The character of the Corvette is now well defined as a two-seat, high-performance sports car with enough bells and whistles to satisfy the most discriminating owner. However, all we see and hear from just about every source of automotive news today are rumors about a Corvette SUV. Many in the Corvette community see the ‘Vette SUV as the end of the Corvette as we know it. But all is not lost. In the Corvette’s early years, GM designers experimented with enlarged versions of the Corvette that could accommodate the whole family, yet the two-seat Corvette continued and prospered.
1954 Nomad Concept – The First Corvette Utility Vehicle
The current talk of an SUV is not Corvette’s first encounter with utility vehicles. Back in the fifties, the Corvette was a completely new concept for an American car and no one, not even those within GM, was sure of what it was or what it should become. Chevrolet experimented with a variety of enlarged Corvette concepts, including the Nomad, which combined the sleek styling of a Corvette sports car with a station wagon, the utility vehicle of choice at the time. With this and other Corvette concepts, GM explored the possibilities of broadening the potential market for the then unproven Corvette.
The Corvette Nomad concept car was built on a modified 115-inch Chevrolet chassis (not the standard Corvette chassis) and featured a sporty two-door body having a unique roof design with forward sloping B-pillars and wrap-around rear side windows. The GM press release had this to say about the Nomad: Here for the first time is an experimental model combining the sleek styling of a sports car with the versatility and utility of a Station Wagon. The glass fiber reinforced plastic body affords unusual visibility with seating space for six passengers. The electrically operated rear window automatically retracts into the tailgate as it is unlocked, and may also be controlled by a push button on the instrument panel.
Harley Earl’s design team was responsible for the Nomad and Mr. Earl was in New York city in 1954 when the Corvette Nomad was unveiled at the GM Motorama Exhibit to immediate acclaim. The public reaction to the concept was so positive that Mr. Earl, let it be known in no uncertain terms that he wanted the Chevrolet people back home in Detroit to, “Get the Nomad into production”.
The Nomad went into production for the 1955 model year, but as a Chevrolet brand, not as a Corvette. Chevrolet sold 8,386 Nomads in 1955, a figure made more impressive by the fact that the Nomad cost $300 more than the top-of-the-line Bel Air convertible. The separate Nomad model continued through 1956 and 1957, although sales dropped to 7,886 in 1956 and 6,103 in 1957. Since Chevrolet was scheduled for a major body design change in 1958, the unique Nomad body style was dropped for model year 1958 and beyond. The Nomad name was given to various Chevrolet station wagon models in ensuing years, but it was no longer associated with a unique design and was eventually dropped from production models altogether. The 1955-1957 Nomads became instant classics that are still highly sought after today.
Other Nomad Concepts
Chevrolet unveiled another Nomad concept in 1999 and sent it on its way around the show circuit. This Nomad was a crossover vehicle that, according to GM: “…combines the attributes of a sporty coupe and a pickup truck.” It was a four-door, seven passenger vehicle built on a Camaro F-body platform and featured a front-mounted Corvette V8 engine, independent rear suspension, an extendable load floor, and a retractable roof. Cancellation of the Camaro/Firebird F-body cars in 2002 eliminated any possibility of the 1999 Nomad concept seeing production.
The Nomad name made another appearance in 2004, appearing as a two-door, four passenger station wagon incorporating styling cues from the ’54 Corvette Nomad, such as round headlights, an original-style Corvette grille and a forward sloping B-pillar. Built on a Pontiac Solstice platform, the fiberglass body featured a tailgate having a sliding tray to make loading cargo items easier, as well as a removable rear portion of the roof to give the Nomad the utility of a pickup. The demise of the Pontiac brand ended all development on the 2004 Nomad concept.
In addition to trying to mate a Corvette with a station wagon, GM considered making a full-sized family car ‘Vette in 1956, the Corvette Impala. The Impala was a 2-door, 5-passenger sport sedan featuring a Corvette grille and Corvette Impala badging. According to the Impala press release, the Impala featured a “Panoramic” windshield that “…sweeps over driver’s head forming part of the roof …” and has “…tinted glass in upper portion.” The roof was formed of brushed stainless steel. The Corvette Impala never made it into production, but the Impala name went on to become one of the most enduring car model names of all time. The name was given to a top of the line, full-sized Chevrolet Bel Air model in 1958 and in 1959 became a series of its own, offering a full range of models. The Impala name continued to be used on and off by Chevrolet until February 27, 2020 when the last Impala rolled off the Hammtramck Assembly Plant production line.
If you have any knowledge of Corvettes at all, you well know that the 1963 Corvette split window coupe is one of the most iconic car designs ever. It is an all-time classic that looks fantastic from any angle. You may want to sit down before reading on, because in 1962 GM vice president Ed Cole and designer Larry Shinoda created a 1963 Corvette SWC concept car that had an additional pair of seats to make it a 2+2. To make room for the seats and to provide adequate ingress/egress, the wheelbase was elongated, as were the doors, and the profile of the rear glass area was raised slightly to give the rear occupants a bit more headroom. Overall, the 2+2 looks similar to the two-seat coupe, except for the cringe-worthy side view in which the wheelbase and the doors are noticeably longer, completely destroying the sleek profile of the two-seat split window coupe.
