- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2001

When an antique car in excellent condition is chopped, channeled and sectioned into a customized hot rod, many consider the act a tragedy.
Conversely, Gene Morris created something out of virtually nothing when he rescued a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad.
Mr. Morris, a NASA mission support electrician at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has always enjoyed tinkering with old cars.
Five years ago come August he and a friend were in the checkout lane at the Kmart store in Cambridge, Md. As the line of shoppers inched forward, the men discussed old cars. The cashier overheard the conversation and volunteered that she knew where a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad was and it was for sale.
Mr. Morris gathered the information about the car because he had always been fond of 1955, '56 and '57 two-door sporty Nomad station wagons. With open wheel wells and a combination carefree hardtop/practical station wagon style, the Nomads have always been desirable. Almost half a century ago a total of 8,386 were built followed in 1956 by 7,886 and only 6,103 in 1955.
The flashy Nomads were a stylistic derivation of the 1954 General Motors Motorama concept Corvette.
Mr. Morris quickly tracked down the Nomad. He learned it was an original Indiana car, bought by its current owner in 1968. At that time it was merely a well-worn 11-year-old car. The owner had intended to restore the car, but when health woes got in the way, the restoration was put on the back burner.
Eventually, the family moved to Maryland and with optimism brought the Nomad with them. When Mr. Morris first saw the 1957 Chevrolet, it was where it had sat for years behind the Perdue Stadium in Salisbury.
He says it was enclosed in a corral of hay bales with a piece of canvas over the top.
"There was no motor, no transmission, no front fenders, no hood, no chrome and no interior," Mr. Morris recalls. "It did have two pieces of intact glass," he said. The can weighed 3,465 pounds when complete but only a fraction of that in its current condition.
After closer inspection, Mr. Morris discovered, "the floors were shot." He stepped inside only to find he had stepped on the ground.
Additionally, the bottom half of both quarter panels were consumed by rust. There was just barely any car left.
"If it had been anything but a Nomad I would never have bought it," Mr. Morris said.
He returned with some friends to lift the carcass out of the muck into which it had sunk. The plan was good, however, the undercarriage wasn't and the rear axle fell out.
Here is where a lesser man would have bailed out. Mr. Morris stayed the course, hauling home the parts of the car he had just purchased.
He took it apart to see what he had and it wasn't much.
When new, the Nomad had a base price of $2,757.
"Still," he muses, "if I had the original motor I would have put the car back to the original condition."
Since so little of the original car remained, Mr. Morris opted to rebuild it to almost stock condition but add modern enhancements as he went along.
The first order of business was repairing what he had. A new floor pan was welded in place along with a new pair of rocker panels. Only the bottom part of the quarter panels down by the wheel well are reproduced Mr. Morris laments. That left a gap between the new metal at the bottom and healthy old metal at the top of the rear fenders. Mr. Morris filled the space with new sheet metal and not a seam is now visible.
A new tailgate was located in Delaware while a 1967 Super Sport Nova donated the rear axle. Most of the chrome trim came from California, including the seven vertical ribs on the tailgate. The nose of the Nomad, the part forward of the fire wall, came from the four corners of the compass.
Across the top of the Nomad are the lateral nine grooves. On the inside of the top are seven stainless steel bows.
The interior had to be reconstructed, Mr. Morris explains. The front seat came from a Pontiac Chieftain, with the back seat taken from a basic Chevrolet 210.
The missing steering wheel and column were replaced with an altered 1979 GMC van tilt-wheel mechanism.
Mr. Morris credits West Auto Body in Delaware with not only the work on the car but the patience it took in finding the parts. "The wraparound windshield was the easiest part," Mr. Morris said.
Originally, Mr. Morris had planned on getting the Nomad back to a modicum of respectability before selling it for a profit and moving on to another car.
So much for plans.
"The more involved the project got," Mr. Morris said, "The more attached I got to the car."
Jay Hammond, in Delaware, was instrumental in resurrecting the Nomad, he said.
Mr. Morris states the original powertrain included a 283-cubic-inch V-8 attached to a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. Since both parts were gone when he got the car, he replaced them with a 406-cubic-inch V-8 from a 1975 Impala hooked to a Turbo 350 transmission with a stall and shift kit.
Mr. Morris wasn't particularly happy with the original two-tone paint scheme cinnamon and white so he repainted it a lime green.
He thought he was done with the renovation in May 2000. Now, however, he has decided a vintage air conditioner will make attending summer car shows a bit more pleasant.
"The car has seen a lot of miles on a trailer," Mr. Morris said. Now that it's roadworthy, he affirms, it's time to drive. "She rides great," he said, "and she's an attention getter."


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