Joel Kowalski has a history of chopping up Chevys-particularly Corvettes. There's a bar in his hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, that has a piece of his wall-hanging art-a sliced-in-half Corvette body. Back in 1972, he even built a mid-engined '70 Vette. But the last few years of this machine shop owner's spare time have been spent on his "Madvette" a genuine '57 Nomad body mated to a '95 Corvette chassis and interior. It was an idea he concocted some years ago, but came together when he found an appropriate donor Nomad.
Of course, finding a viable Nomad to cut up was a challenge. Only 6,500 were built in '57, making it the rarest of the Tri-five Nomads. Through a local buyers guide, he located the car behind a Detroit brake shop-more than 200 miles from home. And before you purists send us nasty letters about Kowalski's desecration of such a rare Bow Tie, consider its as-found condition. "Calling it a complete wreck is an understatement," Kowalski says. "There literally was a tree growing up through the hood, and the dashboard was gone." Rust had taken hold of the Nomad, too. "The quarters were all rotted," he says. "Every one needed to be replaced."
But the all-important Bel Air trim, including the chrome and stainless steel pieces, was intact and in good shape
After dragging the Nomad back to Muskegon, Kowalski turned his attention to locating another donor vehicle, this time a Corvette chassis to cannibalize. At the Vette Shoppe in Fort Collins, Colorado, he found one: A '95 chassis with an LT1-and-automatic transmission combination.
With both cars in his garage, and a tape measure in hand, this mad man took some measurements and quickly broke out his tin snips. The Corvette's chassis wasn't as long as the Nomad's wheelbase, so Kowalski cut the Vette chassis just in front of the rear wheels and added 22 inches of boxed steel to the frame. A new, larger fuel tank was fabricated, too. It's flatter than the stock Vette's, which was necessary to clear the Nomad's rear floor. Kowalski made sure the new tank's filler neck fit behind the stock tailfin trim piece, too.
Lengthening the Corvette's chassis wasn't the only challenge. The Corvette's firewall was sliced open from left to right and a 3-inch-tall section was added to better fit the Nomad's cowl. This modification also raised the Corvette's dashboard 3 inches. But the sheetmetal cutting was far from over.
You'll notice from the photos that the Nomad's roof is chopped, and that the front end tilts. Kowalski performed those tricks, too. Look closely and you'll see that the 2-inch top chop is raked slightly. It gives the car some extra attitude, but it gave the builder fits when fitting the glass.
"I broke two windshields and 13 curved glass windows for the rear," Kowalski says. "I finally got fed up and let some pros handle it."
Those pros were Arnolds Auto Glass in Muskegon. But even during our photo shoot, the rear window wasn't cooperating. The tailgate window is powered with the mechanism from a late-model Blazer. It's a neat idea that fits, but the glass was "crashing" to the bottom of the tailgate. A stopper of some sort is necessary to halt the dropping glass.
As for the tilting front end, it's all steel and power operated. The motors that actuate the hood and fenders are leftover pieces from an industrial job Kowalski had years ago. Of course, the motors, which weren't designed for an automotive application, had to fit both the Corvette chassis and the Nomad "dog house." No small feat, for sure, but the finished product is a seamless integration. (Look closer and you'll notice shaved door handles, too.)
Once all the bodywork was finished, Kowalski donned his paint mask and sprayed the Nomad a pearl-purple color from Sherman Williams.
One area of the Madvette that Kowalski actually outsourced was the interior upholstery. After fitting the raised dash and seats, including driver and passenger-side airbags, he sent the car to Buckskinz Upholstery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There, Joe Bukrey wove the black-and-purple leather seats and door panel inserts. Black tweed covers the headliner and cargo area.
When we asked Kowalski to fill out our standard tech sheet about the car, the lines for the engine and transmission and rearend were all left blank. They're all stock Corvette pieces, including the 300hp small-block. The suspension pieces are stock Corvette, the brakes are stock Corvette, the rear axle is... Well, you get the idea. The Madvette rolls on chromed ZR-1 wheels.
We first encountered Kowalski's Madvette at the soggy Martin, Michigan Super Chevy Show last June. Through the rain, the judges could clearly see the craftsmanship and attention to detail in the car, and it collected a couple of well-deserved awards. That's pretty much been the story at every car show Kowalski and his Madvette have attended.
And the only things madder than this custom Chevy are the owners of cars that have to compete in the same class as Joel Kowalski!