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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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Forgotten 1955, 1956 Ford Thunderbirds

Rotting first-gen Ford Thunderbirds suffer classic case of neglect. Dick Vinal, of the Atlanta, Georgia-area, sent these sad T-Bird photos to junkyardlife. "It's hard to believe that my good friend allowed seven 1955-'56 Thunderbirds to rot away," Vinal said. Being a classic car fan, Vinal made a bid to save one of the T-Birds, located in Riverdale, Ga., decades ago. "I tried to buy the yellow '55 Thunderbird 20 years before this photo was taken."
This 1955 Ford Thunderbird is one of 16,155 built.

Sadly, after 20 years in the elements, none of the Fords were worth restoring or even parting out. "The owner eventually sold all seven Thunderbirds, as you see them in these photos, for $5K!" The cars were located in Riverdale, Ga., about an hour southeast of Atlanta.

Red '55 Ford Thunderbird. No porthole in removable roof – a change that distinguish the '55 and '56 model T-Birds.

Vinal was undeterred in his quest to own a first-generation Ford Thunderbird. "I bought a '57 T-Bird project car on Ebay and restored it from the ground up." Like most automotive restorations, time, money and patience will be tested. Vinal says, "It took me eight years but it turned out great."

These first-gen Ford Thunderbirds spent decades in the woods.

Dick Venal in his recently restored 1957 Ford Thunderbird.

1955, 1956, 1957 Ford Thunderbird Production – spotter's guide

  • 1955 – 16,155 total; Crossed flags and Ford emblem on nose, rounded tail fins
  • 1956 – 15,631 total; spare tire moved to continental-style rear bumper, portholes added to removable roof   
  • 1957 – 21,380 total; slanted sharp-edged tail fins, larger grille and tail lamps, spare tire moved back inside trunk 

More tips to identify first-gen Thunderbirds at 

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

1972 Dodge Challenger: Till death do us part

Dodge built 26,658 Challengers for the 1972 model year. This car, rescued from a yard, is now for sale on Craigslist, yippee!

Car hoarders take notice... you can't take it with you. That prize collection of muscle cars that you've spent decades acquiring will be sold soon after you die. 
  This 1972 Dodge Challenger was among eight vehicles sold by the wife of a man who had amassed a yard full of 1972-and-older vehicles. The emotional bond he felt with his project cars did not transfer to his wife upon his death. Once the hubby passed away, the wife felt compelled to sell his rusting relics to a local wrecker company owner.   

1972 Challenger wearing Mopar's code Y1 Top Banana paint. 

Buying to sell
Dean Chitty, owner of Foster's Wrecker service in Center Point, Alabama, was fortunate enough to purchase the collection of two Challengers and six Chevelles. Chitty plans to sell most of the vehicles on Craigslist. Two Chevelles, a 1970 and 1972, have been sold so far. By finding new owners, he is giving these vehicles a new lease on life. Another decade parked outdoors, would spell doom for these classics. Chitty is asking $4,500 for this V8, automatic Challenger.

– Jody Potter, junkyardlife

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You wouldn't sell your spouse's project '72 Dodge Challenger, would you?

Automatic equipped '72 Dodge Challenger sporting mostly original interior parts.
1972 was the first year of the sad-faced grill Challengers.
Standard 1972 Challenger gauges, not Rallye gauges.
The '72 Dodge's original, polished two spoke steering wheel almost makes you forget the missing shifter knob.

Tail lights were redesigned for the '72 Challenger model year.

Soap, water and elbow grease would help make this Challenger's interior shine.
Chitty's Craiglist ad says it's a 400 big block V8, all-original matching numbers Challenger. See VIN in next photo and you decide.
Vin #JH23G2B347851 - I think 5th digit means a 318 ci V8 Challenger.
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Cars in Yards: 1974 Chevy Camaro, the last Z/28 until... 1977, 1978, 1979... 2012...

The last Camaro Z/28? Chevy teased buyers but 1974 was not the end for Z/28s.

Camaro Z/28 racing in the weeds. You can tell me the truth. I can handle it. The cold harsh reality is that my favorite cars, 1970s Camaros and Firebirds, were really not built very well. Quality control went the wayside in favor of frugal economics. Sales dictated the cars get out the door as quickly as possible. Enthusiasts would not even stop buying them long enough for the engineers to redesign some of the major flaws in these cars. The doors were too heavy. They would not handle in the rain, resulting in many being wrapped around telephone poles, yeah, yeah, yeah. But I love them! I would live in second generation F-body-land if there were such a place. Some may say I already do – with a cavalcade of Camaro and Firebird parts residing in my basement. These cars are a huge part of my life and I could not resist taking a few shots of this 1974 Z/28 lawn ornament.

