In February 1967, I was again a man without a high-performance car. I had sold my '62 SS 409 in October 1965, then my special-order L79 '66 Chevy II in January 1967. Having had a few '55 station wagons, I decided a trick Nomad would be my next ride. But it would have to be a rust-free West Coast car. An older friend had recently gone to California and bought a red '57 V-8 Bel Air sport coupe with chrome wheels for $800, then had the interior tricked out in Tijuana, Mexico.
The expression, "Go west, young man," was my clue to do the same. After only a few days, I found a Sierra Gold '56 Nomad in Hawthorne, California, for $600. Then I motored down to Tijuana for a complete black Naugahyde interior with one-inch pleated seats at S&S Pan American Shop. It cost me $150 cash, a case of beer and seven small packs of Juicy Fruit gum. (My '57 friend told me to bribe the technicians, of which there were six plus the manager). Their work was finished in about eight hours. I stayed put and enjoyed watching the entire transformation. Those guys were magical.
The Nomad and I then headed back to Illinois, a three-day drive. I then rented a space at my '57 friend's garage and proceeded to do a complete modified make-over. I was not yet a keep-'em-stock restoration guy. I was a Modified Eliminator, go-fast, drag racer guy. I could not find a good 327 engine, so I punched the original '56 265 out .125 inch to 283 cubes, then installed TRW 11.0:1 domed pistons. I found a like-new set of Z28 2.02 heads at Motorsport Research in Des Plaines, where a valve job had been performed but the owner never returned. I coughed up $125. I also installed a new, recurved, small-cap dual-point distributor with a red Mallory coil, Packard 440, copper-core spark plug wires, extended-tip spark plugs, Edelbrock C4B aluminum intake manifold with a 600-cfm Carter AFB carburetor, and Trans Dapt four-tube headers via mail order.
I ash-canned the Powerglide transmission and installed clutch and brake pedals and a wide-ratio BorgWarner T-10 four-speed transmission with a Hurst Competition-Plus bench seat shifter. The 3.36:1 open center section was replaced with the 4.88 Posi from my '62 409.
I rebuilt the entire suspension and installed the S&S slapper bars previously on my '66 L79 Chevy II, new Monroe rear air shocks, and some Traction Master monster bars. I also installed front ball joint spacers for more front end travel, along with Cure Ride 90/10 shocks. Wheel Center five-spoke wheels rotated M/T J70-15s aft and 6.95-14s up front.
To highlight the really nice rolled and pleated interior, I took all the various interior metal trim moldings, ashtray, and glovebox door to my friend Wayne Fell's Atlas Plating shop in Cicero to be chrome-plated. It was located a few blocks from Al Capone's old digs, 30 years removed. I also chrome-plated the monster bars and the rear end housing. With a bright yellow acrylic lacquer paintjob, this Nomad looked pretty sharp.
In the end, the Nomad did three things well: First, it ran 13.80s at 100 mph, which was respectable for a street 283 pulling 3,800 pounds. Second, from a 5 mph roll, I could pull the front wheels off the ground about 15-18 inches. I made a lot of money betting guys I could do a wheelie from 5 mph. But the wheelies soon killed the ball joints and the front end alignment. Third, in 1970, with the original 3.36 open gearing, it got 18 mpg on my one-way trip to California. When I was a 12-year-old kid, I told myself that when I grew up, I wanted to live where I could wash my car on New Year's Day in a T-shirt and shorts. I was not fond of cold, icy, Midwest winters. Naturally, California-with its car culture (Lions, Irwindale, and famed Van Nuys Boulevard)-was for me.