"My grandfather has a bunch of old cars." Well, if you want to get my attention, that's probably the best way to do it. 

I'd only known Bryan for a couple of months when he dropped this little nugget of information on me. I was working at a Ford dealership at the time, and he had just started there as a technician. Nice guy, younger than me - and I guess I was about 31 then? Something like that anyway. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser iron and steele

The first time I saw this car. I remember wiping the grime off the NOMAD emblem.

After a little prodding, Bryan filled me in. It seemed that his grandfather had a pretty eclectic collection of cars. From the sound of it, there was a little bit of everything spread out over two different properties. One of which actually belonged to Bryan by this time and was where he lived. His grandfather had cars stuffed away in shops and outbuildings all over that place from what I was gathering. Perfect. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod iron and steele

This poor thing.

I didn't make any secret about the fact that I'd like to come see these cars. About once a week I would ask Bryan when a good time would be to come by. Every time I brought it up, he would assure me that it would happen sometime soon.

I think it was about three months later when out of the blue, Bryan, who was leaving work on a Friday night asked, "Do you want to come by for a beer on your way home, see some cars?" Hell yes I did!

I happily followed Bryan to his house, which was only a few miles away, and pulled into the driveway. I realized that I'd driven by this property before, and I knew there were cars back there. I had never stopped though and didn't know what all was really hiding. Today I would finally find out. 

We get out and walk into the back field. Right away it becomes obvious there is a lot of stuff here, and a little bit of everything. On the way in I see a really nice looking '55 Chevy 2 door body sitting on the ground. Then another '55 Chevy. This one is an old race car. It has a tilt nose, radiused rear wheel wells, full cage, the whole deal. No motor, no trans, just sitting in the field. I'm thinking to myself, "Wow, ok, what else is here?"

hot rod rat rod barn find 1955 chevy gasser race car iron and steele

Ok, you have my attention....

I'm walking through the field and taking note of all the cars. There really is a lot of different stuff just kind of sitting around: Muscle cars, FJ40 Land cruisers, vintage Volvos, etc. Stuff. Not much of it interested me necessarily, other than the tri-fives and an old T bucket hot rod, but it was neat to see it. 

Walking back toward the house, in a lean-to jetting off of the back side of the main shop, I spotted something I hadn't seen on the way in. From about a hundred yards, I could just make out that it was a tri-five Chevy. I asked Bryan, "What's in there?" He doesn't answer right away. As we get closer, just as I'm realizing what it is, he finally replies: "That's the Nomad." Those three words kicked off a nearly decade-long saga of chasing after a car I just knew I had to have.
In terms of old car-finds, this was pretty high up the scale. An all-black 1956 Chevy Nomad, sitting under cover in a tucked away spot, far removed from the prying eyes of so many that would have just *loved* to have found it. It was complete. Motor, trans, interior, everything. It almost looked like it had been driven into the spot where it sat. Almost. The thing was one of those cars that right away just spoke to me. I couldn't stand to see it sit there another second, I had to have it. I had to save it. I couldn't let it deteriorate any further. In my mind, there was no question about it: I was going to drag it home. Little did I know, it was gonna be a while...
1955 chevy 1956 chevy barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car iron and steele

Despite sitting on the ground, this was a really, really nice car. 

"Bryan, what's the deal with this car??!" If I were trying to hide my eagerness, I wasn't doing a very good job. Bryan seemed less enthusiastic about it than me and with a shrug he says, "Just one of my grandfather's cars. It just sits here." I could see a slight smirk that let me know that he at least appreciated that was excited about it. But it became clear pretty quickly that there wasn't much that he could do for me. I pressed on, "Can I buy this car? Would he sell it? How do I make this happen?" 

If you've ever seen the movie Christine: Remember the scene where Arnie first finds the car sitting in the field and he's absolutely falling all over it and saying stupid shit like "What do you want for her - whatever it is, it's not enough!" That was basically me. I was Arnie. If anything, I was worse than Arnie. I wanted that car.

iron and steele hot rod barn find

Me, basically.  

Now, I've learned the art of patience since then, but at this time in my life, I didn't know the meaning of the word. "Can we call him?" My expectation was that we would go ahead and wrap this up right now. I just knew I would be going to get my trailer right then and pulling this car out. Yep. I would surely be washing off the layer of green algae that time had let obscure that beautiful black paint by sundown. Looking back, it makes me chuckle: Like I was the first dickhead that had rattled around and offered to buy the thing. As if he just hadn't sold it all those years simply because nobody had ever thought to ask. Right.... 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser nomad tri-five 56

Seeing it again after several years. Now cleaned up and in the barn. 

