Reader Custom Projects: 1956 Olds 88/Nomad Wagon

Reader Mark Wojcik responds to our call for cool projects with a deep dive into this in-process retro Frankenstein

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Editor’s note: When we announced our September focus on restoration and customization, we asked the community to share its stories. And that’s what Mark Wojcik has done. We trust you’ll find it as interesting as we have. Mr. Wojcik’s pictures and captions follow the text.

I’ll try to make this brief. I can be very ‘wordy’ when talking about cars! I’ve been an on-and-off subscriber to Hemmings for many years, and I’ve always thought of it for restoration parts and information. So glad to see the ClassicCars.com Journal is branching out into doing articles on customizing. I’ve been building rods and mostly customs for over 40 years, and I also do restoration work as well. But customs are in my blood. 

My first one was a ’55 Olds 98 that I did mostly by myself, at home, but I learned to customize and how to do custom paint by an old-timer who built and showed a custom ’54 Merc back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. He actually helped do the chopped top on the Olds back in 1982 when I worked for him part time.

Over the years I’ve done a bit over 100 cars (105 I think),  almost all were body and paint, some as far as frame off. This is doing it in my spare time, as I’ve worked for Exxon Research and Eng. and Engelhard’s engine lab (later, BASF) full time. 

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My biggest accomplishment has been the building of the clone of  George Barris’ Kopper Kart. I know you’ve probably heard of it. My friend, Vic Collins, owns (the clone), and he and I, and several friends, built it in my latest shop behind my house, in Howell, New Jersey. I had taught the others how to do welding and bodywork, even doing lead work, before and during the build.

My latest project is something that has been envisioned by several artists and modelers. I’ve always loved Oldsmobiles, but I started out owning and rebuilding ’55-’57 Chevies, so I still have a soft spot for them. The project in the back of my mind since the ’80s became reality when my long-time friend, Pete Chasse, gave up trying to restore his ’56 Olds ‘88’ Holiday coupe, due to health issues. I acquired the car, and set about searching for the parts to build it as a Nomad-style wagon.

I had already bought two Nomad/Safari roofs, but they were in very bad shape. I found another on Long Island, New York, and began the transformation. Vic Collins helped by securing a ’57 Safari from our friend Lou Callisibetta, a very well-known Pontiac restorer. This supplied a lot of the missing stainless and all the interior moldings needed. 

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I have the body roughed out, having to fabricate a lot of the sheet metal around the wagon windows and tailgate area. Grafting the Nomad roof to the Olds windshield area was no easy task as the Olds was about ¾ of an inch wider, and I decided to do a mild chop on the top, exaggerating this difference even more.  My idea was to build more of a concept car than a custom car, so I’m keeping all the relevant Olds parts, grille, headlights, tail lights, and side trim (though finding 98 tail lights and side trim was not easy). 

The body is off the frame while I modify the frame with modern components, ’76 Impala suspension, power steering and 12-inch power disc brakes, police-package rear drums and an Olds 455/Turbo 400 powertrain. 

