Fifty years, or half a century if you want to make it sound even longer, is a hell of a decent stretch of time to hold onto an obsession. Most people simply don't have the staying power to stick with a dream for such an epic amount of time, but California-based retired fireman John Bolsted, at 70 years of age, is not most people.
It was 1954, and John was a freshman in high school. "I was flicking through a Life magazine, and came across an advertisement for AC Spark Plugs," he recalls. "The ad featured an image of a car like nothing I'd ever seen-the Chevrolet Corvette Nomad. I wanted that car so badly and spent the next 40 years looking for it."
It seems at first as though John must have been looking in all the wrong places, considering his four decade-long unsuccessful hunt for the Nomad. But the truth is, despite the various rumors that pop up every now and again, that particular concept car (and the four other copies made) were most likely destroyed by Chevy.
Now known as the Waldorf Nomad, the car was first shown September 22, 1954, during the GM Motorama event at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. It has since become a holy grail of sorts for many Chevy fans. A crazy mix of the upcoming '55 Bel Air Nomad station wagon and Corvette sports car, the Waldorf Nomad was by all accounts the first sports wagon ever made. It had a complete first-generation Vette fiberglass front end, an exceptionally low profile and aggressive, muscular styling. It is safe to say, the Corvette Nomad was well before its time, and why Chevy never put the car and the Corvette Corvair Motorama stablemate into production remains a pity to this day.
As far as fans go, none was more die-hard than John, and although he gave up on his search, he did not give up on his dream. "About 10 years ago, I finally decided I would have to build my own version of the car as there was just no way I would ever be able to find the original. I started searching for a suitable Nomad wagon to convert, and eventually found something that would work in Rhode Island. The owner said I could easily drive it back to California, so I booked a one-way ticket and went to get the car.
"When I arrived, I found the Nomad sitting in the garage held together with duct tape and bailing wire-literally. I said no thanks, and flew home."
Not to be deterred, once back in California, he was talking to some of the firemen he had worked with about the trip, and one of them mentioned that he had attended a house fire, and it had gotten into a neighbor's garage-which just happened to have a '56 Chevy Nomad in it. "The owner decided it wasn't worth his trouble, and eventually agreed to sell it to me," John explains.
After media blasting the car, it began to dawn on John just what he had got himself into. But not one to quit, he sat down at a desk and began to study vintage photographs of the original Corvette Nomad. Although one can get a rough idea of the shape of the car from pictures, the hard part lay in the dimensions, but John had a plan. "It is fairly common knowledge that the wheels on the Waldorf car were 15-inch. Knowing that much I used it as a scale to get the dimensions of the rest of the car from the pictures I had."
Once John had worked out all his measurements, he took his car to master body-man Dick Dean, who helped him chop the roof two inches, pancake it a further inch, and channel the body three inches, thus creating a much lower profile overall.
Next, Dick set about grafting on the aftermarket Corvette rear fenders to the full-size wagon. A re-pop '53-55 Corvette front clip was modified to fit the firewall of the Nomad, then fused into a one-piece tilting unit. Fiberglass was also used to create the swinging rear tailgate, complete with electric window.
Once all the glass and heavy body mods were completed, John towed the car to Bad Boy Customs in Idaho, which detailed the body, painting it in two-stage urethane '50 Cadillac Lake Placid Blue and '55 Chevy India Ivory. Then, finally, chrome trim from a '54 Vette was customized and added to the car to complete the body look.
As John wanted to stay true to the original with the car's exterior, he chose old-school stock steel wheels to roll on, clothed in skinny 225/70R15 whitewall tires and genuine Corvette wheel covers, which he picked up for the princely sum of one dollar many years ago. The wheels fit nice and snug into the Corvette guards due to drop spindles in the front, and re-arched leafs in the rear, all dampened by KYB shocks.
As for the powerplant, John felt he could take a little artistic license In the interests of reliability and power, he went for a late-model LS1, pulled from a '02 Camaro. The injected 5.7 has been left mostly to its own devices, and simply benefits from a new exhaust system. A custom alloy radiator, designed to barely clear the bonnet, has been fitted as the Camaro option simply was not compatible with the low-slung Vette front end.
That same donor Camaro was also relieved of its Tremec T56 six-speed gearbox, which found its way into the Nomad and pushes power out to a 10-bolt Chevy rear with 3.73 gearing via a custom driveshaft.
John took it upon himself to come up with something he felt fit the interior perfectly. Trimmed in blue material and white vinyl, the Nomad's living space is a mash-up of different bits and pieces with front seats from Toyota, rear seats from a Chevy Celebrity, a '58 Vette steering wheel, an '02 Camaro shifter-the list goes on. A set of Auto Meter gauges was also installed so John had a good, reliable eye on his engine.
Finished a over five years ago, John's Nomad tribute is a one-off that has received many accolades and trophies. Although it seems extremely doubtful that an original Corvette Nomad will ever be found, that's something we are prepared to accept if people like John keep the golden-era of American motoring alive with cars like this one.
This sport wagon does not get a lot of rest. Since its completion, John's car has clocked in excess of 153,000 miles thanks to his penchant for hot rod tours and car shows all over the States. If there was ever a better way to spend your time in retirement, we sure can't think of it.