Most of you probably don't know this, but the Chevy Nomad wagon actually shares the same roots as the Corvette. In fact, the very first Nomad prototype looked more like a Vette than the tri-fives we're all familiar with. In 1953 the first Corvette prototype was exhibited at the GM Motorama at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. It rocked the automotive world and was put into immediate production for the next year.
The following year at the Waldorf (1954) saw three new concept cars based on the popular Corvette. One was simply a prettied up version of the production Vette that had things like real roll-up windows and door locks. The second was a fast-back version that went on to become the Corvair, and the third was a two-door wagon that had really been created as an inside joke aimed at Ford [click here to see one]. But when the public saw the "Nomad" in New York they went nuts and Harley Earl was immediately on the phone to Chevy demanding that they go forward with production.
The "Waldorf Nomad" as it became known, had not actually been built on the production Vette chassis but on the standard 115" 1953 sedan chassis. This meant that the proportions were right to build the vehicle on the upcoming 1955 chassis and it was quickly decided to go ahead with production. The all-new '55 chassis featured longer rear leaf-springs, and an upgraded front suspension that sported ball-joints, un-equal length A-arms and coil springs.
Nomad styling was based on the new Bel-Airs and they shared many features. Signature features of the '55 Nomad include its slightly bulbous hood, "eyebrowed" headlights, Cadillac-style taillights, Ferrari-inspired egg-crate grill, wrap-around rear glass, fluted rear roof section, forward-slanting tailgate, fan-shaped instrument cluster, and raked B-pillars. The two-door Bel-Air Nomads are considered by many to be the prettiest wagons ever built.
The Nomad came with your choice of Stove-bolt six or Chevy's new V-8. The 235.5 ci six produced 123 hp with manual or overdrive transmission, and 136 hp with the Powerglide automatic. The new V-8 was 265 ci and came in 162 hp, 170 hp, or the 180 hp Power-Pak version with the four-barrel carb. Options included things like power steering, power brakes, power seats, power windows, AC, electric windshield wipers, electric clock, whitewall, wire wheels, and a choice of manual, pushbutton and signal-seeking radios.
In 1956 the Nomad received a face-lift that included a full-width grille, round pod taillights, L-shaped side trim and elliptical rear wheel openings. The Stovebolt option was boosted to 140 hp, while the Power-Pak V-8 went up to 225 hp. In '57 the nomad received a heavier bumper grill, new taillights that sat just above the bumper and pointier tail fins, designed to give it a faster look to go with it's even faster fuel-injected Ramjet 283 ci V-8 and new Turboglide automatic.
In spite of all this, the Nomad did not meet sales expectations. In spite of good reviews, only 8,386 left the showroom floor in '55, down to 7,886 in 1956 and a disappointing 6,103 in 1957, resulting in a cancellation of 2-door Bel-Air Nomad. Part of the problem was the high price relative to other cars in the Chevy line. Another problem was that the very styling that makes it so appealing today got in the way of it's utility as a wagon (those slanted B posts for example), and made it harder to load and unload than the larger, less expensive, 4-door wagons on the market. And last but not least, the slanted tailgate was prone to leaking when it rained. Other Chevy wagons would carry the Nomad name, but none would hold the appeal of those 2-door tri-fives.