The 1974 Camaro Z/28 emblem is really colorful and bold.

  Many thought 1974 model Camaros would be the last hooray for the Z/28. Why? Because Chevrolet told us so. Blaming poor sales, increasing insurance rates and tougher government crash standards all but eliminating muscle cars. GM decide to discontinue the Z/28 performance option for the 1975 Camaro. Buyers in-the-know scurried to dealers to order what they thought were one of the last Z/28s, the '74 models, with beefy suspensions, thick rear sway bars and more often than not, a positraction rear end.  

I love factory tachometers. Ordering a 1974 Camaro Z/28 got you rally gauges. In other models it had to be specified. The '74 Z/28 Tach may have read 7,000, but don’t do it! It's not a DZ car, you know.

  So it ended there, sort of. In 1975 you could virtually get a Z/28 in the Camaro’s LT or Rally Sport package, but without the Z/28 name. '75 models could be optioned with 350 4-barrel engines and 4-speeds. They had positraction rear ends and the famous F-41 sport suspension. Good for getting them off the line and around corners in a hurry (as long as it was dry), but they did not declare Z/28 anywhere on them. Last trivial factoid, then on to the feature car I am dreaming about this month. In 1977, Chevrolet released a “limited number” of Z/28s and said, “We won’t build many, so if you want to move 'Z' style, you better get moving.” Then in 1978 and 1979 they sold as many Z/28s as they could get off the assembly line. So if you bought one in 1977 thinking that would for sure be the last one… gotcha!

1974 was the first year the Camaro got aluminum bumpers. They didn’t go over well at the time because people loved the clean chrome look of the 1970-73 models, the split bumpers especially. But, I think I like them. Before you throw tomatoes at me, remember that being of driving age in the eighties, the later second generation cars were more obtainable than the earlier split bumper cars. So naturally, I had more experiences with them.

Down to the details
  This Z/28 is a black on black automatic car. I could make out the cowl tag enough to declare it to be a real Z/28, but not enough to verify the original colors. I am inclined to believe it was a factory black car due to the door jams and no signs of a color change under the hood. This one had the beefy sway bar and the cool gauge package that I have always been attracted to. The original engine was long gone, having been replaced with a standard looking 2-barrel small block. The owner said it had an Oldsmobile rear end. I have no idea what he meant by that, because it does not.

I love the choice of script Chevrolet used on the early Camaros. It is rather friendly.

I want ... 
  So if it was mine… I would have to go back to the original black (code 19) paint and get the bold silver Z/28 stripes that came with the appearance package that year. Style points for the three fat stripes leading to large “Z/28" lettering smack dab in the center of the hood. I also love the fender emblems from that era, so I would keep them. For power, a Z/28 deserves a lot of it, I would have to declare a hot small block with a lumpy cam and a deep, deep tone exhaust. My '74 Z/28 would fall somewhere between fire breathing dragon and restoration. How could that not be fun? I am afraid the collector value of these cars may be starting to rise, so get them while you can. 

Alright, fellow earth roamers, I think I will get back to lusting over these Camaro restoration catalogs. Happy hunting!

– Ron Kidd, junkyardlife

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Barn Find: 1958 Chevy Impala stays parked after big block engine swap, tragedy

Barn find 1958 Chevy Impala's restoration was placed on indefinite hold after 427 engine swap woes, then owner's tragic death.
Big engine blues park 1958 Chevrolet Impala. No one is certain if the owner/builder of this barn find Chevy regretted his hot rod engine swap. A decision to stuff a late 1960s 427-cubic inch big block engine under the Cashmere Blue hood wreaked havoc on his Impala's road-worthiness. Continual problems didn't stop the horsepower-hungry owner from holding on to his his full-size Sport Coupe for more than 35 years, despite spending little time driving it on the road. Few neighbors in the owner's Alabama neighborhood have seen the secret classic '58 Impala. 

A complete 1958 Chevy Impala is hiding under years of stored memories.

Sad news
This Impala has spent decades hidden in a storage building and covered by a wilting sheet of plastic. Buckets, boxes and all manner of clutter found their way on top and around the chrome-laden car. The owner planned to restore the Chevy until his tragic death in an automobile accident two years ago. His family, who shall remain nameless, and do not want to sell their dad's car, are left to pick up the pieces and finish building his project.

Finding original and straight 1958 Impala "S" moldings, that loop around tail lights, are rare.

