and white Nomad in the above pictures was stock. When I was attending a Norfolk college in 1968, I bought it from the owner of the Suffolk drag strip. He sold it to me for $350.00. Now days it would easy be worth 15K (I wish I knew this then ...) A week after I made this purchased, I blew the Powerglide. Later Andy, Dad, and I towed it from Norfolk to Northern Virginia with my Dad's 2 door 63 Chevy. Both cars swayed back and forth if we got above 35 mph, and we had to tow it through the Norfolk Harbor tunnel. I think you are supposed to maintain a speed of 55 though that tunnel - What a ride! To this day Andy still talks about that ride. He also still talks about the interior of this Nomad. It had floor tile in the back instead of carpet or an interior floor vinyl/rubber. Guess a stronger material was needed by the previous owner. That summer, we replaced the blown Powerglide with the one that came out of Andy's first Nomad (Thanks Andy). He had installed a Muncie 4 speed and clutch so this automatic was just laying around. In the left picture Bill's 57 Nomad (327/350hp - L79, 4 speed) can be seen in the background. This was before he had it painted a dark metallic green by Les who owned a bodyshop in Fairfax. Later a trash truck ran into the back of it (Bill survived but the 57 didn't). Again in the left picture, Bill (the guy with his head in the engine compartment) is advising me on how best to modify the wagon. Actually, he is probably chuckling at my puney chrome air cleaner on top of the two barrel (had to get rid of the stock oil bath contraption)... The right picture is of the car and driver ... long long time ago.

Bill's Uncle Sherman and Bill ran an E Altered (Drag Racing Class) and had the National record for this Class. Andy and I went with them to the 69 Drag Nationals in Indianapolis Indiana where Sherman had to spot (give a head start to) the above two "faster" classes because he had buried his own class record so low (that was how good they were). Sherman took his class but blew a clutch in the eliminations that year. In his Altered, he used a 300 CI Ford truck engine (steel crank) with 327 Chevy pistons and a unique head and transmission. The head was actually a couple of BOSS 302 V8 Ford heads cut up into eight separate sections. He used six of these sections which were welded together to make a new six cylinder head. This welding took place in a very hot foundry furnace. (He actually made his own foundary behind his garage!!!) After the head cooled, it was then drilled and milled for the 300 CI block. Sherman also used a transmission called a Clutchflight which was a Chrysler Torqueflight with the torque converter cut out and a clutch unit installed. With the Clutchflight you could get the high rpms off the line due to the clutch and quick shifting due to the automatic. This is why Sherman had the nickname of "slick."

I sold the red wagon when the oil pressure started to fall; in addition, I had two other cars at the time, including another Nomad. My parents were also looking for less cars around the house. I sold the red wagon to the owner's son of the Woodbridge Chevy dealer. He was very happy to get the car. Even though I had a second Nomad, I was sorry to let my first Nomad go. Can't remember my selling price, but it could not have been too much - couple of hundred. Later he told me one of their mechanics install a new main bearing, which solved the oil pressure problem. Now, I wish I had spent the time to figure that one out and fixed it myself and more importantly keep the little red wagon stored some where until today!

The above green Nomad (with my Dad's white 65 Chrysler in the background) was not stock and was my second Nomad. The real mechanic on the left is Bill and pseudo mechanic on the right is me. This same Nomad was Andy's first Nomad. I bought the body without the engine or trans for $400. When Andy had it he had the interior redone in black rolled and pleated Naugahyde. This was common thing to do during this time and looked great. I, along with Bill and Andy's help, evidentially added a 427 L88/700+hp (4-bolt block) with a M21 close ratio Muncie 4 speed. The stock L88 motor was a Corvette off-the-road 427 cubic inch option and was rated at 550 hp, but this rating was generally accepted as being below the actual horsepower. During the late 60s and early 70s (the Muscle Car era), the L88 could only be rivaled by the 426 Chrysler Hemi and the Ford Cobra 427 side oiler. But the all aluminum ZL-1 or sometimes referred to as the Phase III L88 was another thing; it was a real monster (admittedly a Chevy Bias). The engine we put in the green Nomad was a combination of Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III L88 parts or better (with some 425 hp Vette parts).

Green Nomad's Drivetrain WEBpage

There were reasons why the Nomad became a street car. One reason was it was the only way I could keep the darn thing. At the time, my parents were asking me to get down to one car. Andy had the same problem too. I can remember one day Andy walking up with his big grin just chuckling and shaking his head. His Mom had just told him to get that "heavy motor" which was in their basement ("Heavy Motor" meaning a high horse power 327ci engine). Anyway, there wasn't enough room for all my cars without my parents place looking like a used car lot. Andy's parents said the same thing to him too. So I agreed to sell my first Nomad then the 60 Chevy (commuter car) that Bill gave to me. To a point, I was willing to become civilize.

