Worth the Wait – Hector Zuniga’s 1956 Chevy Nomad
Hector Zuniga was only 16 years old when he fell in love. Both with his wife, and the 1955 Chevy Nomad in her cousin Gloria’s garage. It needed a lot of work by then, but the family had bought it brand new and still had it.
Hector really liked the Nomad and over the years made it clear that if they ever decided to sell it he wanted to be first in line. Sadly the car left the garage with the husband when Gloria divorced and it would be another 15 or 20 years before Hector saw it again.
It was still intact when it resurfaced, though it had been stored outside in the yard and suffered even more neglect. The floor pans had rotted away and rust plagued much of the body. The car was for sale at the time, but was simply too far gone for Hector to pursue. It was eventually bought by a friend of the family and is still around.
Life goes on and Hector’s dream of owning a Nomad persisted. He finally found this 1956 Chevy Nomad in 2013 tucked off in the show field of a Goodguys event in Pleasanton. It had a For Sale sign on it, and he eagerly left his number and a note of interest.
When his phone didn’t ring by the end of the day, he decided to hang around beside it until the owner returned. Patience paid off and after meeting the gentleman a deposit was made on the spot and the deal was sealed.
A retired auto painter by trade, Hector wasted little time in tearing into his new project. He began disassembling and stripping the car at home, but then carried the parts and pieces to his friend’s garage to do the dusty and dirty stuff. Ducking the HOA patrol, they worked three or four days a week, starting around 9am and then sweeping everything up by the early afternoon to leave no trace of their activities.
Progress was fairly slow, so Hector decided to hire his body-working friend. He lives in Las Vegas, but has family nearby. He offered to cover his wages for the holiday week, along with feeding and housing him if he sanded and prepped the car for paint. Hector was surprised when knocked it out what he thought was a week’s worth of work in three days.
While Hector was handling the painting and the buffing of the various pieces and shell, his other friend Mike Hurtado helped out with the mechanical aspects. Hector says Mike is a very talented and capable guy in the shop and somebody you definitely want helping out on a project like this.
When it was purchased the Nomad was powered by a 265ci small block, but the deal also included a 383 stroker, and a 350. Hector chose the 350 and had Rob’s Machine Shop in Hayward work their magic on the engine, boring it out, and refurbishing the camel-hump heads. It’s topped with an Edelbrock carb and valve covers and an air cleaner from MOROSO. Since the car is set up to be a driver, the 350 is backed with a 700R4 overdrive trans.
Mike set the air suspension up on RideTech components, using their Shockwaves up front and a four-link out back. In addition to doing the wiring, he neatly ran all of the fuel, air, and brake lines and added Wilwood disc brakes. The car’s 18 and 20-inch Foose wheels are the right amount of flashy and yet timeless at the same time.
All of the car’s brightwork was either re-plated or polished and Hector added all new window glass. Using PPG products he kept the car in the rare original Sierra Gold and White color scheme, and let the painted pieces sit for a month after he sanded and re-cleared them before polishing them out for a final time.
Painting the car in pieces kept the polishing residue to a minimum in the cracks and crevices and made for a cleaner final assembly. It’s worth noting that all of the steps in building the Nomad may sound fast, but in reality the project took five years as Hector saved up for each next step and completed the tasks.
Several nice interiors in a group of cars at the Hot August Nights caught Hector’s eye, and after inquiring was led to a phone call to Jon Lind, of Jon Lind Interiors, in Springfield, Oregon.
Hector and Jon exchanged ideas about the Nomad and quickly became friends. The wagon was taken to Jon’s shop and they went back and forth on colors and samples, with Hector giving Jon the reigns on design and execution. A complete audio system from Dean’s Custom Stereo was integrated into the custom leather cabin, and the cool waterfall steering wheel came from Danchuk.
After a lifetime of wanting a classic Chevy Nomad of his own, Hector finally has the car of his dreams. It was only possible with hard work, patience, and a group of really good friends.
Photos by Damon Lee