Custom Cruise Friday
With today being Canada Day, it seems appropriate to pay homage to one of the special things that has provided to the public to preserve the special history of Alberta. The Reynolds-Alberta Museum is among nearly 20 historic sites and museums owned and operated by Alberta provincial government. What sets the Reynolds-Alberta Museum apart from the rest is its focus on the machinery that helped transform the province into what it is today. The collections includes aircraft, farm implements and, of course cars. At the center of the automotive collection is this week’s Custom Cruise Friday car, a 1955 Chevy Bel Air Nomad.
A challenge from the beginning
It can pretty safely be said that of all of the cars featured in the Custom Cruise Friday series, this 1955 Chevy Nomad has under gone the most extensive restoration. The car started its life in Seattle, Washington and has been fighting corrosion and rust since it went home with its first owner. In the 60-plus years the car has been on the road, Darren Wilberg, Head of Restoration Services at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, noticed that the car had been through several rebuilds, restorations and modifications. All to varying degrees of quality or success.
“We had to restore it,” Wilberg said. “It wasn’t good enough for a parts car.”
Just about every piece of metal on the 1955 Nomad had some kind of corrosion damage or has been patched using tar and bad ideas. The team working on the car commented on the metal damage by saying, ‘It’s a car with original paint, with no original steel.’ The joke comes from the only piece of original paint being found on the dashboard.
Working so hard on a project that is actively fighting back has a way of bringing out the humor in people. Following a particularly hard day of stripping and cutting away damaged metal, a member of the team dropped one of the more memorable quips.
“With so much (mess) on the floor here, there must be a pony someplace.”
Under the hood
The 1955 Chevy Nomad has a 265 cubic-inch V-8 engine attached to an three-speed automatic transmission. According to Wilberg, the Nomad was built as one of Harley Earl’s “dream cars” to draw younger buyers from competing automakers. 1955 was among the first years Chevrolet placed a small block V-8 engine in its cars.
Keeping it in the family
The Reynolds-Alberta Museum was named after Stan Reynolds, a Wetaskiwin, Alberta business leader and collector of prolific standards. His collection of vehicles, artifacts and ephemera – counting nearly 1,500 pieces got the museum up and going. His nephew Byron Reynolds donated the Nomad to the museum.
When Wilberg undertakes a restoration project, his number one goal is to have to do as little as possible. Obviously, this isn’t about shirking responsibility. It’s about preserving the vehicle’s history — to allow car, truck, airplane or farm tractor to tell it’s own story. By the time Wilberg’s team got the 1955 Chevy Nomad in the shop, there was little chance a light touch would do the trick.
“How aggressive I get with the restoration isn’t dependent on me,” Wilberg said. “It’s the machine.”
Perfection isn’t always perfect
Because of the extensive work that went into the restoration of the 1955 Chevy Nomad, any hope of preserving the history tied to the Reynolds family was quickly tossed out the window. Wilberg quickly and easily switched his focus to restoring the car to how it looked the day it rolled out of one of 10 General Motors assembly plants that were operating at the time.
At the time of the restoration, it wasn’t possible to buy pre-fabricated body panels. Wilberg and his team had to either custom build what they needed or take what they could from other donor cars and still be factory/period correct.
“I want this car flawed,” Wilberg said. “Flawed in the same way it was in 1955.”
What Wilberg is calling “flaws” are the byproduct of mass production. This means that some beads from welds can be felt under the as-close-to-possible period correct finish. The Nomad has been faithfully restored to that condition and Wilberg, deservedly, takes an immense amount of pride in that fact. He will gladly debate the merits of this school of restoration versus a concourse restoration where the a vehicle would be literally flawless.
“The thing about this car,” Wilberg said. “It’s all steel, body soldered seams, lacquer finish — just like in 1955.”
People are as important as steel
Wilberg has been working in the auto body repair industry since 1977. In 40 years of working on cars, the last 30 of them at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, he’s come to appreciate the support he gets from car community.
“The most rewarding part is getting to work with these gentlemen who donate their time,” Wilberg said. “People see the value of what we do and support us with their after tax dollars and after work hours.”
Don Wheaton would like to the thank the Reynolds-Alberta Museum for the honor and the privilege of featuring its 1955 Chevy Nomad in our blog.
Do you have a custom, specialized or otherwise unique vehicle? We want to hear from you. Please send all pertinent information and photos to Don Wheaton Brand Manager Melina Kawecki, by email, email@example.com.