"I mean, I'll talk to him about it. But he doesn't really sell stuff." Right. Of course. But surely, he will sell this one. To me. Right? It has to be... Bryan went on, "Well, if it makes you feel any better, it's been sitting right there for a long time-it's not like it's going anywhere, so don't worry about it disappearing or anything." It did not make me feel any better. 

My first order of business was to try to get an audience with Bryan's grandfather. I didn't have to wait long to meet him in person, but it didn't go the way I had imagined it. 

His name is Rex. He's a big guy, stout. White beard and a weathered face that tells you two things right off the bat: One, he is a nice guy. Two, he's not someone you would want to mess with. He has sort of a grizzled old sea captain type of look. Like the kind of guy that knows how to tie fifty different kinds of knots, or navigate by the stars. His hands are big. Powerful. The kind of old timer hands that could crush you if they wanted to. And he looks you in the eye when he shakes your hand to see if that's going to be necessary or not. Rex is a guy that you'd want on your side. And not the guy you'd want to be on the receiving end of a punch from. A real man's-man. I liked him right away. The feeling wasn't mutual. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

Still just as nice as I remembered it. 

He had come into the Ford store to pick something up and chat with Bryan for a minute. I saw my chance and went over to introduce myself. "This is Jake, he's the guy I told you would like to buy your Nomad." Bryan cut right to the chase. I shook Rex's hand and he sized me up. His reply was simply, "Oh. I see. Nice to meet you." Then he went back to his conversation with Bryan. And that was that. It was clear that he wasn't exactly interested in scheduling a time for pick up right then. I stood there like a fucking dufus for a minute or so, then finally choked out, "Well... nice to meet you." I slinked away wondering what had just happened. No dice. Round one: Rex. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser

What a car!

And really, it wouldn't just be round one.. It was every round. I ran into Rex many more times over the span of several years. I would see him at swap meets, or when he would come into the store to see Bryan. He was always equal parts pleasant and disinterested in talking about the Nomad. It became clear very quickly that this was not going to be something that happened on my terms. I stopped even mentioning the car to Rex at all. He knew I wanted it, he just wasn't interested in selling it, or even discussing it.

While I did give up on approaching Rex, every so often I would remind Bryan that I would really like to buy that car, with the hope that he would relay that message back to his grandfather. I hoped that one of those times he would say "Ah hell, tell him to come and get it." This went on for months, then ultimately, years. Rex never said those words. Every so often, I'd find an excuse to make it over to Bryan's house. He would usually say something like, "You just want to check on your car, don't ya?"  Yes. I did. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

Finally out in the sun. 

Fast forward about nine years or so. I had just gotten back from California after spending a week with my friend Brandon and his crew at East Bay Speed and Custom. I left my ESTATE SALE 36 3 WINDOW there for a haircut and had turned it into a mini vacation, spending a week in their shop, talking shit and prepping, then cutting the roof off my car. I was in good spirits, still reeling from that amazing trip, but happy to be home. I get a text from Bryan.

"Hey what do you know about mid-60's Chevy and GMC trucks?" Kind of an odd question. I'm texting with him and he starts talking about a guy that wants to come out to look through some parts that he had given to Rex some years earlier. Ok. ?  I'm trying to figure out what he's talking about and/or why he would need my help. Eventually, Bryan put it into focus: "I'm sure you heard my grandfather passed away." I hadn't. 

Now maybe you're thinking that this is the part where I talk about how I got all excited that I would finally have a shot at buying the car I wanted. But honestly, it was the furthest thing from my mind. The part I left out up to this point is that Bryan was extremely close with his grandfather. I knew this was a devastating event for him, though he did his best to conceal that fact. The Nomad was just a thing. A thing that could wait. I wasn't about to bring that car up. It turns out I wouldn't have to. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

So straight and nice, a real time capsule. 

Almost a month goes by, and I get another text from Bryan: "A guy has been coming around wanting to buy these three Chevys. He made an offer." Apparently, not everyone shared my "let the family grieve" stance. I find this happening a lot these days as less and less people seem to know how to conduct themselves anymore. And I've lost out on a deal or two in the name of not being "that guy." In this case, I wasn't terribly worried about it, since I knew Bryan pretty well by this point. I told him to let me know when he and his grandmother were ready, and I would make an offer of my own. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

The money shot. 

Shortly after this, Bryan made a suggestion, "Go ahead and make your offer on whatever cars you want to buy. Put it in an email so she has it in writing. I'll talk to her in the meantime." There were plenty of other people swarming around various cars by this time. The Nomad was definitely one of them. It was Grandma's decision, but Bryan promised to make sure I was at the top of the list. 

