The station wagon (or for our friends across the ocean, the estate car) has become iconic in today’s history. The reason why it has become iconic isn’t because they’re awesome. The kid hauler has become ingrained in culture as something slow, boring, and lacking class. Most people think of Clark Griswold from the National Lampoon series traveling cross-country in his Pea Soup Green station wagon; kids and wife in tow, running into one problem after another. Recently we had the fourth generation Chevrolet Caprice wagon. Famous for its faux wood paneling down the side; this wagon was a boat in every sense of the word. But what if we could take a trip back in time and check out a wagon that would change your mind? Well buckle up because we’re about to hit 88 miles an hour and go back half a century to 1955.
The era of the 50’s revolved around two things in the auto field: Futuristic styling and laughably large cars. 1955 was no exception, as plenty of cars looked like they came from the perceived future and were large enough to need their own postal code. However, one car stands unique in the battle of the wagons. In 1955, Chevrolet announced to the public a fresh new design; the Chevrolet Nomad.
Based on the Bel Air to help improve sales figures, the new station wagon was a beautiful car from the start. With well defined, clean lines based on the Bel Air, the Nomad was almost an instant hit. I say almost because of the fact that the initial launch wasn’t as massively successful as Chevrolet had hoped. The Nomad had a few drawbacks.
Designed to be a sporty wagon and appeal to the younger crowd, the Nomad featured two doors. The problem with this is loading up the wagon. As any station wagon owner will tell you; the more doors the better. If passengers had to get into the backseat they would have to struggle with folding the front bench seat down and then sliding the whole seat forward. This wasn’t exactly the smooth entrance and exit many were looking for. They would often find themselves climbing in the back and crawling over the backseat.
The engine wasn’t powerful either with only 160 BHP for the V8 option and a 20 horsepower gain when buying the Power Pack option. Another problem was the price. The Nomad cost almost $300 more than the Bel Air Convertible. This price made the Nomad the most expensive car Chevrolet had to offer. That’s $2,300 in today’s’ money.
People would find themselves hard-pressed to pay more for the wagon when they could get the stunning drop top or a beautiful Corvette instead. With only 8,386 units sold during its launch, the Nomad was received poorly. 1966 saw a few changes to try and boost sales figures. The Ferrari-inspired front end was swapped with something more domestically designed.
The interior was now completely taken from the Bel Air minus the detailed trim. Padded dashboards were added. And one of the slickest features of all time was implemented… The gas cap was hidden behind the left side taillight which flipped down for access. Despite these changes, sales numbers were still low. Even lower than in 1955.
The next year’s launch of the Nomad was the best (and last) year of the well-styled Nomad. Still based on the Bel Air body style, the ’57 Nomad sports the iconic tailfins of the Bel Air in wagon form. To help boost sales even more, the Nomad came with an optional Super Turbo Fire V8 that produced a healthy 283 rear wheel horsepower. This motor was a huge milestone in automotive history as the power was derived from fuel injection instead of carburation.
Now not only could you haul around passengers but you could run your wagon down the nearest drag-strip after hitting the cruise-in. Despite all of these last-ditch efforts to save the brand, the Nomad suffered sales so low that Chevrolet cancelled the car. The Nomad came back in 1958, but it wasn’t the same. The car had been completely restyled and was now a more base offering to the public. The style, class, and power were gone. So the next time you see a station wagon and cringe, just remember the Nomad and what could have been the future.