American car buffs rate 1957 as a watershed year in the annals of US car design.
Fins were in vogue but had yet to reach the extremes of 1959, and cars still retained a litheness that several brands, notably those from the General Motors’ stable, lost with the overblown styling that became the rage in 1958.
Ford’s 1957 sedans were a model of restraint and elegance but the car
many feel is the standout of 1957 was Chevrolet’s Bel Air.
The Bel Air built on the 1955/1956 styling – Chevy called the car “basically a sheetmetal change from 1956” – but brought sharper, bigger and more elegant fins.
There is no bad-looking 1957 Bel Air but perhaps the best-looking of them all is the Nomad two-door station wagon.
GM’s legendary styling guru Harley Earl had debuted the Nomad look –
near-pillarless, wrap-around rear glass on a show car built on a Corvette body.
The 1957 Nomad didn’t come cheap – at $US2571 it was $265 dearer than
the Bel Air convertible.
The tailgate was of clamshell-type construction, and the cargo floor was lined with linoleum.
Engines ranged from a 235 cubic inch six-cylinder to a 265ci V8 with carburettor or the Ramjet 285 cubic inch Ramjet V8 fuel injection. The injected V8’s 285bhp
made the six’s 123 seem puny.
The engines drove the rear wheels via either a three-speed manual or two-speed automatic gearbox.
The fastest Nomad could hit 96km/h (60mph) in eight seconds, the slowest in 11.
They managed between 15 and 19mpg, and had top speeds ranging from
Front suspension used coil and the rear trusty leaf springs. Like most cars of the
time, brakes were drums on all four wheels.
The Nomad was drop-dead gorgeous to look at but in a time before air-conditioning, its acres of glass made the cabin got too hot in summer. The tailgate leaked too.
The Nomad didn’t even look like approaching 10,000 sales – it built a little more than 6000 – and the style was dropped for 1958.
Nowadays, they’re highly sought-after collector’s items.