In the fall of 1999, I happened upon copies of the original blue prints for the Corvette Nomad that were used by the clay model makers who constructed the original car. The copy was on legal size paper, but knowing the wheelbase, I was able to enlarge the prints to full size. Although my 2004 Nomad looks like the original, many of the dimensions had to be altered, since the original Nomad was a non running prototype.
I started in my home garage, with a 1955 Chevy Nomad. My only priority was that the roof and tailgate area be in reasonably good order and that all the interior chrome and garnish molding be intact. All of the rest of the body would be parted out. Next I purchased a reproduction 1954 Corvette fiberglass front clip from PARAGON CORVETTE PARTS. My first challenge was to mate the front clip to the Nomad body. This was quite interesting as the Chevy Nomad body is 3 inches wider than the Corvette front clip. The attachment point of the front clip was to be hidden under the stainless steel windshield molding. This required that the cowl be removed below the windshield chrome, and a new cowl and firewall were to be constructed. The Corvette clip was widened, shortened, sliced and diced, until the proportion looked right. Once this was done I could design the chassis.
Right from the start my plan was to create a true driver.
I contacted Paul Newman, at CAR CREATIONS in California. Paul pioneered converting tri-five Chevy to C-4 Corvette suspension. I gave him the details for my chassis: the wheelbase needed to increase to make room for the new Corvette L-S1 Engine, with a GM 4160E automatic transmission. The engine was to be set back farther, and lower into the chassis. The suspension is 1996 C-4 Corvette. While I worked on the body modification, Paul built my frame. Once I received the frame I had it powder coated. I was so excited that I didn't even check Paul's dimensions, but I began assembly of the suspension and drive train, and every piece fit perfectly.
My brother-in-law, Tommy Brennan, of T & T TOWING came, towed the body to my office workshop. The steel body was glass beaded, stripped, and evaluated. All of the interior chrome and stainless were shipped to ADVANCED PLATING. They not only did a fantastic job, but they shipped when they said they would. Next, with the help of Rippy Brown and Ken True, the body was cross-braced, the floors were replaced and the rocker panel was changed to 1956-7 style. CARS 1 supplied all of the sheet metal and the fit and finish were first class.
With new floors in place, the body was set back on the original 55 frame. Up to this point, many of my friends questioned why I would try to do this. When I took out the saw and cut the body in half, they all thought I was nuts. I had just taken a perfectly good car and destroyed it. I guess you just have to have vision. I removed 3" from the middle of the body. The body and doors were sectioned 3" and the doors were re-skinned. As you can see, we were very happy with ourselves. Driving is my welder extraordinaire, Rippy Brown, and I'm the passenger.
The rear fenders were my biggest challenge. I was determined that from the cowl back, the body would be out of steel and the front clip would be of fiberglass. I had not done any auto metal fabricating that required making your own custom parts before. In fact, the last time I did any body work was as a body man's helper in the summer of 1956.
I purchased reproduction Corvette rear fenders, and all the exterior front and rear chrome from PARAGON CORVETTE PARTS. With these in hand, I used them as templates, first making paper patterns from the fiberglass fenders and then transcribing them onto 18 gauge metal. the metal was formed using several methods: bending over pipes, sand bag and mallet, hammer over anvil. Too bad I didn't have an English wheel.
The rear tailgate has been completely redesigned. The hatchback design best suits the practical application. This allows for a clean look and fit for the new chrome strips. The use of gas lifts and Bear Claw latches works smoothly. I firs designed the chrome spears on the sides, as well as the chrome strips on the hatch, on paper and wood and then they were CNC out of solid billet aluminum and chrome plated. The rear license plate bumper was redesigned from a 1961 Corvette, shortened, filled and reshaped. The inner rear bumper was reshaped from 1954 Corvette bumpers.
Once all of the rough body work was completed, it was time for the first trial fit of the body on the new chassis, with engine and transmission in place. The front clip was attached and the fit and finish were completed. Now it was starting to look like a car. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that I have spent over a year to get to this point and it might be a good idea to make a mold of the front clip. On to Mold-Making 101. I've made molds before (I manufacture spas and hot tubs, under the SARATOGA SPA CO.), but not for a car, and not with separating sections. Once the mold was completed, a new front clip was cast and placed back on the chassis. I decided to build the front inner fenders out of stainless steel, using cardboard as a template. SS inner fenders were completed, as well as SS cooling fan and housing and radiator supports, thanks to the press break skills of Kenny True. Anything that I could draw up, Kenny could bend. Kenny and Rippy both work with me at IMPERIAL STEEL POOLS.
