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.
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.
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.