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One-of-None 1961 Chevrolet Nomad 454 Is a Rare Final Model-Year 'Resto-Done-Right' Sleeper

1961 Chevrolet Nomad 454 51 photos
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
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1961 was a transitional year for Chevrolet, with the introduction of the new 409 cubic-inch big-block V8 (a five-year performance staple for the Bowtie that was retired in 1965) and the discontinuation of the Nomad model. The station wagon nameplate saw its last performance that year, with around 26,000 units built in four main versions.
Six- and nine-passenger four-door wagons shared an inline-six and a trio of eight-cylinder powerplant architectures, and the relatively low production numbers of the 61s make them certified conversation starters at car shows nowadays.

The rarest of the family is the nine-passenger Nomad with a Hi-Thrift Six motor, of which only 600 or so units were assembled. The six-passenger, six-cylinder counterpart is not too far behind, which stands at 1,443 examples. The V8s amassed the bulk of production, with 15,719 six-passenger cars and 7,761 nine-passenger Nomads.

The power teams available for the 1961 Chevrolet Nomad wagons comprised the run-of-the-mill 235 cubic-inch straight-six, a petite 3.9-liter motor that was friendly to the pocket (gasoline and tires), and four V8s. The 283 V8 (4.7-liter) Turbo-Fire with a gasoline-saving two-barrel carburetor was the standard eight-piston powerplant available.

1961 Chevrolet Nomad 454
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
The Super Turbo-Fire added a single four-throat carb on top of the 283. At the same time, the 348 (5.7-liter) Turbo-Thrust (4-bbl) and Super Turbo-Thrust (triple 2-bbl) were the muscle choices for the large family haulers. The 409 didn’t make it into the station wagons in 1961, as it was assembled in just 142 copies, so no Chevrolet Nomad got the performance big-block.

At least, not from the factory, but life is fun, and then EVs and computers-on-wheels come out. Fortunately for nostalgics of the valve and oil pan cult, there are brave souls out there who refuse to lay down the flag. Hank Milarski is one of those die-hard preachers of the smiles-per-gallon creed, and his beloved 1961 Nomad is the perfect argument to adhere to his beliefs.

From the outside, the car looks like any other regular, everyday, normal mother’s grocery getter from the early sixties, apart from the Hugger Orange livery borrowed from the Camaro catalog. The automobile is a restomod, but one done with enough attention to detail to make it pass as a genuine General Motors creation.

1961 Chevrolet Nomad 454
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
Until the hood goes up, and a tidal wave surprise fills the sight. It is still a Chevrolet engine and one from the beloved muscle car era. Still, no Nomad ever had the honor of carrying it out the assembly line. The 454 cubic inches of displacement first appeared in 1970 in two variants: a tame 390-horse big-puncher LS-5 and the brutal 450-hp earthquake generator LS-6. While the latter lasted only for a model year, the LS-5 continued for several more years.

Hank Milarski fitted a 1971 vintage big-block in his 1961 Nomad. That year, the Turbo-Jet V8 was tweaked to 365 gross hp at 4,800 RPM and 465 lb-ft at 3,200 RPM. (That’s 370 PS, 631 Nm for the metric side of the internet).  Chevrolet conveyed net ratings claiming 290 as-installed horses (but rated at 4,000 revolutions per minute of engine speed, not 4,800). At the same time, the torque figures of 390 lb-ft were measured at the same 3,200 as the gross output (294 PS, 529 Nm).

No matter how we look at the numbers, it’s quite a steep climb from the original Hi-Thrift performance of 135 gross hp –the original engine installed in the car starring in the video below this story. The owner bought it nineteen years ago from someone in the family and then made it into what it looks like today from the ground up.

1961 Chevrolet Nomad 454
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
The 454 big-cube V8 (7.44 liters) is a correct V8 plant, probably from 1971, if the sticker on that shiny air cleaner is accurate. The drop in power resulted from the Clean Air Act of 1971 (signed into effect on December 31, 1970, by President Richard Nixon). However, the American car industry wasn’t directed into a more economically driven stampede, as fuel consumption stayed at colossal levels for that year.

It wasn’t until the oil embargo of late ’73 that US car makers were hit with the gruesome reality of gasoline suddenly becoming a luxury product. Consequently, big-engined dinosaurs gradually left the stage, making way for imports and small motors.

Poor fuel economy is probably Mr. Milarski’s best defense against long trips with the otherwise stunning Nomad. ‘At six miles to the gallon, it’s a little rough,’ he confesses to Lou Costabile, the vlogger who uploaded the video. Metric drivers, that’s 40 liters for every 100 kilometers of highway (never mind city rides scenarios)– and every EV owner reading this is probably plotting to migrate to another planet where oil-burning machines are banned.

The owner of this worship-worthy Nomad has also fitted a four-speed manual transmission, a Hurst shifter, and dual exhausts (the former is just what a 454-equipped wagon would have had back in 1971). Also, the faces of the dials on the dash are white instead of the factory dark green hue. Still, to a less concerned onlooker, this Nomad looks nothing like the restomod sleeper it actually is.

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About the author: Razvan Calin
Razvan Calin profile photo

After nearly two decades in news television, Răzvan turned to a different medium. He’s been a field journalist, a TV producer, and a seafarer but found that he feels right at home among petrolheads.
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