One last piece of major body modification to be completed were the rear wheel wells. Templates were taken from the front fenders and drawn on the rear fenders, and cut to a lesser size to accommodate the metal that would be beaded and turned under. Vice grips were fabricated to create the bead. I finished out all of the body contours with 80 grit sand paper and then turned over all of the final fitting and block sand to Gary "Whitey" Harlan. Gary and Rippy spent OVER 1200 hours massaging every square inch to my complete satisfaction.
With Gary and Rippy finishing off the outside, I turned my attention to the inside.
Here is where I took artistic license. The only thing that I was never happy with was the interior. The Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac Dream Cars had bucket seats, floor consoles, rich leather colors, bright stainless steel and chrome trim. The Nomad interior was just like any car you could buy off the show room floor. I wanted it to look like it was a Dream Car designed in 1954. Seat frames for the front are 1966 Corvette. The back seats I custom made from stainless steel. A front-to-back console was fabricated out of stainless steel, and the top of the console is painted wood topped off with 1959 Corvette shift handle and Locker chrome emergency brake. The rear cargo console area was formed from fiberglass and painted. The dash of the original 55 Chevy was redesigned, with the ends pushed out flush with the door panels to allow for a stainless steel feature strip to surround the passenger compartment. Ashtray and heater control areas were filled, and the glove box widened and centered in the dash. The instruments are DAKOTA, steering column is IDIDIT, with a 15" CORVETTE CENTRAL and a 1956 Corvette leather wrap steering wheel completes the true Corvette theme.
The body was removed from the chassis and the chassis was flat bedded back to my house for final assembly and trial running. Whitey and Rippy continued massaging the body. In December 2002, Gary was done with the body. Two years have passed since the project began. The body was put on the flat bed and off to the spray booth. Allen spent one week prepping every detail, as the body went on the rotisserie, and the underside was completed. Now the body was on its dolly and the paint went on: torch red dash, white top, and silver metallic body.
During this time I had finished the chassis, SS brake line, air craft SS braided fuel lines, custom made SS gas tank, by ROCKVALLEY, custom 2-1/2" exhaust system by PETE'S MUFFLER SHOP, wiring and serpentine belts system from STREET & PERFORMANCE. At that moment of truth, it started, it ran cool, with no leaks and I was a very happy man.
The final assembly began in January 2003. The body and chassis where sent back to my office workshop and reassembled, where all the body panels matched up perfectly. The windshield was professionally installed, and the NOMAD was flat bedded back to my garage. For the prior two months, I worked with AL KNOCH INTERIORS. I originally called Al Knoch's company to see if they would sell me waffle pressed leather. After explaining to his operator that I was recreating the 1954 CORVETTE NOMAD, she said, "Let me have Mr. Knoch call you back." Within an hour, Al was on the phone. I explained what I was doing and overnighted him my drawing for the interior. The next day he was back on the phone, excited about the project and, needless to say, Al has become a friend. I sent down all of my custom made parts and he and his staff of merry men and women covered every piece with 1993 Corvette torch red waffle pressed leather, fulfilling my every expectation. CLASSIC CHEVY INTERNATIONAL and CARS 1 supplied reproduction accessories, of chrome, glass and EST.
Thanks to Pat Harris for helping me finish off the assembly. The assembly required a great deal of time, patience, attention to detail, and 16 hour days. After two and a half years, the finished product is more than I had hoped for. Were it not for the men that I have mentioned here, and the patience of my loving wife, none of this would have been possible. Thanks to all.
A word of thanks to the gentlemen at GENERAL MOTORS who created the CORVETTE NOMAD. Harley Earl, then Vice President in charge of styling for General Motors, came up with the suggestion that a Corvette station wagon be made. With the aid of Ed Cole, Chief Engineer at Chevrolet, he ramrodded the project to be ready for the 1954 Motorama. Several men and women shared in the actual creation of the NOMAD. Designers Carl Renne, Bob Cadet, Sparky Bohnstedt, Bill Buckler, Don Schumer, Joe Schenamsky, Assistant Chief Designer, Clare MacKichan, Chevrolet Chief Designer, Bob Diebboll, Modeler, Jack Parks, Chief Modeler, and Hans Hierta, Studio Engineer.
Let us hope that the people at GENERAL MOTORS be re inspired by the rich history of the MOTORAMA. It was the time when GENERAL MOTORS was number one in the world, because CAR GUYS, not bean counters, drove the direction of the company.