First pic here, is trial fitting the roof. I wasn’t sure whether I should start fitting it up from the front, or the back.
Next up is showing the mismatch of the two roofs. I had to use the Olds front windshield, to keep the Olds look, along with keeping the forward leaning vent windows, as opposed to the Chevy’s straight ones. The tape lines are delineating the amount of chop. I long debated doing this, I was opposed to it at first but seeing the roof on the car, it didn’t look right. The old concept cars often looked (or actually WERE) chopped looking. Longer, wider, sleeker than their production counterparts.
Another important styling decision, was whether to keep the Olds “dip” I the quarter panel or not. The Chevy eliminated it, while Pontiac kept a smaller version of it. I decided to keep the Olds flavor, and preserve the “dip”! The “B” pillar was pretty bad, so I wound up cleaning it up by fabricating new bottoms. The window area was rotten on the donor roof, and the transition from roof to quarter was different on the hardtop, so I had to fab the entire upper quarter area
As I said, the entire lower window area of the donor car was rotted out, so new window channel/upper quarter had to be fabricated.The mismatched roof sections presented a lot of problems. Adding sheet metal patches and TIG and hammering eventually fixed them.
The area around the tailgate had to be entirely fabricated to combine the Olds quarters to the Nomad tailgate. I used sandbag and hammer, and my English wheel to smooth it all out.
The rusted out quarter were fixed with 56 Chevy patch panels. The only difference was some of the front of the wheel well lip had to be reshaped. Besides the rust, there was extensive collision damage.
Rescuing rusted out old cars, and making them into customs, keeps the guilt of cutting up pristine examples from haunting me!
The car was an ‘88’, but my thinking was: if Olds made a Nomad type wagon, it would have been with the top of the line trim, as Chevy did with the BelAir trim on the Nomad. SO I had to find and convert the Olds tails to 98 tails. I also had a hard time locating ‘98’ side trim for the car
The interior sheet metal is totally different in a wagon, so I had to address that issue. I just decided since it probably won’t been seen, I could do as I like! While I did not need access panels for the quarter windows, I did put in doors so I could get to the side trim fasteners. The bead roller was my good friend here!
As usual, the fenders needed patching, none available, so I made my own. Previous repair job was done with brass.
After the many hours of cutting, fabricating, welding, hammering, and filler work, when she was in primer, it started looking like it should! Buying trim from Michigan, Indiana, and Sweden, this is the point where your enthusiasm gets a nice boost!! Cool little extra I did, knowing the concept cars often had automatic things that the production cars did not. I built an electrically operated tail light, so I could hide the gas filler behind it. A la 56 Chevy, but cooler!
So, now the body is off frame, and I’m working on assembling the chassis components. As stated before, 1976 Impala front frame section, with power steering, and disc brakes. Adapted the Impala Police package 12 in. drums to the stock Olds rear. Adding sway bars, KYB gas shocks, and lowering springs. Cupro-nickel brake and fuel lines.

That’s it for now. I do have more in depth pics of rust repair, and such, but keeping it to a minimum! I look forward to sending you an update when the car is done!

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, gives a little insight about fitting unfitable components. The concept here is over the top and U R doing a fine job. Thanks for the article.
    I have just finished a custom I call 39 Vette. Check it our on facebook. It is a 39 Chevy 2 door sedan with custom parts themed around the early Corvetts, head lights, dash, bumperetts, hood line, fender openings and it is sectioned 2-1/2″, paint color is “Not Quite White”, Looking good, hope to hit the show circuit whenever is decides to open up.

  2. Mark !!
    This is some very nice work !! You have brought a truly large amount of skill and vision to this effort.
    I am retired as a machinist, body man, mechanic, carpenter, wannabe electrician, and plumber – – but I could NOT do what you have done !!
    But I can appreciate it !
    Kudos to you !!
    Continue with your quality workmanship !! Long days of work, and long days of thought and decision making have made this a great effort !!
    Congratulations on your results !!

  3. Well done. I am a big fan of Nomads and I love what you are doing with that Olds. Hope you will be posting some pics here for us to see when it is done.

    • I remember that car! Went to several KKOA shows. My chopped 55 was there at many. also! Candy Cobalt blue and silver, 55 Pontiac trim and Packard tails.

  4. Great ability you have expressed.
    This will be a credit to yo when finished.
    I have a 64 Olds Dynamic 88 coupe that is stock.

  5. Love the design and work on the Olds Nomad. I have always been a big fan of these type of builds. Currently enjoying my own 56 Chevy Custom ElCamino and my 2010 Camaro Wagon builds. In the works is a 66 Malibu Wagon that I have been converting to a 2door with my own visions of Nomad styling. Best compliments are when people say a build looks like a factory design. The Olds Nomad will certainly get that type of recognition.

  6. Your enthusiasm and dedication are rare and I am jealous of your vision and skills. I made a Chev Vega Station wagon look like a Nomad and powered with Mercury Capri V 6 (2600 cc) but nothing as Involved as your project. I have a deceased friend’s Lead working paddles (former Body and Fender man at a Lincoln/Mercury dealership that I would be glad to give you if you could use them. .

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