Courtesy of Bonhams
  • Beautifully finished in its as-delivered Calypso Cream and Grecian Gold paint
  • Winner of numerous First in Class awards
  • Trendsetting 1950s style with much room in the back
  • The car that defined an era

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad
Years Produced:1955–57
Number Produced:7,886 (1956)
Original List Price:$2,707
SCM Valuation:$58,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Chassis Number Location:Left front door hinge pillar
Engine Number Location:Stamped on block pad ahead of passenger’s side cylinder head
Club Info:Chevrolet Nomad Association
Alternatives:1955–57 Pontiac Safari wagon, 1953–55 Chevrolet Corvette, 1955–57 Ford Thunderbird
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 4, sold for $62,720, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams Quail Lodge sale in Carmel, CA, on August 24, 2018.

The Chevrolet Nomad needs little introduction to those of us with our heads hardwired to the world of old cars — especially those from the mid-1950s. It was an amazing time of automotive design that shaped and molded the future of the automobile for years to come.

Styling suddenly became as important as function — provided that cars could remain affordable for the many rather than the few. Gone were the days of fat fenders and bulbous bodies with little to no appeal. Practical transportation was subjugated by brighter colors, more chrome, multi-colored interiors, more options and better drivetrains.

It was a styling renaissance that took the world by storm, as the automobile became a status symbol of the growing American middle class.

The high-five for Tri-Fives

Introduced in 1955, Chevrolet launched the 1955 Chevrolet in the 150, 210 and Bel Air series. The body styles were plentiful, as one could be configured as a 4-door sedan, 2-door sedan, utility, sport coupe, delivery, convertible or wagon. Power was supplied by either an inline 6 or new groundbreaking 265-ci small-block V8.

Sales went through the roof, with over 1,700,000 selling in the 150, 210 and Bel Air series alone. It was a total game-changing model for Chevrolet.

The Nomad came into the fold in mid-1955, named after the Corvette-based wagon show car of 1954. It was a high point on the styling chart — but so was the price. Buyers had to opt for the Bel Air trim, but with that came all sorts of styling options such as plush carpeting and two-tone paint. Chrome spears also adorned the headliner, and the body trim was decorated from end to end in stainless steel and chrome bits and pieces. The result was a stunning machine that let your neighbors know you had a few bucks to spare.

By 1956, the overall styling had changed a bit, but the Nomad still left the showroom floor with all sorts of gleaming chrome and an updated grille. Production for 1956 topped out at 7,886 units — the lowest production for any Bel Air model from 1955 to ’57.

A changing market

Dissecting the Nomad market hasn’t been easy of late. You can seemingly take the same exact Nomad, nicely restored, of course, to multiple venues, and depending on the buyers in the room, you’ll see dramatically different results.

Naturally, you could say that about a bunch of cars when they aren’t a good fit for a particular venue. But the Nomad market carries with it a unique dynamic. While it’s stylish and cool, it’s still a wagon.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of determined buyers who would love to own a Nomad, especially a guy who fawns all over Tri-Five Chevys in general. The market is simply changing.

The owners of many of the Tri-Fives, regardless of whether it’s a Nomad, are putting their cars up for sale. A quick search on Hemmings yielded 504 1955–57 Chevys (150, 210s and Bel Airs) for sale, with 40 of those being Nomads. Yes, buyers are there stepping up to acquire them, but the values have been dropping based on simple supply-and-demand metrics.

Younger buyers still seem to be drawn to these cars, but part of that equation is a lower price point. If the cars get cheap enough, more buyers will be drawn to them — and you don’t need a PhD to figure that out.

Resto-mod or all stock?

The interesting part of this market discussion is the number of buyers gravitating to the resto-mod market. Buying a cool old car with all the retro looks and styling with a smorgasbord of modern driving cues has been the hot ticket.

You can actually drive a modified car and remain in reasonable comfort. You’ll still get the thumbs-up, but you can do it in the comfort of your air-conditioned cabin with your iPod connected to a surround-sound stereo system. Couple that with power everything, four-wheel disc brakes and the underpinnings from a late-model chassis, and you can cruise down the road without your tools in the trunk.

That round-the-bend discussion brings us to our subject car. It’s an all-stock example. It will run and drive like a car from 1956. While it certainly presents well and comes complete with a very good pedigree, it’s still a 63-year-old car with 63-year-old technology on board.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but based on my diligent research, Nomads with some modern creature comforts in a comparable original condition are pulling far more cash than all-stock examples. That’s just the new reality. While a collector might gravitate to this car for the pure nature of the offering, buyers who plan to actually drive that car will steer towards the modified examples.

Cool car, but a cooling market

Our subject car is in very nice condition. It obviously was in stellar condition when the restoration was first completed. It has softened now over time, and under close examination, one can note mildly pitting chrome and a lightly soiled engine bay. Regardless, I’m sure it presented very well in person.

By the markets, which have cooled for the Tri-Fives in general, you might expect an all-stock Nomad in this condition to fetch between $60k and $80k. The colors may have held it back a tad, as well as the early run number in the sale. The wallets are just getting cracked open by the fourth car across the block.

While early indications would suggest that our subject Nomad was very well bought, when you step back and look at the broader Tri-Five market as a whole, it’s more likely a market-correct result. Slightly well bought, but with caution as we look into the future.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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