LS2-powered 1957 Chevrolet Nomad – flashback

David Desira wanted a family truckstar but it had to be cool

Photographers: Cristian Brunelli

IF YOU already own a neat ’57 hardtop, you need something a bit out of the ordinary when you go shopping for a family truckster. David and Virginia Desira were in that position and decided a Chevrolet Nomad would fit the bill perfectly.

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Street Machine

Forget brand allegiance — the Nomad is the ultimate long top, a two-door station wagon with a sweetly sloping B-pillar, curved front and rear glass and those massive ’57 vintage tailfins. It’s like a coupe and a wagon made sweet love right there on the factory floor.

Part of the high-spec Belair range, the Nomad cost US$2757 back in ’57 and only 6103 were built, making it both more exclusive and more expensive than the popular Sports Coupe and convertible models.

Fifty-five years on it’s even rarer and more sought-after by Tri-Five Chevy enthusiasts. Restored or modified, their style ensures they always stand out. With bright paint and slammed in the weeds they make sweet customs. Get the combination right and you will be justly rewarded as David and Virginia found out at the Victorian Hot Rod Show in 2012.

Their Nomad went straight from the trim shop to the hall and won First Place Mild Custom and Top Custom almost before the paint was dry.

There’s no shortage of factory bling on a ’57 Belair. A fine gold flake through the paint is accented by the gold badges

“That was the first time I got to drive it after all the years of work,” David says. “Straight off the truck and onto our club display. A few club members who were prepping their own cars for the show kindly pitched in to help detail it.”

Show duties weren’t what David was looking for, however. He set out to get a restored Nomad to fill the family’s needs but when the Dusk Pearl ’57 Chev arrived from the US, it turned out to be rather less than he’d bargained for.

The wagon can carry all the family gear on club runs although David reckons his Hardtop probably has more practical boot space. Battery is concealed behind the panel on the right; suspension pumps and air tanks are under the floor

“The body was a typical ‘Mexican resto’ with really poor body repairs and blistering paint,” David recalls. “The rest of the car was okay, with a new 350/350 combo, new glass and good chrome. We used it for one summer, doing a few club runs and cruises, before the decision was made to take it off the road and clean it up a bit.”

The Nomad looked okay when David bought it but it turned out to be full of rust and bog

The clean-up required new floors and quarter panels, plus a heap of work by the talented crew at Slamed Creations, and the freshly painted body they delivered prompted David to forge ahead with an upgraded chassis and driveline.

As per its name, this Nomad has been built to roam. An LS2 crate motor was enlisted to provide trouble-free mile-munching. It’s standard for now but with 307 kilowatts pumping from this aluminium heart there’s no real need to look for more just yet.

The engine’s highway life is made easier with a Gear Vendors overdrive unit behind the tricked Turbo 400, dropping revs to around 2200rpm at 100km/h for relaxed cruising.

To make the re-powered Chev ride as befits the updated drivetrain, David installed a fabricated four-link at the back and replacement Strongarm control arms up front, all with Air Ride airbags.

New meets old — LS2 looks at home in the detailed bay. It’s stock and works with an aftermarket wiring loom. The custom engine intakes draw air from above the headlights, from where the factory piped fresh air to the cabin

The ’bags provide about 200mm of adjustment and an electronic Accuair controller offers the choice of three pre-set ride heights.

Drop spindles pull the ground closer at the pointy end and also mount monster Hoppers Stoppers discs.

Adrian from Kooltrim is one of the best of the biz! Inside we have leather-trimmed remodelled HZ buckets, Mercedes carpet, air con and a concealed sound system keep the Desira clan happy on those long cruises. David went with a full set of Dakota Digital gauges in the factory dash

An off-the-shelf rack and pinion steering conversion was bought but it mounted the rack under the front crossmember. The lowered stance meant that wouldn’t have lasted long so David modified the mounts and relocated the rack up behind the crossmember, out of harm’s way, keeping the tiller where it’s always been.

“I considered converting it but I’m used to driving the Hardtop left-hook so we left it.”

The Nomad hasn’t had a lot of use since the Vic Rod Show as David’s been using the time to finish off all the little details that couldn’t be done beforehand. He plans to have it ready for the spring show and run season — the Bright Rod Run, All American Day and the Chev Convention are all on the agenda, along with some passes down the eighth-mile at the Convention.

“If it’s sorted and running right I’ll give it a shot down the track,” he says. “The Nomad has taken the place of the Hardtop now so I could end up moving that on.”

It’s always sad to have to make that choice but there’s no doubting that the Nomad is a cut above the four-door, while its show-stopping style and cruiseability will keep the smiles on David and Virginia’s faces for years to come.


Colour: Venom Red

Engine: Crate LS2, 6.0l
Intake: Standard manifold and throttlebody, custom airboxes and plumbing
Fuel: Premium ULP, modified Mustang tank, Bosch pump
Exhaust: Custom 11/8in headers, HPC treated; dual 2½in system, stainless mufflers
Cooling: Race Radiators, aluminium

Box: TH400 with shift kit & Gear Vendors overdrive
Converter: 2500rpm
Diff: Nine-inch, 3.66 gears, Detroit locker; 31-spline full-floating axles
Tailshaft: Custom 900mm

Suspension: Air Ride airbags, Shockwave shocks, Strongarm control arms, Heidt 2in drop spindles (f), four-link, Air Ride airbags, Monroe shocks (r)
Steering: Flaming River column, rack & pinion conversion
Brakes: BA calipers, 330mm drilled & slotted rotors (f), Corvette calipers, drilled & slotted rotors (r)
Master cylinder: Hydraboost

Rims: Billet Specialties Chicane, 17×7 (f), 17×8 (r)
Rubber: Falken 205/50 (f), 255/50 (r)

Adrian, Kooltrim; Glenn, Air Ride; Neal, Nods Mods; Michael, Sunroof Centre; Ross Anderson for invaluable help and advice; all the 55-56-57 Chevrolet Club of Victoria members who helped along the way; my understanding wife and kids who made do without me for so many weekends and late nights