April 1969, was a time of uncertainty for all young Americans, and that is when the U.S. Army came calling on 19-year-old Henry Martinez of Denver, Colorodo. Henry dutifully accepted his new military family, and then found himself traveling to Viet Nam. But, before he left for the strange new world, he received a weekend pass from basic training, which took him to Monterey, California, to see the sights.
Planting The Seed
While there, he was standing on a street corner when he heard a well pronounced “rumpety-rump” emanating from down the street. Following the sound, he spied a 1955 Nomad with a blower poking through the hood sitting at the traffic light. He knew what a Nomad was, but had never seen one until that moment. When the light changed, the Nomad rumbled away, and Henry vowed to one day own one.
When he and his army buddies would talk about going home and buying the latest musclecar, Henry would always comment, “Not me, I want a ‘55 Nomad.”
The Legacy Begins
After spending a year in Viet Nam, Henry was honorably discharged from the Army and sent home. It was only a few months later that he found a 1955 Nomad and bought it for the sum of $500. It wasn’t just a driver to him, it was his Nomad! For that $500 bucks, Henry got a car with a 1963 Rochester fuel injection unit atop a 327 Chevy engine with Hooker headers and a Borg-Warner four-speed that would jump out of Second gear if he didn’t hold onto the Hurst shifter.
In late 1972, he found another ‘55 Nomad, and that car’s sheet metal was in better condition, so he bought that one. Henry decided to combine the two cars and keep the better parts off both cars to improve his ride. He then then put the other one together with the remaining parts and sold it for $850.00. When assembling this latest iteration, he kept the Rochester-fed 327 engine, and added a set of Cragar mags to his car. In the meantime, he’d joined the National Nomad Club, and in 1974, drove his ’55 to the Nomad Convention in Kansas City.
Sadly, Henry’s car couldn’t compete with the others at the show, and he went home empty handed, but he did have the experience of a lifetime. After seeing how nice many of the other cars were, he decided his needed some improvements. When he got home from the convention, a body-on restoration was tackled.
The front clip was removed and a new 350 small-block from a ‘72 Nova was set in place. Behind that was a Turbo 350 automatic transmission. All new glass was installed, the bumpers were rechromed, and many factory-optional accessories were added. After the body work was completed, Henry decided to paint the car purple.
New upholstery was installed by Larry McDaniel of Broomfield, Colorado, and in 1978, the car was repainted Pearl Tangerine in a friend’s garage. Also in 1978, the ’55 was driven to one Nomad Convention and then to another in 1980. This time, the Nomad won first place in its class.
Back in 1972, when Henry was building his ’55, a couple of brothers saw the ’55 and bragged to him about a ‘57 Nomad they were building. They invited Henry to their garage to see the car, and when he arrived, the body sat on jack stands, the hood was in one corner, and the fenders in another. The car had no interior, wheels, or tires, but what caught Henry’s eye was the bare frame in the middle of the garage.
Mounted within the frame was a 1969 Corvette’s independent rear suspension. Henry kept that idea in the back of his mind, thinking that maybe he’d add that to his Nomad during the next rebuild.
Seven years later, a friend, Rick Rising, was looking for a Nomad of his own, and Henry remembered the ‘57. He and Rick drove down to look at the project, which hadn’t progressed much from when Henry had seen it years before. Rick was able to purchase the car, and then commissioned the body work done and had it painted Guards Red by Argood’s Auto Body in Denver. Rick bought all new glass, stainless trim, emblems, grill, and everything else from Danchuck Manufacturing to finish the Nomad.
A new aluminum-headed 350 small-block was bought, and a polished tuned-port fuel injection unit from Street and Performance was installed. After installing a Turbo 400 transmission, he lost interest in the Nomad and it just sat in his garage. In the late 1980’s, Rick asked Henry if he had any interest in buying the car, but they couldn’t come to terms. Fast forward ten years or so, and Rick had to sell the Nomad. A deal was struck between the two, but that meant that the ’55 had to go.
After getting the ’57 home, Henry had a good friend, Cliff Lipke, owner of a restoration shop in Castle Rock, Colorado, install a new set of 3.73 rearend gears along with a one piece fiberglass rear spring on the independent rear suspension. The front and rear Corvette brake calipers were sleeved with stainless steel, a front anti-sway bar was added, and a shift kit was installed in the transmission by Don Spalding. A complete stainless steel exhaust system was then installed by Ron Hutchison of Mobile Muffler.
A tilt steering column and steering wheel by Flaming River was installed along with power windows. Dakota Digital gauges went into the dash, and Henry built a custom console in front of the bench seat. Desmond Trujillo, a nephew working for Ultimate Electronics at the time, installed a killer Alpine sound system. Henry had a steel cowl-induction hood made by John Benet in Colorado Springs. LED taillights were installed, and a hidden third brake light was mounted behind the upper liftgate. Henry topped the rebuild with a set of polished American Racing mags. When he was happy with how everything was put together, and after taking a few test drives, the interior was covered in black and gray leather by Larry McDaniel of Broomfield, Colorado.
The first car show Henry attended with the completed Nomad was the Super Chevy Show at Bandimere Speedway. The Nomad earned a Best Nomad, and Best Tri-Five Awards!
When asked if he had a name for his ’57 Nomad, Henry simply replies, “No, but people simply say here comes Cruisin’.” That is in regards to the license plate on Henry ‘s Nomad.