Fifty years ago-January 20, 1954, to be exact-at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, the Corvette Nomad went on display as part of the General Motors Motorama. The car was a nonrunning prototype, and it never made it to production. While the prototype is believed to have been destroyed, it never went away completely because it was etched in the minds of people like John Maiuccoro of Albany, New York.
"As a youth, I spent countless hours daydreaming about being able to own such a car," he says. "In 1999, I began a quest to see if the original Nomad survived, and if so, I was determined to acquire it."
Legend had it that the Nomad was secretly removed from an obscure warehouse under cover of darkness and stashed in a garage in California. However, John's investigation led him to believe the car had been crushed in 1955. Still, his research was not in vain because he became acquainted with another Nomad enthusiast who possessed the original General Motors blueprints the clay modelers used to make the prototype.
John decided to give up his search and make a Corvette Nomad of his own.
To begin, he needed a foundation to build upon. It didn't need to be much, just a starting point. "I started in my home garage, with a '55 Chevy Nomad," he says. "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."
His next purchase was a reproduction '54 Corvette fiberglass front clip from Paragon Corvette Reproductions. Mating the clip to the Nomad body presented John with the first of many fitment challenges. "This was quite interesting, as the Chevy Nomad body is 3 inches wider than the Corvette front clip," he says. "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 be constructed. The Corvette clip was widened, shortened, spliced, and diced until the proportion looked right. Once this was done, I could design the chassis."
For the construction of the chassis, John turned to one of the leading builders in the country. He contacted Paul Newman at Car Creations in Templeton, California. "Paul has pioneered converting a Tri-Five Chevy to C4 Corvette suspension," John says. "I gave Paul the detail for my chassis. The wheelbase was increased [to 122 inches] to make room for the new Corvette LS1 engine, with a GM 4160E automatic transmission, and the engine was set farther back and lower into the chassis. The suspension is from a '96 Corvette. While I worked on the body modification, Paul built my frame. Once I received the frame, I had it powdercoated, and began assembly of the suspension and drivetrain. Every piece fit perfectly."
While the frame was in the works, John's brother-in-law, Tommy Brennan, towed the body to John's office workshop. There the steel body was glass-beaded, stripped, and evaluated. All of the interior chrome and stainless were shipped to Advanced Plating. Next, with the help of Rippy Brown and Ken True, the body was cross-braced, and the floors were replaced. Also, the rocker panel was changed to a '56-'57 style.
With new floors in place, the body was set back on the original '55 frame. John removed 3 inches from the middle of the body. The body and doors were sectioned 3 inches, and the doors were re-skinned. Rippy completed all of the welding. "The rear fenders were my biggest challenge," John says. "I was determined that from the cowl back, the body would be out of steel, and the front clip would be 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 bodywork was as a bodyman's helper the summer of 1956."
John purchased reproduction Corvette rear fenders and all the exterior front and rear chrome from Paragon. "With these in hand, I used them as templates," he says. "First making paper patterns from the fiberglass fenders, then transcribing them onto 18-gauge metal. The metal was formed using several methods-bending over pipes, sandbag and mallet, body hammer over anvil. Too bad I didn't have an English wheel."
The rear tailgate has been completely redesigned as a hatchback and fitted for chrome strips. Gas lifts and Bear Claw latches were implemented as well. "The chrome spears on the sides as well as the chrome strips on the hatch were first designed out of wood, then they were CNC'd out of solid billet aluminum and chrome-plated," John says. The rear license-plate bumper was redesigned from a '61 Corvette, shortened, filled, and reshaped.
Once all the rough bodywork was completed, it was time for the first trial fit of the body on the Newman chassis, with engine and transmission in place. The front clip was attached, and the fit and finish were completed. John thought, "Now it's starting to look like a car."
The last piece of major body modification to be completed was the rear wheelwells. "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 have to be turned under," John tells us. "Vise-grips were fabricated to create the bead. I finished out all of the body contours with 80-grit sandpaper, then turned over all of the final fitting and block-sand to Gary "Whitey" Harlan. Gary and Rippy spent over 1,200 hours massaging every square inch to my complete satisfaction."
With Gary and Rippy finishing off the outside, John turned his attention to the inside. "Here is where I took artistic license," he says. "The only thing 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 showroom floor. I wanted it to look like it was a Dream Car designed in 1954. I used '66 Corvette seat frames for the front. The backseats I custom made from stainless steel. A front-to-back console was fabricated out of stainless steel, topped off with a '59 Corvette shift handle and a Locker chrome emergency brake."
The dash of the original '55 Chevy was redesigned. The ends were bushed, but were flush with the door panels to allow for a stainless steel feature strip to surround the passenger compartment. By December 2002, Gary was done with the body, and two years had passed. The body was put on a flatbed and was off to the spray booth. During this time, John finished the chassis, S/S brake line, aircraft S/S braided fuel lines, custom S/S gas tank by Rock Valley, custom 211/42-inch exhaust system by Pete's Muffler Shop, and the wiring and serpentine belts system from Street & Performance.
John says, "When the moment of truth came, it started, ran cool, had no leaks, and I was a very happy man.
"The final assembly required a great deal of time, patience, attention to details, 16-hour days, and the help of Pat Harris," John adds. "After two and a half years, the finished product is more than I had hoped for, but were it not for the men I have mentioned, and the patience of my loving wife, none of this would have been possible."