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1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air - Zomad

The Nomad was born in a time when styling ruled. this one subtly improves upon the original design

Jim Campisano Jul 19, 2011
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There are some projects that are done on the cheap, where the owner scours junkyards and swap meets for derelict parts to refurbish. This isn't one of them.

Tommy Cunningham has been building hot rods for a long time, having gotten into the car hobby in 1963. But the '56 he calls Zomad (after his daughter Zoey) is beyond the dreams and expense of most enthusiasts. No expense was spared. No custom touch was too small. Everything that went into this build--from the Roadster Shop chassis to the collector-edition Stevie Ray Vaughn Fender Stratocaster guitar that's strapped to the inside of the wagon's tailgate, is first class.

Sucp 1108 1956 Chevy Bel Air Zomad 000 2/12

Tommy purchased the Nomad in January '05 for $15,000. It wasn't too terrible--in fact, the previous owner had it for 40 years and rebuilt it a few times--but to its new owner it was just a starting point.

"I was going to restore it to stock, but then one thing led to another," Tommy said. He had owned a '56 two-door sedan when he first got his license, and this Nomad would be everything that could have been if he'd had the means. He recalled how back then he and his friends would cut fuel filler necks from gas tanks at the boneyards to make homemade exhaust cutouts. This time around he bought electric ones from the aftermarket.

Power comes from a Ram Jet 502 GMPP crate engine mated to a custom Borla 2.5-inch exhaust system. He resisted the urge to leave it factory and "cammed it up." Everything was polished and chromed by Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas, which also installed the new cam. Backing up the 502hp Rat is a GMPP 4L80E fitted with a Gear Vendors overdrive. This gives Tommy the choice of eight forward gears to choose with his Master Shift paddle shifters.

"I figured out on paper that it gives a possible top speed of about 165 mph," the owner noted.

The Roadster Shop chassis utilizes a Heidts Super Ride independent front suspension, and though the Nomad came with a 9-inch rear Tommy couldn't handle the idea of a Ford part residing under his hot rod. To that end, a Kugel independent rear was added (after it was chromed, of course). Ride Tech airbags allow the car to be raised to normal ride heights or lowered enough to scrape the ground. Wilwood four-wheel discs stop the wagon, which rides on Boyd Coddington Excalibur wheels (19s front, 20s rear). The Excaliburs are wrapped in Dunlop SP Sport 9000 tires (245/40ZR19 front, 295/40ZR20s rear). As you can see from the photos, the undercarriage and frame are as clean as the body and interior.

Sucp 1108 1956 Chevy Bel Air Zomad 002 3/12

Speaking of the body, it was painted PPG Corvette Daytona Sunset Orange Metallic and black by D&D Specialty Cars. For the most part, the body is stock, but Tommy had the vent windows removed. This gives the Nomad a cleaner profile. D&D also handled the interior, which is slathered in Porsche leather from the seats to the headliner (the hides cost $500 apiece, and it took nine to finish the job).

The front seats are from a Chrysler 300, while the rear was custom-made. Vintage Air controls the climate, and the tunes come from a Pioneer AVIC-22 head unit with a pair of JL Audio amps. About the guitar: Tommy has been a musician in a local band for the last 27 years, and the Stevie Ray Strat can be played through the car's sound system.

"I've threatened to a time or two, but not yet," Tommy replied when we asked if he'd broken out the axe and started jamming at the local cruise nights.

He plans to keep the mileage down and show it for maybe a year. After that? "Then I'm gonna drive the fire out of it!"



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