What do you think of when you think of the music of the ’50s? Maybe it’s Elvis and Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. If there is one song that everybody in America knew in the ’50s, it has to be “See The USA In Your Chevrolet,” sung by Dinah Shore and many others. If you were alive back then, that song is probably going through your head right now. The song was written to sell cars, but it also influenced people to get out and drive their cars just for the fun of it.
If there are two people who have followed the message of that song, it’s Dennis and Linda LaDrew, from O’Fallon, Indiana. Dennis’ grandfather and father drove for a living, and so does his oldest son. Dennis and Linda drive for fun. They are “go anywhere, see anything” people, nomads at heart, who have driven their faithful black 1955 Chevy post car on dozens of organized cruises, such as Americruise, Power Tour, and numberless personal road trips. They’ve traveled thousands of miles, made hundreds of friends, and collected hundreds of stories.
The LaDrews’ newest Chevy is this beautiful 1956 Nomad wagon. Their son, Chris, had seen the wagon on Craigslist and went with Dennis to check out the car, located an hour away. When they got there, they found a rough partial restoration project, with no engine or trans, sitting in the barn where it had settled 30 years earlier. Chris urged his dad to leave it there. “Chris was correct,” Dennis says. “I should have left it. But Dennis wanted a father/son project and Linda wanted a wagon—and he felt compelled to bring the old Chevy back to life. That’s how the Nomad ended up in Chris’ home garage. Other parts were stored at Dennis and Linda’s house. There were parts in the basement, the living room, and the dining room, and glass under the beds in every bedroom.
Dennis and Chris (who owns LaDrew Automotive in Collinsville, Illinois) started in on the sheetmetal work. The floor and rear quarters were cut out and fresh steel was installed. The plan for the exterior was to give it a restored-to-stock appearance, with the paint and wheels as traditional modifications. The parts that were missing or beyond repair were replaced with reproduction parts, including taillights and outside mirrors from Rodworx in Florida. A fresh front bumper was provided by Knox Custom Chrome in Knoxville. The factory rear bumper was rechromed at Precision Plating. Dennis wanted smoke gray glass for the Nomad and Auto City Classic had just what he needed for this application.
The LaDrews eventually turned the buildup over to Dale Haverstick at Stick’s Chevy Shed in Hillsboro, Missouri.
The Nomad got a big performance boost with the addition of the complete Art Morrison GT Sport Chassis for Tri-Fives. The package comes with antiroll bars and Strange adjustable coilovers at the front and back. A four-link locates the Ford 9-inch rearend with 3.70 gears and limited slip, spinning Strange rear axles. With the Morrison performance chassis under his car, Dennis needed wheels and tires that could keep up—but that would suit the period appearance of the car as well. The 17-inch aluminum Rocket Booster five-spokes from Rocket Racing Wheels score big on both counts, especially when matched with 245/40ZR17 91W Gforce Sport Comp-2 radials from BFGoodrich. Dark cars look great when the wheelwells are filed with wheel, not black sidewall. With Wilwood 13-inch disc brakes, master cylinder, and proportioning valve, stopping the wagon is no problem.
For Chevy guys, choosing an engine is usually a matter of deciding what version of Chevy small-block to use. Chevrolet chose the 6.2L LS3 for the Corvette, so a 6.2L Gen IV Connect and Cruise LS3 crate engine from Chevrolet Performance is a great choice for Dennis and Linda’s Nomad. The engine draws a lot of questions at shows, especially since it’s dressed up with a blue carbon-fiber LS3 engine cover from Octane Motorsports (at one show, a lady rushing past with a baby stroller glanced at the engine compartment and stopped to talk for half an hour). Art Morrison–built headers suit the car’s personality more than the factory manifold. MagnaFlow XL mufflers guarantee that the wagon sounds as good as it looks. The engine is backed by a Chevrolet Performance 4L65-E transmission, perfect for “seeing the USA.”
Building an interior that is cool looking, but comfortable and practical is a priority for Dennis since the Nomad, like the black 1955 before it, was built for the road. Bruce Haege at Haege’s Upholstery in Belleville, Illinois, upholstered the original front and rear bench seats to just-right condition, then wrapped them with blue and charcoal Allante vinyl. The floor is covered in navy blue carpet from Auto Custom Carpets. The factory gauges have been replaced with a nostalgic Bel Era II 6-in-One gauge package from Classic Instruments. A Mark 9 Elegante steering wheel from Lecarra is mounted on an ididit column. The Vintage A/C system is designed to make use of the factory Chevy heater control unit. Cool air blows through retro-style vents from Old Dog Street Rods.
When the time came for paint, Dale Haverstick at Stick’s Chevy Shed got out his gun and contacted his DuPont (now Axalta) supplier. Dennis said he was going for subdued colors. We’d say that GM Imperial Blue (a Camaro color) and Grigio Silverstone (a Maserati color) are about as subdued as it gets, combining the finish of a revered muscle car and a sporty luxury car on Dennis and Linda’s classic Tri-Five cruiser.
The Nomad was finished in 2014 and, like the LaDrews’ black 1955, was soon on the road. “The car and I are building a history,” Dennis says. “The Nomad and I like the car shows and the public loves the Nomad.”
"For us, it's about the tour," Dennis told us almost 10 years ago. "It's about getting there and the people you meet on the way," Linda agreed. "We'll start from wherever the tour starts. It doesn't matter where it's going. It's how we get there that matters."