What next?
  The family would like to restore their dad's '58 Impala to its former glory. The good news is that the car has been stored inside a dry building on a concrete floor. The Impala is not a rust bucket and is complete except for the engine. In light of the troublesome big block engine issues, a new drive train swap is in order but locating the Impala's original engine among their dad's parts pile is a long shot. That power plant was removed more than 30 years ago and likely went to the scrap pile. The weak, three-speed, column-shifted manual transmission is also possibly toast after serving limited duty behind the big block 427-cubic inch engine. Once the Impala is purring under its own power again, work on the suspension, interior, paint and body work will follow. This may quickly become an expensive endeavor but worth every penny to restore this dad's hot rod.

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Can you spot the 1958 Impala in this barn find photo?

1958 was the first year for the Chevrolet Impala.

'58 Impalas were covered in yards of aluminum and stainless steel body trim moldings.

A three-speed manual transmission served duty behind the Impala's 348-cu inch V8 engine.

'58 Impala still wears original tri-color seat covers in the rear.

This '58 Impala is covered in Cashmere Blue paint.

Remnants of a tattered plastic cover shield the 1958 Impala barn find.

Tail light lens design of 1958 Impalas were also used on '61-'67 Corvettes.
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Local Legend: Flamed 1957 Chevy Bel Air rolls on after rollover wreck totals Tri-Five

Before Arnold Cherry wrecked his 1957 Chevy in 1983.
Hot rod heartbreak. The year was 1983 when high school hot rodder, Arnold Cherry of Pinson, Alabama, survived a flip in his newly restored 1957 Chevy Bel Air. The black paint was still fresh when a spur-of-the-moment street race on County Highway 75 went horribly wrong, demolishing Cherry's ’57 Chevy Bel Air. The challenger, who had a slight lead as they ripped passed the double nickel speed limit, blocked Cherry from passing, running him off the road. Cherry fought to control the finned Chevy as it veered across the loosely packed shoulder and down a roadside embankment. The shiny '57 Chevy was flattened as it rolled onto its roof beside a tree. "I got out with just one cut on my arm," Cherry said. "The '57 wasn't so lucky."

Aftermath of Arnold Cherry's 1957 Chevy after he rolled it during a street race.
Scars and cars
  A scar on Cherry's elbow is a lasting reminder of bygone days of high school and life in the fast lane with a '57 Chevy. "My wrecked Chevrolet was stripped of any usable parts," said Cherry. The crumpled remains were sold to a scrap yard. Cherry documented his crushed Chevy with lots of photographs. He even had a bit of fun with the Chevy before he had it hauled away. Cherry cut the roof off and made his totaled ’57 Chevy a convertible. He even drove the sagging Chevrolet around his yard. 
Arnold Cherry clowns around in his wrecked 1957 Chevy in ’83.
Every body panel on the 1957 Chevy was warped or damaged in the rollover wreck.
Cherry has a collection of photos of his totaled 1957 Chevy. 
Someone would restore this ’57 Chevy today. In 1983 it was junked.
Remember this: Street racing can kill people and beautiful 1957 Chevys. I’ve been lucky to avoid street racing disaster, Cherry was lucky to be alive.
Cherry cut the ’57 Chevy's roof off to make it a convertible before he sold it for scrap back in 1983.
BEFORE: 1957 Chevy #2 in 1983. Cherry bought another ’57 to restore to replace his wrecked one. He used dozens of parts from the wrecked ’57.

AFTER: 1957 Chevy #2 in 2010.
1957 Chevy, local legend
  Cherry was undaunted in his quest to own another ’57 Chevy while in high school. Calm, cool and collected, Cherry became his small town's ‘Fonzie.’ A local hot rod legend that cheated death and rebuilt a car nearly from scratch. Cherry immediately went to work on another 2-door, hardtop, 1957 Chevrolet. He added custom touches to his second ’57 beyond the swivel seats, chrome wheels and gauges. A toothy grille, side pipes and purple flames that seemed to disappear and reappear under the mercury vapor lights during local parking lot cruising. Cherry restored his second ’57 Chevy and hit the streets again. He drove his ’57 Chevy as a daily driver for many years after high school. Cherry cruised in it and could be found ripping up the same highway, that flipped his first ’57 Chevy, on occasion.
  Cherry, 45, still owns that second 1957 Chevy he built in high school. The years and the driver have been kinder to this ’57 Chevy. Small towns everywhere including Pinson, Alabama wouldn’t be the same without legends like Arnold Cherry and his black and flamed ’57 Chevy hammering through the gears. 
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Swivel seats and custom steering wheel are from Cherry's original ’57. 
Pinson, Alabama's Arnold Cherry poses with his 1957 Chevrolet at a 2010 car show. 
Cherry used the asphalt-scarred chrome spears from his wrecked ’57 Chevy on the hood of his second chance ’57.
Cherry added a custom grille, side pipes
Arnold Cherry has been driving 1957 Chevys since 1983.
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