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The Rodder's Journal

Lee Pratt's '55 Nomad
Makes a Comeback 


Lee Pratt's 1955 Nomad, circa 1968

Lee Pratt is no stranger to the hot rodding and customizing world. The nosed, decked, and lowered cruisers he grew up around in 1950s Des Moines, Iowa, drew him to the world of mild customs. His 1955 Chevy Nomad was the first in a long line of mild and not-so-mild creations that gained Lee national attention when it appeared in the November 1969 Rod & Custom. Since then he has spent time living in Southern California, and most recently, Austin, Texas, where he continues to turn out a tasteful hot rod or custom every few years. Some of them, like his gold '40 Ford coupe, his lace-painted '58 Chevy Impala, and his copper and lime green '49 Ford coupe, have appeared in the pages of The Rodder's Journal (#13, #29, and #37, respectively).
When Lee originally completed his Nomad in the summer of 1966, it was painted pearl yellow with a silver Metalflake roof and chrome steel wheels. Over the course of the next two years, the Nomad continued to evolve. It saw several different paint jobs, including multiple shades of yellow with flames and lime green panels before it was finally finished with a pearl lavender base coat with candy purple and Metalflake fades, a lavender Metalflake top with candy lace panels, and multi-directional seaweed-style flames. The chrome wheels were replaced with Buick Skylark wires, and it was one of the first customs of the era to use a hydraulic front suspension. The initial custom interior, a black tuck-n-roll job with purple button-tuft velvet accents, was left with an Iowa City upholsterer and replaced with a sculpted interior using modified GM bucket front seats, a wrap-around rear seat, and a floating console.


In late 1968, Lee traded his Nomad for a '65 Buick LeSabre, which ultimately became one of the more radical customs he has built. “The story I always got about the Nomad was that after I sold it, the guy that bought it turned it into a drag car and it was in a bad accident and was scrapped,” he says. Fast forward four decades and Lee found himself with the urge to replicate his old custom wagon. A suitable '55 Nomad was located, and bodywork was underway when a search on eBay turned up an interesting remnant from his original car. “There was this '56 Nomad, a project car that was being auctioned,” he says. “I took a look at the pictures and there were a couple of shots from when the car was all assembled in the '60s. There was a three-quarter rear shot with the door open, and it looked like my old interior.” A few phone calls later and it was determined that it was indeed the original seats and panels from Lee's old custom. A deal was made, and amazingly, the interior arrived intact and in useable condition.

Three months into the project, Lee already finished much of the custom bodywork. His wagon was in primer when he got a call from a Nomad restorer wanting information on a car he just purchased in Topeka, Kansas. “I called him back and he described the car, and it turned out to be my old Nomad,” Lee says. “It had been sitting in a carport all those years with a plastic tarp on top, so moisture had taken its toll. The whole car was a mess. All the stories I heard were true except for it going to the junkyard. And it should have gone to the junkyard!” But it was his original car, and there's not much Lee's afraid of when it comes to tackling metal work. So once again a deal was made, and what started as a re-creation turned into a restoration.


“It's been hit all over, but the brunt must have been to the front,” Lee says. Since the fenders on the re-creation were already flared and the hood was filled, they will be used to replace the unrecoverable front sheet metal on the original. A new roof and quarters were also sourced, and Lee has been able to salvage the original doors, firewall, dash, and tailgate. “Once I got the car, I thought 'I can't not fix this thing,'” he laughs. “Since I have the real one, and I've got the interior, I couldn't not do it.”
There's more to the story, and we'll bring you all the details in a future issue of TRJ. In the meantime, be sure to stop by and see us if you're in Pomona this weekend for the Grand National Roadster Show. As we have in years past, The Rodder's Journal booth will be in Building 4. We look forward to seeing you all there!


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