We dealt with the wagon craze back in the late '90s and haven't seen a two-door Malibu wagon for sale or otherwise since. Where did the cool factory wagons go? It dawned on us after talking to Kirby Wilcox that maybe those cars are currently in the finishing stages of total restomodification as his was. If that's true, we're in for a deluge of guys like him and their plush wagons furnished with street machine gear.
Let's go back to 1991 when Kirby sold his '66 Nova and '67 Chevy pickup and got into Harley-Davidsons. For the next 10 years, Kirby spent a fistful of summers riding bikes and never really saw any street machines that turned him on. Then, in 2001, he went to the Back to the '50s show in Des Moines, Iowa, and saw some old wagons. He thought they were kind of fun, so when he got home he started looking on eBay. That's when he found a bone-stock original Nomad in southern Minnesota. It was fully loaded with electric windows and air conditioning representing the top-of-the-line model for that year. Kirby took his bodyman down to take a look, and after paying top dollar, dragged it home.
The engine is a stocker LT1 from a Trans Am.
Kirby knew the car needed a little repair. He started working on it in December of that year, and by the end of January he discovered the body was rotted. The firewall had been eaten away and the undercarriage metal was a mess. It was too late to turn back, because the body shop had the bodywork underway on the doors, and the tailgate and front clip were in primer.
Kirby went back to eBay and bought another car that was sitting on an Indian reservation in Montana. There were bullet holes in the glass, but the roof, quarters, and floor were good. As Kirby tells it, "It looked like hell, but it had a good body shell, and that's what I needed."
The buckets are from a '64 Impala 'cause Kirby didn't want something that was too modern.
When he got the shell back from Montana, he realized it was a Brookwood, not a Nomad, so there were no holes for the chrome trim in the body. He then strayed from the original restoration plan to create a modern custom with early '60s style. That's why it has Nomad chrome window trim and driprails but no side trim.
Kirby still wasn't finished. He wanted a modern fuel-injected drivetrain for the car, so he found a '93 Trans Am donor and pulled the running gear. At the time he didn't realize that the reverse-cooling and Opti-Spark ignition on the LT1 would cause problems in finding aftermarket parts. Street and Performance reprogrammed the ECU, and Tom Sperr, a chopper builder from Kirby's bike days, spliced the factory wiring harness to get it to work. To accompany the LT1 and 4L60-E, Kirby also added a later model 12-bolt instead of the original 10-bolt.
Kirby got the old-wagon bug in 2001 and we're just seeing his car now. How many others are out there in pieces waiting to make their debut? Maybe we're due for another wave of wagon street machines. How about a new Hemi in a '70 Polara wagon?
Kirby likes big stereos, so he had his friend Steve Strobel put together this Pioneer syst
Kirby has some street rod buddies that influenced the interior. The billet wheel, gauge la
The wagon uses Boyd Coddington Hot Rod wheels and CoolRide airbags to get a look inspired
Car: '61 Chevrolet Nomad Wagon
Owner: Kirby Wilcox, Alexandria, MN
Engine: Stock LT1 from a wrecked '93 Pontiac Trans-Am
Rearend: 12-bolt Chevrolet
Front suspension: Air Ride's CoolRide bags with stock spindles and disc brakes
Rear suspension: 12-bolt in the stock location and air bags instead of coils
Wheels and tires: Boyd's Hot Rod 17x7, front; 18x8, rear; Michelin P235/45ZR17, front; P255/45ZR18, rear
Body mods: '61 Brookwood body with Nomad trim
Paint: Jeep Liberty Cactus Green applied by bodyman Tom Grotjohn
Interior: Custom leather with '64 Impala front seats and billet street-rod shifter and gauges; Chicayne wheel from Billet Specialties
Cost to build: $55,000
Car Craft Q&A
Car Craft: Where did you come up with Cactus Green?
Kirby Wilcox: In the '80s I painted my Nova fuchsia to grab attention at car shows. It worked well as a hook because people couldn't believe how cool the color was. Troy Trepanier came out with a mint green Impala a year or so later, so I went home and painted my truck that color. At the time, those kooky colors were the only hook. Now I want the color to be understated and the workmanship on the car to be the hook. I also wanted it to match the theme. Cactus Green is a DaimlerChrylser color used on the Jeep Liberty and it reminded me of an original green from that era so I used it.
CC: What do you think of the airbag suspension?
KW: I like the CoolRide system and it goes down the road very well, but if I had to do it again I would use drop spindles. I used the stock spindles, so I can't lay the crossmember right on the ground at shows. I could do that with a drop spindle and have a little more air in the bag so it rides better when I lift it up to drive. This winter I am going to install the ride-height-on-start system that automatically raises the car to a preset height so I won't have to guess anymore. I've already tortured some parts by getting it wrong.