When people hear the words “Fifty Seven Chevy”, the first car that will pop into their mind will typically be the 1957 Chevy Bel Air. Even Wikipedia returns an entry specific to the Bel Air when you search for “57 Chevy“. When I mention the words to my dad I will always get the tale of the 57 Chevy he and his brothers bought for just $50. For me though, the car that jumps to mind first is the Chevy Nomad.
Station wagons are on my mind this week because I parted ways with my aging wagon to take advantage of new technology offered in the current batch of new cars. While I appreciate the improvements in safety and fuel economy, I will miss the combination of functionality and driving joy I got with my wagon.
The first factory assembled wagon was the 1923 Star from Durant Motors. Wagons were originally known as “Depot Hacks” because they were designed to pick people and their luggage up at the train depot and deliver them to the final destination. It certainly sounds more appealing to take a wagon to the station than to call on a depot hack to pick your loved ones up after a long trip via train.
By the time 1957 rolled around, more and more people were using cars for family road trips and the station wagon was perfect for hauling everyone along on the road. Chevy built the Nomad as one of their top end cars, targeting people that wanted the fun along with the functionality. It was based on the Bel Air chassis and had the same engine choices. 1957 was the only year the car was available with the performance oriented ”Super Turbo Fire V8″ option that produced 283 horsepower thanks to the introduction of continuous fuel injection.
Along with power and performance, the Nomad is a fantastic looking vehicle. Its grille does nothing to hide the raw power rumbling behind it. Having only two side doors makes for clean lines heading back to the tail fins made famous by the Bel Air Sport Coupe. The biggest surprise for me is how sharp that arc of glass is wrapping around the rear of the car.
Having the complete package of beauty, performance and power didn’t come cheap. The Nomad was about 20% more expensive than station wagons being offered by the competition. With the high price of the car and limited functionality of having just two side doors, Chevy only sold 6,243 Nomads, accounting for 0.4% of the 1.5 million cars Chevy produced that year.
Limited production runs on a beautiful car always ends up making it more desirable for collectors. Average prices for the 57 Nomad run around $50,000 these days with exceptional examples going for over $100,000 at auction. Personally, I think the best bargains are the ones that lived a hard life at the track like the Fun City Hauler found over at Bring A Trailer recently for under $20k. The knowledge that a car survived the hardships of track life while still maintaining its good looks makes a car more attractive to me.
This looks to be true of the diecast toy market as well. One of the more valuable Johnny Lightning cars is the race painted Wicked Wagon that sells for around $75 when you can find one. Hot Wheels has released a number of variants of the Nomad including the recent Joker edition with rubber tires that is a bargain currently on the shelves for about $5. As testimony to the enduring beauty of this car it seems that almost every diecast manufacturer has released a version of the 57 Nomad.