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Nickey Performance Turns a Restored 1956 Chevrolet Nomad into a Straight-Axle Blown Gasser

John Tinberg Jan 12, 2017
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Somewhere in a small farming town in central Illinois is a garage with a couple of car builders who live in a time warp that starts and ends in the 1960s. John Tinberg and Randy Schmitt specialize in very period-looking straight-axle gassers (and an occasional Funny Car). The garage is affiliated with and a descendant of the famed Nickey Chevrolet and is now referred to as the Nickey Performance Gasser Shop. Nickey headquarters, five decades and 50 miles north in St. Charles, Illinois, is where Nickey's owner, Stephano Bimbi, and his crew build new super high performance Camaros for customers, one at a time. The Nickey Gasser Shop is all old school, all the time.

While many Tinberg/Schmitt cars have been featured in magazines (including this one; see "Nickey Gets Nashty, Mar. '16), others are more along the lines of an average-budget build and have the patina to prove it. All the Nickey gassers are built with the same level of quality workmanship, but some get taken to the next level, depending on the customer's desires.

One of those "next level" builds began when Tinberg got a call from a gentleman named "Mark" from the Eagles Mere Auto Museum in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania. Mark said he liked one of the Nickey gassers featured in a recent magazine and wanted to send them a car to build. Tinberg and Mark hit it off pretty well, and they both spoke the same (Gasser) language.

001 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Front Three Quarter Alt 2 2/50

All the Nickey boys knew about the car was that it was a '56 Nomad, and they expected the typical "barn find" project. But when the trailer arrived and the car rolled out, they were shocked to see a 900-point car that had already gone through a full restoration. It had fresh paint, chrome, glass, interior, the list went on.

This one was going to be a challenge, as it would be hard to improve on such a quality restoration. Tinberg and Schmitt checked out the car, scratching their heads and trying to come up with a plan to put this one over the top. They called Mark to see what he had in mind, and his response was, "I'd like a tilt front end, other than that, no holds barred. Do what you do and have fun."

Now it was up to the Nickey boys to make it happen and keep the customer satisfied. Tinberg made a rendering of the car incorporating the ideas he and Schmitt put together. That drawing went to Mark, and his response was, "Looks good, do it!"

The transformation started with the Nickey crew fabricating a custom front subframe that they grafted into the stock framerails. Next came building and attaching all the straight axle components. Since they were starting with such a beautiful car, the guys decided there was only one way to go with these pieces: chrome! So the heavy-duty tube axle, leaf springs, shocks, tie-rods, and drag link were all triple chrome plated.

To set the car apart even more, the rear axle was moved forward 6 inches and the front axle was moved forward 4. Moving the rear wheels forward meant lots of metalwork, as the rear fender openings were moved a full 7 inches forward to allow for the 29.5x10 Radir slicks.

The next call was to Jack Gibbs of 409 Chevy Performance in Willows, California. Tinberg asked Gibbs to build a bored and stroked 409 motor with a GMC style 6-71 blower, aluminum Edelbrock heads, and dual carbs. Jack Gibbs was on board and accepted the challenge.

001 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Front Three Quarter Alt 3 3/50

In keeping with the Gasser tradition, the motor was moved back 6 inches, and the firewall had to be moved back as well to accommodate the big W motor.

Once the 409 was installed in the Nomad, the car was transported to AVS in Tinley Park, Illinois. There, Al Vershave made a custom set of fenderwell headers that went to Coating Specialties of South Chicago Heights, Illinois, for a bright silver ceramic coating.

The drivetrain behind the 409 starts with an 11-inch Centerforce dual-face clutch, Lakewood scattershield, a custom-built Jeff Collins/Midwest Muncie M-23 super Hi-Performance transmission, and a Hurst Super Shifter. Out back was a John's Industries Ford 9-inch rearend with 35-spline axles and a Wave posi unit sporting 4.56 gears.

A custom set of Nickey 48-inch ladder bars was installed to hold the tires to the ground and keep the old-school look.

As for that one item Mark requested, an all-steel front end would normally be pretty heavy to tilt, but the Nickey boys came up with an idea that lessened the load. After much trial and error, the front end tilts with ease thanks to moving the pivot point back enough to balance the weight. Being close to the balance point minimizes the effort regardless of its weight.

The interior received custom pleated aluminum door panels and a black rubber mat floor covering. Aluminum bucket seats finished off the no-nonsense interior.

