Car of the Week: 1958 Chevrolet Nomad station wagon

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Gerald Moore will probably never how many other glitzy, gorgeous and somewhat overlooked 1958 Chevrolet Nomad wagons are still hiding somewhere on the planet. That’s kind of too bad, because it would be fun to know. For 1958, Chevrolet didn’t keep exact tallies of how many station wagons were built from each of its lines. All we have is a grand total of 170,473 haulers from the Bow Tie company, and that number includes all the wagons in the Del Ray, Biscayne and Bel Air series.

Moore is a longtime Chevy guy, though, and he knows for sure that the four-door Nomads are downright scarce these days. “To tell you the truth, I’ve only seen one other Nomad like this from ’58. I’ve seen the Brookwoods and the other wagons, but I’ve just seen the one like this and that was in Minnesota at Back To The 50’s. He had it all shaved and customized, but it was a ’58.

“That’s the only other one I’ve ever seen. They grouped all the wagons together [for production figures] and I can’t find out how many were manufactured. I would love to know.”

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Of course, plenty of folks have to do a double-take when they spot the “Nomad” nameplate on the rear quarter panel of Moore’s stunning wagon. The Nomad moniker is generally associated with the sporty — and now very coveted — two-door hardtop wagons that were built from 1955-‘57. Those hardtop Nomads were a bold new idea in the car world and have gone on to reach icon status in collector circles.

By 1958, the Chevy two-door wagons were gone, however, and the Nomad name was given to the top-tier Bel Air-based wagon. It was a one-year-only proposition. For 1959, the Nomad designation went to the Impala wagon, making the 1958 Bel Air Nomad a bit of a footnote in Chevrolet history.

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Moore has found that even folks who were around when the cars were new seem to have a hard time recalling that there was such a thing as a ’58 four-door Bel Air Nomad.  “You see the other Nomads all over, all the shows you go to, but the four-doors you don’t see many at all,” noted the resident of Green Bay, Wis. “Everyone who comes by and sees it says, ‘They made a four-door Nomad in ’58?’ and I say, ‘Yeah. That was the first year they made the four-door in a Nomad.’”

Moore also owns a beautiful 1958 Impala two-door hardtop and a ’58 Impala convertible, and never had any real designs on adding a wagon to his stable until one he knew about unexpectedly became available. “I knew about this car before. A person from Kiel, Wis., owned it, and I knew him and I told him he’d never sell that car, and he said ‘Yeah, I’m going to sell the Nomad.’ I said no way, and he said yes he was going to sell it, so I asked him how much he wanted for it … I asked him if he could keep it for me for a bit and he said sure, ‘When do you want to pick it up?’”

The previous owner had the car about 13 years, according to Moore, but neither man knows much about the Nomad’s previous owners or what kind of life it led in its early days. Moore isn’t even sure how much restoration — if any — has been done to the car. The car was originally all black but at some point was given a black-over-white two-tone paint scheme that looks fantastic. “I’ve only done minor things to it, tires, brakes, stuff like that. Otherwise this is the way I bought it eight or nine years ago,” Moore noted. “And I don’t think he did much to it, either. It’s got the 283 engine, and I think that’s original. I don’t know for sure. It’s got factory air, dimmer switch, the luggage rack on top … It’s got a few extras on it.”

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The Nomad was one of five wagons in the Chevrolet lineup for 1958 that the company bragged were “the five most exciting new station wagons of the year!” And buyers could still get a two-door wagon, just not a two-door hardtop Nomad. The two-door, six-passenger Yoeman station wagon was the low-budget option. There was also a four-door Yoeman, and fancier six- and nine-passenger Brookwood wagons. They were available with a choice of five different V-8 engines or the 235.5-cid, 145-hp six-cylinder, and four different transmissions, including three-on-the-tree, which is what came in Moore’s Nomad.

Chevrolet called its new-look Nomad the “luxury leader of the station wagon line” with its “dazzling new design — from a smoothly sculptured hood to gull-wing fenders… There’s a new larger windshield and a sweeping new wraparound window at the top gate”

The utility of the Chevy wagons was no doubt helped by the sturdier new “safety-girder” frame that arrived in 1958 and was said to be 30 percent more rigid than the previous version. It was joined by a new full-coil suspension that provided improved ride quality. There was also plenty new in the aesthetics department, with wider, longer sheet metal, dual headlights in front and cone-shaped parking lights.

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The top-of-the-line Bel Airs were available in both six-cylinder (1700 Series) and eight-cylinder (1800 Series) varieties, with prices ranging from $2,386 for a six-cylinder two-door sedan up to $2,835 for the V-8 Nomad and $2,835 for the new Bel Air Impala ragtop.

For 1959, the Impala got its own series, and took with it the Nomad, making wagons like Moore’s true one-year wonders. The two-door Nomads of ’55-57 may still get most of the love and attention, but the four-door ’58 Nomad four-doors may ultimately get recognized as the scarcest of those wonderful wagons.

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