Ultimately, I wrote an offer for all three of the tri-five Chevys that were there. I also went to meet Bryan's Grandmother, Launa, to let her know what my intentions would be for them, especially the Nomad. When I left, she promised to be in touch with me soon. I parted ways with Bryan kind of giving me the "I'll handle it" nod as I thanked them both. Now the only thing left to do was wait. 

Now, remember that I had already been chasing this Nomad for almost a decade. I figured whatever amount of time she took to think things over would be no problem at all. I was wrong. A day went by. Then two. Three. Four. A week, then two. I tried checking in with Bryan as often as I could without being a total pain in the ass. He did his best to encourage me to just be patient. "I'm confident that she will accept your offer." Ok. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele
1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele
1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele
1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele
1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele


Finally, after almost three excruciating weeks, I phone call from Launa. "Jake, I will accept your offer on the three Chevys." Unbelievable. I thanked her repeatedly and made arrangements to pick them up the following day. My next call was to my friend, Robbie: "What are you doing tomorrow?" I asked. His response, "Picking up some bitchin cars?" Yep. That's exactly right. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

Yeah, I'll take that too...

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

And that...

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

Loaded up. 

 The next day, I picked Robbie up and headed to Launa's house to grab the first of three cars. By this time, the Nomad had long since been removed from the lean-to on Bryan's property. They had pulled it out, washed it, and stuck it in the barn at Launa and Rex's house. It sat there just long enough to collect a new layer of neglect, this time dust rather than moss. It looked perfect sitting there in the barn, and even better once I pulled it out into the sunshine. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele


As I strapped the Nomad to my trailer, I was thinking about what a long journey it had been to get to where we were right then. A car that I knew from the first time I saw it was going to be mine. And now, after all those years, and almost losing hope that it would ever happen, it finally was. As painfully long of a process as it may have been, it was all worth it in the end. I was happy Robbie was there when I went to pick it up too, it was a day I'll never forget. 

So, what does the future hold for the Nomad? As much as I don't think of myself as one of these "patina" guys, I can't bring myself to restore this car. The paint is fairly decent, and the body is straight and rust-free. I think I'm going to just buff it and drive it as it is. My big plan is to make it sit right, install a nasty blown small block with a 4 speed and call it good. 

1956 chevy nomad barn find hot rod rat rod gasser race car tri-five iron and steele

All washed up. Can't wait to buff it. 








Rusty Smith

Hey bro, I loved your story on the Nomad. My very first car was a ‘56 Nomad which I still drive to this day. My pop bought the car in ’64 from the original owner. It came to me when I was in junior high as the old man was sending it to the crusher because the motor had taken a shit. (My dad knew the value of the car, as he did body and paint on rods and customs since he was 18, but when he was drinking, he would do shit just to be onery and nasty.) If I wanted the car, the deal was that I was to do all the work myself and NEVER ask for help from anyone, or the car would be scrapped. Sounded fantastic to me. The car avoided the graveyard and I had one of the most beautiful cars Chevrolet ever produced. The car still has the same paint job I did in ’77 and the same interior since ’75. Lots more to the story, but I’ve rambled on long enough. Cedric Meeks and Brandon from East Bay know the car and myself, and have encouraged me not to change it in any manner, as, in a sense, it’s somewhat of a time capsule…there is something so fucking cool saying, "Yeah, I built that motherfucker when I was 16!! " The car is built as a mild custom from the period of the late 50’s/early 60’s. Here’s the coolest part, I have driven that fuckin sled all over the country west of the Mississippi, as well as every surf break on the United States West Coast. Oh yeah, also got laid in it my first time. Older surfer girl teaching me the ropes…God bless her soul! I would love to stay in touch and watch whatever you do or don’t do with your ’56. Much Aloha brah! P.S. I was going to go to the Hot-Rod-a-Rama this year but it was a no go. Any traditional rod and custom show in your neck of the woods, please let me know.

Steve Lehl

That my friend is a great ending to a wonderful story! Patience is a virtue im still trying to acquire and at 63 probably not gonna happen! Those cars went to the right caretaker, now its your turn to write some new history. Well done!

Yolanda O'Shea

What a wonderful story. My brother @savannahrodsandcustoms is an avid Tri Five Guy and has a bad ass 57 Window Delivery I think you’d appreciate. I’m glad you’re keeping the paint the way it is as I’m sure Rex is also. Much respect!


That thing is perfect just the way it is and that blown small block 4 speed idea is a solid plan. Great story – thank for sharing.

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