Jerry Resser knows Nomads.
He has owned two 1956 Nomads, with a 1957 thrown in between. But his current version of Chevy’s classic two-door wagon is beyond a doubt the nicest of the bunch.
He found it while checking out a newspaper advertisement for three 1957 Chevies back in 1994. "The guy had advertised one finished car and two parts cars … but I saw this one and I told him, `I’m not near as interested in these three cars as that one over in the corner,’ " Resser said.
The owner couldn’t sell the car until some title issues were cleared up, but he did call back after Thanksgiving and a deal was quickly made.
Resser had been obliged to sell his first Nomad, as it wasn’t a practical car for raising and transporting a family. So he wanted to make this later version a factory-fresh recreation of that earlier car.
He disassembled the entire car on a rotisserie and began heating and scraping off undercoating. "I scraped and scraped … I took it clear down to bare metal," he said. He was pleased to see there was only a little body putty in it and one floor panel that needed replacing.
The previous owner had upgraded the power plant from the original 265 cubic inch V-8 with a 283 replacement engine that had never been installed in a car, so that simplified that part of the project. Resser spent untold hours doing the body work preparing for paint.
But he admits, at more than one point he thought, "This thing is never going to get done. If somebody came along and gave me what I’ve got in it, it would be gone."
But he stayed on the job and lined up a friend, Ted Tolan, to shoot a fresh two-tone acrylic enamel paint job of Twilight Turquoise and Indigo Ivory on the Nomad.
Reassembled, with a set of wide whitewall tires and genuine wire wheels (the ’56 Nomad could be bought with wire wheel hubcaps), the Nomad was a real head-turner. "There’s nothing in the world harder to clean than those wire wheels," Resser discovered.
Then his hot rod friends began lobbying him.
"Everybody kept saying, `You’ve got to change it, you’ve got to change it,’ " he recalled. When he got a chance to buy a set of beautiful 15-inch Budnik custom wheels from Gary Weber, the regional representative for the wheel company, he took it.
"That’s when it started," he said.
The bias ply whitewalls came off, in favor of a fresh set of BF Goodrich T/A’s, front and rear.
For a more aggressive stance, Resser installed a set of dropped spindles and Chevy II springs on the front end, lowering the car about 3 1/2 inches, while using reverse-eye shackles in back to bring the rear end down about 2 inches. A set of front disc brakes improves stopping power.
Beefing up the go power, Resser kept the 283 -- now bored out to 292 cubic inches -- but added a tunnel port fuel injection system from a 1989 Camaro to the engine. That meant installing an electric fuel pump capable of keeping the fuel injectors firing on schedule.
A huge Griffin aluminum crossflow radiator fitted with a pair of Spal electric fans ensures that this Nomad won’t run hot during summer cruises.
Resser retained cast iron factory-style exhaust manifolds and installed a performance exhaust system on the car. A Chevy 350 Turbo Hydramatic transmission was linked to the stock ’56 Chevy rear end, which carries a 3.55 gear set, soon to be replaced by a more highway-friendly 3.08 set of gears.
Inside, the Nomad remains a near-factory vehicle, with an aftermarket upholstery kit installed by Scott Downey. One change was made was in the rear cargo area, where the old-style linoleum floor covering was replaced by a Daytona carpeting kit that matches the remainder of the car.
The original gauges were replaced by a set of Classic Instruments, which include both a speedometer and bar-style tachometer built into the original housing.
Resser credits his high school buddy, Jack Tanner, with helping him bring the 5-year project to completion. Those two, along with Craig Crawford, have made the trek to Goodguys regional shows in Colorado and Texas and plan to take in the Des Moines event this summer.
In the end, that’s what it all comes down to, says Resser — enjoying spending time with friends not only working on great old cars, but driving them and sharing them with others. His slightly hot-rodded Nomad is a perfect fit for that.