Modern Rodding FEATURE
A Longtime Coming: This Chevy Nomad Was Decades in the Making title
By Brian Brennan Photography BY Chadly Johnson Videography BY Loren Haleston

any of us have lifelong dreams on what our ideal hot rod should be. Tom Morehouse of Klamath Falls, Oregon, is no different than thousands of other hot rodders—he has spent a lifetime dreaming about owning a Nomad. Apparently dreams do come true, as Tom now has this beautiful 1956 Chevy Nomad from the shop of MetalWorks Classic Auto Restoration in Eugene, Oregon.

Tom tells us that he first joined the Classic Chevy Club back in 1977 and was a member for many years. Time passes and dreams are doggedly worked on, no matter how much time it takes, and Tom was able to begin this build back in the summer of 2001. In the meantime, he spent his time looking for just the right Nomad to launch his dream project. He settled in on this particular 1956 Chevy Nomad because it was straight, it was complete, and it was rust-free—he hit the trifecta for any of us building vintage tin. He purchased the car from a hobbyist who finally one day admitted he had one too many projects. (All of us have or will be there someday.) According to the VIN, the Nomad was an original California car built in Oakland around December 15, 1955. From this auspicious beginning it would eventually end up in a used car parking lot in the Sacramento area back in 1996 and that’s when its next life began.

It was now time to begin the build in earnest. It didn’t take Tom long to realize the type of car he wanted was outside the scope of his skill sets. Once the body was dipped, to get rid of decades-old baddies, he spoke with shop manager Matt Powell of MetalWorks on a course of action. Powell knew Tom wanted a real hot rod, since the Nomad was sans original engine and transmission there was little reason not to go fully modern. During the conversation it was decided that in order to get the job done the original chassis (frame and suspension) would have to be parked in a corner and a new chassis put in its place.

An Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) GT Sport chassis was placed beneath the Chevrolet Nomad sheetmetal. It has an IFS that’s wrapped around Wilwood spindles, 12-inch drilled-and-slotted rotors, and Dynalite four-piston calipers that are powdercoated in red. There’s also an AME 1-1/8-inch front sway bar, Strange coilover shocks, and a Detroit Speed power rack-and-pinion steering. Looking in the back you will see more Wilwood 12-inch rotors and Dynalite calipers, Strange coilovers, packaged around a Strange 9-inch rearend, and 31-spline axles spun by the 3.70 gears. Getting all of the braking to respond falls to a Wilwood master cylinder and Lokar pedals.

Settled between the AME ’rails is a crate motor powerplant initially found in the fifth-gen Camaro SS and C6 Corvette LS3 6.2L (376 cubes) V-8 direct from Chevrolet Performance. The V-8 is fitted with L92-type heads delivering 10.7:1 compression. Accompanying is a high-lift, hydraulic roller camshaft bringing the base motor to 430 hp. (To make this swap yourself you might also think about a “muscle car oil pan” that’s available from several sources, such as Classic Performance Products, to work with your earlier tin.) To bump the power up to 495 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque the motor was equipped with a multi-port injection, K&N air filter, a Powermaster alternator, an MSD starter, a SPAL electric fan, a custom-fabricated exhaust system by MetalWorks based on 2-1/2-inch tubing that runs back to a pair of Flowmaster 50-series mufflers. More on the exhaust from Ultimate Headers. Made specifically for the AME Tri-Five chassis with an LS swap, a special set of long-tube headers is available. Made from cast 321 stainless steel flanges along with the tight radius cast 321 stainless steel elbows allows for large tube exhaust manifolds in tight places and the header is also lightweight compared to other options. Accompanying the header package is an ARP 12-point stainless steel header bolt kit, a pair of matching Cometic HTS header and HTS collector gaskets (if needed).

Chevy Nomad front angle
Chevy Nomad open trunk
1956 Chevy Nomad steering wheel closeup
1956 Chevy Nomad gear shifter
1956 Chevy Nomad back view
1956 Chevy Nomad interior closeup

Matched to the LS3 is a 4L70E overdrive. It should be noted that the 4L70E trans offers virtually no outward difference between the 4L60E, 4L80E, and the last run of the 700-R4. The difference resides in the fact the 4L70E is a stronger unit (has five-pinion gearsets, heat-treated stator shaft splines, induction-hardened turbine shaft, seven-plate clutch, and specific valvebody calibration) and comes with an input shaft speed sensor.

Holding all of this rolling stock up is a full set of Schott Mach V wheels measuring 18×8 and 18×9 all wrapped in Nitto NT555 rubber measuring 225/45ZR18 and 275/40ZR18. Since the Schott Wheels are custom made, backspace and offset choices come in 1/8-inch increments. This allows for a tight yet proper amount of clearance around brake calipers. This tire is ideally suited for our hot rod world where we like staggered tire sizing. Enhanced traction, when compared to earlier versions of the NT555, is gained through the use of larger tread blocks on tire sizes of 275 mm and greater.

Tom tells us that red and black cars were always his favorite. Some of his fascination with red may also come from serving in the fire department for so long! The red-and-black combination works very well on this Nomad so we have to agree with his choices. The body is an original 1956 Chevy Nomad and all of the body- and paintwork was handled at and by the builders at MetalWorks. BASF paints were used to achieve the brilliant red and black combination.

1956 Chevy Nomad gauges closeup
1956 Chevy Nomad leather seat closeup
1956 Chevy Nomad engine side view closeup

Inside the Nomad is overwhelmingly stock in its appearance but closer examination reveals there are any number of subtle and not-so subtle maneuverings. The dash is stock in its origination but look closely and you will see Dakota Digital RTX gauges, Vintage Air A/C and controls, a Flaming River steering column with turn signal wick and shift lever, and a 1959 Chevy steering wheel. There’s also a small waterfall-style center console located at center dash position that’s outfitted with a convenience cup holder, A/C vent register, USB port for charging, and a convenience tray. All of the behind-the-scenes wiring was handled by an American Autowire system strung into place at MetalWorks. Examine and you will note that the stock front and rear seating is now well-appointed with new foundation, foam, and sport bolsters in front. The back is the same minus the bolsters. The leather used is Porsche Can Can Red with luxury cut-pile carpeting and a black matte finish headliner, all from the sewing machine of Jon Lind of Jon Lind Interiors.

There’s no denying the popularity of the Tri-Five Chevy and within these lofty halls the Nomad is clearly an embodiment of its wide appeal. And, we must say, this 1956 Chevy Nomad is one of the finest.

1956 Chevy Nomad engine closeup
1956 Chevy Nomad full sideview
Modern Rodding
VOLUME 2 • ISSUE 4 • 2021