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'55 Nomad

4/10/2020
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This homebuilt Nomad is just one in a long line of high-quality cars from the shop of Mike Westphal.

When gearheads young and old get together to work or bench race, the wise graybeard is always regarded with a great deal of respect. The young kids shut up when their elder speaks because they know they're about to either hear a really good story or learn a better way to do something. Mike Westphal is that graybeard and this slick '55 Nomad is the latest to come out of his shop.

The 20-inch rear and 17-inch front Americans set this car on a righteous rake.

Built over the course of about five years, this sleek red wagon is a far cry from where it started. The car was purchased in Indiana, and according to Mike, "it was a real piece of junk." The floors were gone and the body was sitting loosely on the chassis. But Mike could see the potential in those slick Harley Earl body lines.

Once home, the rough body was hoisted up to the rafters so the chassis could be given some attention. Though the car was rough, the chassis was the desirable "California seamless" version. In the front, Mike set to work fitting Speedway Motors tubular arms and QA1 coilovers to bring the height down. A Speedway disc brake kit finishes out the front suspension. In the rear, Mike fabricated his own triangulated 4-link to support a Ford 9" housing. QA1 coilovers bring up the rear as well and enabled Mike to dial in the killer rake that hunkers the car down over those big Americans.

Mike's Nomad looks really mean from this angle. You can also see those trademark strips on the tailgate.

When the body came down from above, Mike set about replacing those missing floorpans, and in the process brought the rear wheelwells in 3-inches per side. When all the welding, grinding, and sanding was done, Mike's son sprayed the red paint right there on the hoist where the car was going together. Now that's homebuilt.

Mike built the 350 with highway miles in mind, foregoing the exotic stuff in favor of dependability.

The engine is the old standby Chevy 350, but of course Mike built it himself. The four-bolt block was filled with flat top hypereutectic pistons and a mild hydraulic cam. It's capped off with a polished dual plane intake, Edelbrock carburetor, and finned valve covers and air cleaner, all from Speedway. This combo spins a TH350 transmission with a shift kit that takes orders from a Lokar shifter.

The interior is one of the highlights of the car. The smell of leather sucks you in and makes you want to spend a few thousand miles in those seats. Joel Oxner did the stitching after Mike narrowed the rear seat to clear the wheeltubs. Check out the '55 taillight in the rear of the console. You'd never notice it if you weren't looking, but it's the clever details like that that set this Nomad apart.

The interior is clean and simple. The backseat has been modified to clear the wheeltubs, but it still looks plenty cozy.
Cool.

If it's not immediately clear from the photographs, this car is about as nice as they come, but Mike is surprisingly nonchalant about it. During our photo shoot, we actually parked the car on a golf course where golfers were playing through. I asked Mike if he was worried about it getting smacked by an errant golf ball. "Ah, it's insured," was all he said. When you've been there and done that as Mike has, you know that things happen when you get the car out and use it. And use it he will. No golf balls or bug splatters will keep Mike from racking up the miles in his slick Nomad.

Mike's been there and done that, and this Nomad is proof that he's one heck of a builder.
You didn't think this was Mike's only car, did you? His home shop is full of neat stuff. We'll bring you more in the future.

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