I had a lot of criticism on the Nomad being a street car rather than a "just-for-the-track" car, but Bill and Andy still thought it was great. Back then it was not uncommon to see full racecars on the street in Northern Virginia, especially at places like a TOPS or Hotshops drive-in on a Saturday night (see Recollections section). Matter of fact, I can still remember how Andy and Bill just leaned on me to buy big ole rat (big block) for the Nomad rather than a mouse motor (small block). Once I did, I never took it to a quarter mile track to find out what it could do. I was too afraid I would brake something and then would have to find a way of getting it home before it got stripped.

This is why I was so paranoid about the possibility of my car getting stripped. One night I kept hearing a particular car rumble by our house. My green Nomad was parked out front. This "cruzing" started at about 8:00PM. I made note. About 10:00 I was looking out the window and noticed that the car was a 69 GTO. And it was parked catty corner on one of the side streets. Just sitting there. So I walked out of the house and crossed in front of it; looking straight at the driver; as I did he flashed his headlights several times at me. Ok - Alright - there was a challenge - and I was up for it! I called the police and they said they would send someone out to check on the 69 GTO. So I watched until about 2:00 AM then I noticed a white 59 all door Chevy hardtop going up and down the street. The GTO was not around at this time. When I complained to my Dad, he said to go to bed. Instead, I went and got his long handled ax and waited. (He sure put up with a lot.) About 3:00 AM the 59 made a final pass and several minutes later some long hair came bopping across the street from between two houses and was carrying a big tool bag in one hand. When he came to the Green Nomad's driver side door and put his tool bag down, I hit the front house door with the ax in one hand and shouted that I was going to get me some "&$*#^@ butt." As I was chasing this little "BOS" I could see he was scared and turning white. He hit the picket fence next door and did not quite straddle it right - hehehe. Then out of the corner of my eye, I could see the 59 swing around, I guess to run interference for the little "BOS." I let the little scrimp go and ran after the 59. Once the driver saw I was coming after him he hit the accelerator. I heaved the ax as best I could at him. These guys were trying to steal a piece of me and I was not going to let that happen. I call the police again and relayed events. They sent over a couple of uniforms. The police said they had stopped the GTO earlier and then provided me with the driver's name and home phone number (this was in the 70s, I am not sure they can provide this kind of information today). I thanked the Officers for their time. After they left, I called the number and an elderly man answer the phone. Guessing that he was the father of the "BOS" that tried to steal my car, I politely asked if his son owned a GTO with a certain tag number. He said, "Why yes." I then said, "If you want your son to live any longer you had better talk to him about not trying to steal my car again; because now I know where he lives." I suggested to this bewildered father that he should specifically ask his son, "Why did you wanted to steal a Nomad tonight?" I went on to say; "He'll know exactly what you are talking about." I then hung up the phone (this was before caller ID). To this day I still remember this guy's name and where he lived. Andy (later to become a Police Officer) and I had our suspicions as to who was actually behind this effort - some Northern Virginia knucklehead that would only steal big block Chevys ... and I still remember his name too; although, I had been told that his part time residence is in the Iron City (jail or Penitentiary). During his jail time, hope to hell Bubba visited his cell! The next night in front of our house about a half dozen cars or so were squealing their tires, reving their engines, and shouting stuff I could not understand. Didn't pay much attention, because it was daylight. However, they did not come back at night when (as far as I was concerned) it became open season.

The black and white pictures above are of this same green L88 Nomad. These pictures were taken before I had spring spacers installed in the front to level out the car. The original springs were designed to support a small block and not the weight of a big block, so they were a little compressed after we installed the big block. However, did keep the original soft stock springs for a reason. Off-the-line there was better weight transfer to the rear tires as the front end easily went up and the back end went down. To a limited degree this did help with traction.

The day Andy and I first got the big block running, it sounded great. Andy brought over a wrecker to jump start the Nomad because I kept killing the battery. The motor started right up with a wrecker jump start. Guess it needed a few more AMPs than the Nomad's battery had. I drove onto the street with no tags - I can't describe what I felt - may be sheer ecstasy ... However, after I drove up and down the street once, Andy drove it. When he was driving back towards the house he gunned it but not enough to brake the tires loose. I will never forget how the frontend came up, how the motor sounded (straight exhaust), and how the Nomad looked like it was shot out of a cannon. When Andy hopped out, he had that big Andy smile and said it was the fastest car he had ever driven. We both had no doubt that if we had a set of wrinkle wall slicks the frontend would have come off the ground. Oh, there were faster cars, but this was something that the three of us built.