Fortunately for all of us, following the public introduction of the 1963 Corvette, GM management concluded that a four-seat split window coupe would detract from the runaway success of the two-seat Sting Ray coupe and would not sell in sufficient numbers to justify production. All further development work on the Corvette Sting Ray 2+2 was then stopped.
Where Does the Corvette Brand Go from Here?
Reports from financiers on Wall Street, including Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas, are calling for an expansion of the Corvette brand to include at least a high-performance electric Corvette SUV. Morgan Stanley believes the brand is already worth around $2 billion on its own, but that a dedicated Corvette sub-brand could eventually generate annual sales of more than 100,000 vehicles and be worth $7 to $12 billion. In addition to the SUV, the proposed Corvette sub-brand would include the C8 Corvette as the brand centerpiece and a higher-end Corvette supercar with a price exceeding $100,000 as the brand halo car. “In essence, we think the Corvette brand is undervalued and under-appreciated by the market,” Jonas said.
General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra and her minions are playing their cards close to the vest, only acknowledging their appreciation of “everyone’s excitement about this iconic brand”, but declining to engage in “speculation” on what the Corvette future holds. New Z06 and ZR1 versions of the C8 are already rumored to be in development and, with Ms. Barra’s publicly-pledged $27 billion to build thirty new electric vehicles by 2025, it is conceivable that the thirty proposed EVs would include an electric Corvette SUV.
With the current sales and competition successes of the C8, we think Ms. Barra is holding a potentially winning hand at the automotive poker table. She already holds one ace with the current C8 card. With three more aces (the SUV, the Z06, and the ZR1) in the deck, she could have a hand that would be hard to beat.
So, take a deep breath, relax, and get comfortable. For Corvette lovers, It will be incredibly interesting and potentially a whole lot of fun to see how the Corvette brand poker game plays out. Let’s cut the cards and deal!
GM Authority: https://gmauthority.com/blog/2019/11/analyst-says-corvette-sub-brand-could-be-worth-12b/
Corvette Blogger: https://www.corvetteblogger.com/2021/01/15/rumor-gm-may-be-working-on-a-corvette-branded-electric-suv-for-2025/
GM Authority: https://gmauthority.com/blog/2020/01/chevrolet-corvette-suv-rendered/
Remarkable Corvettes – Nomad: https://www.corvettes.nl/gm_prototypes/nomad/index.html
Remarkable Corvettes – Impala: https://www.corvettes.nl/gm_prototypes/impala/index.html
Remarkable Corvettes – 2+2: https://www.corvettes.nl/gm_prototypes/xp720_4seat/index.html
Corvette Infocenter Concept History – Nomad: https://corvette-concepts.tripod.com/id27.html
Corvette Infocenter Concept History – Impala: https://corvette-concepts.tripod.com/id31.html
Corvette Infocenter Concept History – 2+2: https://corvette-concepts.tripod.com/id23.html
How Stuff Works – Chevy Impala: https://auto.howstuffworks.com/1958-1965-chevrolet-impala.htm
Dean’s Garage: http://www.deansgarage.com/2009/gm-motorama-1954/
Bruce Troxell Bio
“There’s no shortage today of enthusiast automotive writers and bloggers. Bruce Troxell, however, is unique. He writes with an understanding of what truly makes cars and car people tick. Bruce is a storyteller, not just a writer. Once you start reading his lead, you can’t stop.” Martyn Schorr – Editor, CarGuyChronicles.com
Bruce Troxell is a professional freelance writer who has been contributing articles on automotive and aviation topics to a variety of websites and print publications since 2009. Following careers as an engineer with a major automobile manufacturer and as a lawyer in private practice, Bruce discovered the joys of writing and has never looked back. He brings a unique perspective and an engaging conversational style to all his writings.
Bruce is a creative automotive storyteller always looking for the stories of the people behind the automobiles. His expertise in storytelling has been recognized by the Automotive Heritage Foundation in their annual journalism competition. In 2020, his story The Day Corvette Became a World Class Sports Car was awarded a Silver medal in the Best Heritage Motorsports Story category. In 2018, his blog Cars We Love came home with a Bronze Medal in the Best Blog or Column category.
An avid sports car fan since he saw his first professional race at Watkins Glen, New York, Bruce’s car interests have blossomed to include vintage cars, hot rods, and custom cars. He has participated in numerous vintage car rallies and is a concours veteran.
Born and raised in New Jersey, he and his wife Cindy now live in bucolic central Virginia with Max, a prescient stray cat who wandered into their lives several years ago and decided to stay.