By Levi Watson Photography by Colin Date
After the faltering sales of 1957, Chevy treated 1958 as a truly new year. Gone was the “shoebox” design of the Tri-5s– an all new model took its place. The new Chevys were longer, lower, and heavier than the years prior. Chevrolet also redesigned the frame for 1958, introducing the “x-frame,” as it’s known. This frame design was criticized as not being as safe during a side impact collision. In response, GM beefed up key areas of the body including the rocker panels, laying the ground work for what would eventually become the unitized body.
1958 also brought a big change for the Nomad and began a procession of yearly redesigns. Although still based on the Bel Air series, the Nomad name was applied to the series’ top of the line four-door model. As a four-door model, the Nomad lost its unique styling, becoming a more conventional looking wagon.
1959 marked another change for the Nomad. For the first time, the Nomad was no longer a part of the Bel Air series, becoming the top end wagon for the newly created Impala series on the B-body platform. This was the Nomad’s most radical design. The hood featured two very prominent nostril-like openings with a wide chrome grille and quad headlights. The taillights were similarly oval shaped and sat beneath huge horizontal fins.
The Nomad underwent another redesign in 1960, receiving new rear sheet metal to achieve a more conventional style. Although based on the same chassis, there are many visual differences in the two years. 1960 retained the quarter panel fins but they were more subdued than the previous year. The oval nostrils were gone as well as the oval shaped rear taillights. These were replaced with more conventional round taillights.
In 1961 the Nomad was redesigned for the fourth time in as many years. With all new sheet metal, the Nomad became a very conventional looking wagon. Replacing the quarter panel fins was a molding that wrapped around the quarter panels and on to the tailgate. This would be the last year for the Nomad as the following year all wagon models would take the name of their sedan counterparts.
The Nomad name would go on to return in several varieties. From ’68-’72 the name Nomad was used for the lowest priced Chevelle wagon. 1976 would see the return of the moniker as a package on a Chevy Vega wagon, and it would be used again in the late ’70s and early ’80s as a trim package on full-size Chevy vans. However, none of these reiterations would ever attain the height in popularity once achieved by arguably the greatest station wagon ever built. Luckily we still have wonderful examples of these cars in restored models and “drivers” alike.
As a lover of classic cars and a self-proclaimed gearhead, I appreciate the effort that goes into building a 1000 point show car, but, for my money, something like this Nomad represents what a classic should truly be.
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