After saving the world in World War Two, GIs returned home to raise families in a booming postwar economy. They soon discovered that station wagons made perfect vehicles for hauling little leaguers, girl scouts, and groceries. Sport utility vehicles and minivans were still decades over the horizon, leaving wagons to serve as designated family haulers.
Station wagons’ popularity soon brought a wild proliferation of models, with all but luxury brands offering their own versions. Early wagons’ wooden body construction was gone by the early fifties, leaving durable all-steel wagons to proliferate in all shapes and sizes. Some sported fake wood decals, some didn’t. Many offered three row seating. Since they were viewed as utilitarian vehicles, wagons usually lacked luxury touches, at least until legendary GM styling chief Harley Earl convinced GM execs to create a fresh market niche by offering a creamy new dream wagon based on a Motorama Corvette concept. He called it the Nomad.
Chevy's fresh 1955 cars were termed “the hot ones” due to their exciting new V-8 engines. The all-new power plant came with all-new body that was boxy-in-a-curvy-way. The Nomad sat atop the line as the most expensive Chevy you could buy. It was intended to serve as a stylish hauler for the well-to-do. General Motors believed in the idea enough to offer a Pontiac version called the Safari that borrowed the Nomad’s roofline.
Though it shared Chevy’s dramatic new look, the ’55 Nomad’s body was unique from its windshield back, with radiused rear wheel wells for a sporty look. But sales were flat. At 8,386 units, the first year’s Nomad sold just a tiny fraction of the division’s total. Family wagon buyers preferred basic models’ affordability and four-door utility, limiting the sporty, expensive wagon’s appeal. Sales slid downhill for 1956, even further for '57, and then it was over. For the 1958 model year, Chevy applied the Nomad name to a fancy version of its standard station wagon.
The Nomad’s sexy Motorama style and built-in rarity have brought blue chip status to 1955-57 models, and that brings escalating prices. Finding an original, unmolested example gets harder all the time because they’re extremely popular with customizers.
Inspired by the classic Nomad’s continued popularity, General Motors produced a modernized concept car bearing the name in 1999 and another in 2004 (that could easily have been produced, as it was based on the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice platform). Unfortunately for Nomad fans, production plans for a revival deflated like a used airbag when General Motors hit the wall of the great recession.
Written by Jim Cherry