I never got a chance to repaint or put Mags back on the green Nomad again, i.e., to do Andyfication. I would have had Les, the guy that painted Bill's 57, repaint the geen Nomad the same color - of all things a Ford color - Mustang Ivy Green... This was next thing on my list of things to do and I was in the processes of preping the body. Even replaced a damaged fender with a new one. But as the Erwin brothers of Springfield used to say: "Don't care how it looks; how does it run?" Both brothers had their own modified small block 56 Nomad(s). Never got a chance to race either one of these guys - too bad - another regret of mine.

Actually, I never really did much street racing - maybe once or twice ... ;) Even with the good weight transfer, the car had poor traction off-the-line; had to feather it like Andy had to do with his Chevy II (See Andy's Chevy II section). We both needed a set of wrinkle wall slicks. Did a couple of rolling starts in which off-the-line traction is not a factor. Once with a new GTO (69/70 maybe with a 389ci). I was on my way home after a full days work. We started normally from a green light and I was not expecting anything. As we started down the road he suddenly punched it. He got the jump on me, but not for long. Once it registered with me that he wanted to race, I jammed the accelerator to the floor and ran the engine up to 7200 (the redline Pete, the machinist, said to shift) then power shifted. Power shifting is not for the faint of heart. This involves yanking gear as hard as humanly possible at maximum excelleration as the RPMS are approaching the red line with no use of the clutch and hope to hell synchronizers do their job. Muncies were great tranmissions! The Hurst shifter with the large T-knob sure helped too. I could powershift second and forth gears. But third gear scared the heck out of me. Although, I do remember power shifting third once, but I was young, half drunk, and angry about something when I did it. Actually, Andy was better a this kind of shifting than I was... As I was coming up on the GTO, I could see the driver look in his rear view mirror. He shut down; probably knew it was a lost cause as the raggedy ass ole 55 station wagon passed by. At an idle, the Nomad's motor had a lot of knocks and clunks since it had racing clearances. It really didn't start to perform until 3000 RPM when the high lift/duration cam and the loose clearances came into play. The GTO driver probably mistook the L88 idle engine noise for that of an older well used engine. From what I could tell, he was a yuppie looking character ... maybe a GM accoutant or marketing person ... :)

Another guy who worked for Sherman also had a 55 Nomad. Sherman ran the dealership service department across the street from where Andy and I worked. I remember Bill telling me that this Nomad had the larger 454ci big block and was a later stock smog motor with only 335hp. At about 6:00 or so in the afternoon, typically this guy was leaving and probably was on his way home. The 454ci sounded pretty good. I thought about getting out there and seeing what it was made of, but never really made the effort. The green Nomad had well over twice the horsepower with a taller gear ratio - from what I could tell. It wouldn't have been much of a race. I also thought about going by and just talking to him but between school and work never really got the chance - another regret of mine.

Then there was 50-Dollar Nomad, as Andy called him. Andy found out that this guy bought his 55 Nomad for an unbelievable price of 50 dollars. 50-Dollar was several years old than us and had attended Annandale High. I remember seeing him when I was a freshman. 50-Dollar lived about a block away from Andy's parent's house. When Andy was on his way home in the evenings he would pass by this guy's house. Early one summer evening Andy said, "Why don't we see what 50-Dollar is doing." So that night 50-Dollar was in the garage working on his Nomad. I specifically remember the bright light from drop light he was using. After we got out of Andy's Nomad, we introduced ourselves. 50-Dollar had a friend helping with some welding. This 55 Nomad was in very rough shape. He had it up on 4 jack stands and had gutted it pretty good. You could see piles of sand where he had been trying to remove the abundance of rust by sandblasting. I kept saying to myself, "boy this is a lot of work." 50-Dollar told us he bought it from a junkyard on the Maryland shore where the tide used to wash in and out of the car. No wonder there was a lot of rust and rusted out places. Andy asked how he was going to replace the rear quarter panels. They were very hard find and were not remanufactured at the time (now they are). 50-Dollar said he was going to fabricate them ... oh boy ... I heard Andy say something like "Oh Yeah" and I could tell Andy was having a hard time keeping a straight face. 50-Dollar then show us the piles and piles of new GM parts still in the original packaging that he was able to collect, like the chrome tailgate slats, and other hard to find chrome parts. 50-Dollar had all the trinkets but really nothing to hang them on. I can't imagine what he was going to use as a frame; I'm sure that the original one was unusable. I think 50-dollar and his buddy were trying to repair the frame by welding metal plate patches. They might have been better off starting with a solid 210 wagon frame and modifying it for the Nomad body. Well 50-Dollar gave it a good try for about three years then gave up and sold the rust bucket. I believe Andy bought a few parts from him. Sometimes Nomad lovers will tackle just about anything ... in this case too much ...