Fast-forward to October 2016: The last details, tweaking, finessing, and polishing are all done, and the car is ready for its first drive after a year of blood, sweat, and gears. The consensus is that the hard work was well worth it. Take a look at the end result and see if you agree that this Nickey gasser met its mark—the mark of excellence.

001 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Front Three Quarter 660x439 4/50

Less is more: The Nickey team moved the front and rear axles forward just enough to make the car look fast just sitting there, while keeping the Nomad's classic look intact.

002 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Starting Point 660x358 5/50

While the guys were expecting to start with a shabby Chevy, the car that rolled off the transporter was a fully restored, 900-point show car.

003 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Rendering 1 660x495 6/50

John Tinberg and Randy Schmitt put their heads together to figure out how to make a great car even better, and then Tinberg solidified their ideas by rendering them with felt pens.

004 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Tilt Front End In Process 660x421 7/50

This in-process shot reveals several things: Note the 2x4 rectangular subframes (with sleeved 2-inch holes) grafted to the car's chassis to support the straight-axle suspension and tilt front end. Tinberg and Schmitt had to noodle a bit to figure out the tilt mechanism, as the steel front clip is pretty heavy. But moving the pivot point back gives it better balance and makes it easy to flip open. After this photo was taken, the firewall was replaced with a custom piece to allow the big W motor, blower, carbs, and scoop to be moved back 6 inches in true gasser style.

005 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Engine Overall 660x439 8/50

The Jack Gibbs-built 409 is a beauty and a beast, producing nearly 700 hp on pump gas.

006 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Engine Scoop Blower Detail 660x993 9/50

Ever feel like you're being watched? The remote-mounted Moon Equipment breathers keep an eye on the 6-71 blower, dual Holleys, and Hilborn-style scoop.

007 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Headers 660x439 10/50

Al Vershave of AVS Fabrication made the equal-length headers, and the ceramic coating was done by Bob Buckley of Coating Specialties.

008 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Tilt Front End 660x392 11/50

Unlike many tilt front ends, the one on this Nomad uses an internal latching system. That allows one person to flip the well-balanced all-steel hood without hood pins or other visible fasteners.

009 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Front Fender Detail 660x726 12/50

Although the fenders and hood are connected as a unit, it was important to keep the factory gaps and trim to maintain the timeless look of the Nomad.

010 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Front Suspension 660x439 13/50

Nickey Performance supplied all the suspension parts, including the custom heavy-wall tube axle. This is the same basic style used for years on all the Nickey-built gassers, though for this very special Nomad it and the rest of the suspension pieces were plated in triple chrome.

011 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Front Tire Wheel 660x453 14/50

The 6.00x15 bias-ply Goodrich tires add to the period look, as do the 15x4 American Salt Flat wheels.

012 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Rear Tire Wheel 660x400 15/50

Moving the rear axle forward meant doing some serious reshaping of the rear quarter-panels to realign the wheel openings—and make room for the 10-inch Radir slicks.

013 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Door Panel 660x438 16/50

Schmitt designed and fabricated the one-off "pleated" aluminum door panels.

014 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Interior Overall 660x438 17/50

The aluminum bomber seats are covered in pleated upholstery that mimics the pattern on the door panels.

015 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Instrument Panel 660x438 18/50

The original dash is completely intact, a reminder of the days when your race car was your only car.

016 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Shifter 660x706 19/50

A Hurst Super Shifter is connected to the M-23 transmission custom built by Jeff Collins of Midwest Muncie. The M-23 four speed trans will take anything the 409 can throw at it, and then some.

 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Cargo Area 660x466 20/50
018 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Inside Compartment 660x438 21/50

To keep the balance between street and strip, the factory carpet was replaced with black rubber mats. The rear seat was removed to make room for a six-point rollbar. Note the tapered area at the very front section of the floor. That's the lid of the hidden compartment that holds the battery and valuable storage space.

019 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Ladder Bars 660x382 22/50

A "must have" set of Nickey-built 48-inch ladder bars keeps the period look alive and well.

020 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Badge 660x439 23/50

The Nickey's numbered badge identifies the car as belonging to a long list of in-house builds.

021 Nickey 1956 Nomad Gasser Rear Three Quarter 660x357 24/50

It's hard to beat the look of a classic Nomad, so the changes had to be subtle. It's not that easy to notice the altered wheelbase front-to-back, and that's how the Nickey crew wanted it.


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