This story is about a ’56 Chevy Nomad built as a “Hot Rod” over a period of 22 years. Hopefully you will enjoy the story and keep believing “they are still out there.”
— story by Jim Thomas (Driving Around Motorcars)
I don’t have an ’80s mustache and there are no tattoos or cheap jewelry adorning my fingers (as seems to be a requirement for a show on Velocity), but after 40+ years in the industry, I am still finding remarkable cars through a network of great friends.
I got a call from a contact that has found cars previously for me (can’t tell you how he finds them, he just does). The Nomad had been in storage for 14 years after the death of the owner. Timing is everything as the widow had recently been thinking about selling it. Her husband bought the car in 1999 from the restorer who owned it and restored it over a period of 22 years (more on this later). Her husband drove it maybe four times before passing away in 2001. She said he would just go into the garage, tinker with it and look at it.
Of course when I got to the car, it was covered with not only a rotting custom car cover but blankets, boxes, assorted keepsakes and 14 years of grime. This 82 year old was quite a hoot with opinions on just about everything; after some friendly discussion, a deal was consummated. Since it didn’t run (and with old gas and the usual concerns), it was a leap of faith that the 350 crate motor was intact and the guys at PCH Garage would have it running in no time.
Then I had a dream (nightmare) that led to my learning all about the origin of the car and the builder. The annual Seal Beach Car Show was 8 days away and my “brilliant idea”was to get the car on the road, looking great and entered in the show. The detail of getting it ready isn’t as important as the history. You all know the drill, fuel system, detail, replace or repair aged parts, and on and on. It was all done and in seven days and some nights.
At the show, an attendee approached me and said, “I may know the guy that built this car, would you mind if he contacted you if it’s him?” I hoped he was correct and he was.
I got an email from the builder with a phone number, called him immediately and what a story. A high school shop teacher in California and now retired in Oregon, he bought the car in 1976 after seeing it sitting at the side of a barn with chickens in it. He paid $500, towed it home and began a 22 year long frame off restoration. The detail and level of perfection he attempted to achieve was remarkable and could not be duplicated today at twice the value of the car. The time spent getting perfect stainless and chrome, the sending of the (now) vintage LeCarra steering wheel to France to get a perfect color match of the wheel material and interior. The detail in the Leon Jones interior, why he chose ’64 Nova front buckets, the time taken to perfect the paint application. After 20 years, the paint — once cleaned, buffed and polished — looked like it was applied last week. No cracks, flaws or bubbles, the undercarriage with the same degree of detail and polish as the body. The chrome and stainless still flawless. The list of names, most still in business, have become hot rod legend. Walker radiator, 605 power steering, Muncie 4 speed mated to a Hurst shifter, Front disc brakes, 9” Ford rear end, McLean wire wheels and on and on.
As it turned out, a true “Time Capsule” had been uncovered — and it was virtually unscathed by 14 years of inactivity.
So I asked the inevitable question of the restorer: Why, after 22 years and driving the car less than 1800 miles after completion, would you sell it? He had hoped one of his kids might be interested but that wasn’t the case. He was leaving California and decided the money was more important. And, he regretted it.
I told him when I got the car it had only been driven an additional 400 miles by the next owner, and at the time, I had driven it nearly 300 miles shaking it down and just having fun.
Will I ever find another one like this? Probably, because whenever I say there can’t be any more out there, another comes around.
I sold the car to a guy with his own ’56 Nomad story. He went off to college in the late ’60s, came home for the summer and his car had been sold for $300 by his mother. This car was the same color combo and a new history begins. Interestingly, at this writing, the new owner is having an automatic installed. And that’s how the car began life.
Maybe I could find more of these hidden treasures if I grew some bad facial hair and got some ink?