Andy and Bill did buy another 56 Nomad and fixed it up with Pontiac Safari parts that they had stripped from junkers. The Safari was Pontiac's version of the Chevy Nomad and a lot of parts were interchangeable or the same. (Besides Vettes, Pontiacs keep showing up in our lives, e.g., Andy's 67 GTO and Sarah's 86 Firebird) One day, I was on my way back to the college in Norfolk and Andy and Bill dropped me off at the bus station. Previously, I had mentioned seeing a 56 Safari parked in the Shopping Center parking lot where the bus stations was located and I said I thought the car looked abandon. When we arrived at the bus station, Andy looked up the Shopping Center management and asked about the car. They said it was abandon and they were about to have it towed. They said we could have it provided it was towed immediately. Didn't have to ask twice - gone. While I was at college Andy and Bill stripped it. Now, Bill and Andy had free hard-to-find-parts to help restore the 56 Nomad. Plus if anyone of us (including me) had a wreck, there were parts available from Bill's Auto Bank (Bill's garage). However, getting rid of the junker (what was left after the stripping) was another story ... While towing a particular junker, we had a close call. Our friend Roger "unofficially" borrowed a wrecker for us. As he was towing the junker, the wrecker stalled on railroad tracks with a train about two minutes away. I could hear the train horn as we were trying to push, by-hand, the stalled wrecker and junker off the tracks. The wrecker was on one side of the tracks and the junker was on the other. There were four of us madly trying to push this combo forward and couldn't. I don't think I have ever seen Andy and Bill in such a state of panic. When I thought we were almost to the point of giving up and having to face grave consequences, Roger got the wrecker restarted and pulled off the tracks just in time. About thirty seconds later a very fast passenger train roared by blowing its horn wildly ... geeze!

When I evidentially made the decision to sell the green Nomad, it was because I needed the money to finish a degree in Geology and was one of the sadist days of my life. In the above photo (my Dad's photo), the body is being towed away by its new owner. You can see where I was getting the body ready for a paint job. Since the car was so specialized, I had to sell it in parts to get good money. (Who would know what to do with a L88 Nomad?) While I was away at College, Bill and Dad handled this for me - Thank God; it would have been more than I could bare. They sold many of the parts and I gave a bunch of parts to Bill for helping me all those years. However, one day Dad called me on the phone while I was attending college in Utah and said the guy who bought the Nomad body was trying to restore it to original condition (go figure?). He could not understand why his stock 265/powerglide would not go faster than 45 miles-an-hour and the motor sounded tacked out? I remember chuckling and saying something like, "Because of the 57 Pontiac 488 rear." This rear end ratio was for a drag racing manual trans application and not for a stock automatic car. Dad relayed this information to our bewildered friend.

Andy recently told me about a 2004 Nomad concept car new Nomad concept car that he had read about on the WEB. And as compared to the original 1954 Corvette station wagon concept car, this car station wagon concept car, this new concept car holds true to its original form. The other thing that bothered us about this new Nomad was it was to be based on the Saturn - not Muscle Car material!!! However, I have been looking at it again and really the car look good to me for some reason. Although, the car would still have to have rear wheel drive and the ubiquitous 350ci mouse - at least - to really be anything. My parents could not wait for GM to make up their minds about producing this wagon, so they bought a car already in productions, the Dodge Magnum SXT wagon. The Magnum is a retro, rear-wheel drive wagon and looks great! Andy, Dad and myself think the Magnum reminds us of the ole Nomads. More recently, Andy has pointed out that since the Magnum there have been other Nomad concept cars. One of his examples is a 2017 Nomad concept car based on the Camaro.

In summary, it was Bill with his 57 Nomad that actually got Andy and me interested in Nomads. After Bill bought his 57 Andy then found the above green 55 that eventually became my second Nomad. While I was tinkering with this Nomad, Bill and Andy each had moved on to 61 Vettes. I was not able to get hold of a Vette back in the 60s and 70s. I tried three times to buy one (58, 59, and 62) but each time the seller wanted a little more than I had. I had to wait until the 1990 and 2003 to collect a couple (1976 and 1985). These years are not the most desirable ones, but for me still a lot of fun. Andy now has another one too (1965). The 65 is one of the most desirable years which is quiet apparent. Did good Andy! Our wives also enjoy and own them.

Background music is "Kokomo" originally sung by The Beach Boys and rerendered by Still Surfing ( BTW they have a great CD you can get on this WEBsite ... ~Bob (and Andy)

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