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Thursday, March 31, 2011

1955 Chevy Nomad barn find: A family's painful reminder of loss


1955 Chevy Nomad wagon wears patina of pain. The year was 1977, when a then-21-year-old Charles G. began a restoration of his beloved 1955 Chevrolet Nomad hot rod. Charles removed the Nomad’s engine and transmission as he began to tear the car down for a complete rebuild. A few weeks later, a tragic accident claimed his life while working on high voltage lines for the power company. His family, still reluctant to talk about the details of his death, will never forget the loss they experienced so many years ago. Charles’s 1955 Chevy Nomad, now owned by his brother Rick, remains in a state of suspended restoration, just as he left it in 1977.


Chevrolet built just 8,386 Nomads in 1955.


Buying the wagon
  Rick, Charles’s older brother by 18 months, recalled his earliest memories of his brother's Nomad. “Charles worked at a convenience store in Center Point, Alabama around 1973. His boss owned the Bel Air Nomad with a built 327-cubic inch V8 and a 4-speed trasmission." When Charles first laid eyes on the souped-up Chevy it grabbed the seventeen-year-old’s attention. It’s likely Charles, like many teens during the gas crunch of the early-1970s, scored a deal on the Nomad. His convenience store clerk pay was just $1.60 per hour, the minimum wage in 1973. His boss was more than happy to be rid of the gas guzzling beast. 



1970s hot rod '55 Nomad has seldom been seen the last 30 years.


Hot rodding and street racing

  Fat rear tires and chrome five spoke rims served street racing duty on Charles’s 1955 Nomad. “I don’t believe he ever raced it at a track,” said Rick. For a '70s street cruiser, this Nomad packed the attitude of a boulevard bruiser. Bucket seats, a must-have for draggin’ a wagon, replaced the factory split back bench seat in the Nomad. The upscale styling of the Nomad was turned on its side and revved to wide open with a teen driver at the wheel. There is no doubt that Charles enjoyed wrenching on and racing his Nomad. That fateful year, of 1977, he had begun working on his plan to restore the car.




All Tri-Five Nomads were top of the line Bel Air models.


Parked since the 1970s
  Decades later, layers of red oxide primer and red, white and turquoise paint scab the mostly rust-free Tri-Five. The engine and transmission, removed in 1977, have been scattered into darkened corners of the cinder block garage that has housed the Chevy since the early 1990s. Prior to that the Chevy was parked in a field for more than a decade beside Rick's and Charles’s parents' house. A neighbor, who couldn’t stand the sight of the neglected Nomad, begged the family to shelter the classic Chevy for several years. 

  “When I first saw it, all it needed was a paint job,” said Marvin, the well-intentioned neighbor, “It would’ve looked good with just a little work.” Marvin offered to help move the car and eventually persuaded the family to haul the Nomad into an old garage. Rick has since moved the Nomad and its multitude of parts several times. Each time, keeping it parked indoors.


Mottled layers of white, red and turquoise paint cover the Nomad's dash and steering column. 


Future plans
  Rick would like to restore the Nomad but doesn’t have the funds to “do it right, right now.” Also, you can forget about making an offer on the car. Selling his deceased brother’s Nomad will never be an option. The emotions swelled in his voice when I talked to him about the classic wagon. “The car means too much to me, and I can’t let go of that.” Charles’s family will continue to hold on to his old hot rod and memories of good times. “If I don’t get around to fixing it up,” Rick says, “I will leave it to my son.”


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1955 Chevy trim tag paint code 612 for India Ivory over Regal Turquoise.
Style No 55-1064DF used for '55 Nomads.


The '55s body is relatively rust-free under the many layers of peeling paint.

Nomad parts removed by Charles in 1977 fill the rear of the wagon.

Turquoise and white interior continued the Nomad's original exterior paint scheme.

1955 Nomad doors are not interchangeable with 2-door sedan '55 Chevys.

A neighbor begged the family to move the '55 Nomad  to a garage.

1955 Nomads were the only year that Tri-Five Nomads had completely open rear wheel-wells. Fat tires were easy on, easy off. Try that on your '55 sedan.

Rear bumper was removed when Charles prepared to restore the Nomad. 

1955 Chevy fender eyebrows were prone to rusting way back in the 1960s. This '55 Nomad spent a decade parked in a field before being moved to a garage.

This 1955 Chevrolet Nomad's restoration has been on hold for more than 33 years.

1955, 1956, 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad Production – Tri-Five guide

  • 1955 Nomads – 8,386 total
  • 1956 Nomads – 7,886 total  
  • 1957 Nomads – 6,103 total

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