A pugnacious, locally designed workhorse...

In 1972, General Motors decided to produce a bakkie in the land of braaivleis, rugby and sunny skies (as Chevrolet’s catchy advertising jingle described South Africa at the time). Originally nicknamed “The Pug”, the official name – Nomad – was chosen to suit the pick-up’s go-anywhere design objective. The original idea was to set up a bespoke factory in an area where job opportunities were scarce. Unfortunately, this is seldom a financially viable strategy and production subsequently reverted to the factory in Port Elizabeth.

Packaging

Local content of the Nomad was the highest for cars built in South Africa at the time: 82 percent (by mass). The remaining components were sourced from Opel in Germany (the instruments and gearbox); Holden in Australia (rear axle); and the USA (the carburettor).

The Nomad was utilitarian and so was its instrumentation: a VDO-sourced speedometer was flanked by smaller fuel and coolant-temperature gauges. The windscreen wipers did not have a wash function and were driven by two non-parking motors. Ground clearance was 190 mm and the bakkie had a licensed mass of a shade over 1 000 kg.

Seating in the front consisted of a single pew for the driver supplemented with a two-seater bench for passengers. Soft and (fibreglass) hard tops were available for R140 and R415, respectively. The tailgate was tiny (almost square) and the spare wheel affixed to a rear-sited hinged plate.

Powertrain

Built in South Africa, the venerable 2,5-litre, cast-iron OHV motor was utilised in the Chev 2500 and Firenza lines, as well as in the Nomad, albeit in a lower state of tune (it produced 76 kW as opposed to 88 kW). A Rochester Monojet carburettor was fitted instead of the downdraft Weber in the other passenger-car applications. Maximum power was produced at 4 600 r/min and peak torque of 193 N.m at 2 500 r/min.

A four-speed gearbox (with a low-ratio first gear for steep climbing ability) from BorgWarner and the Australian-sourced 4:1 ratio live axle (equipped with a limited-slip differential) enabled the Chev bakkie to transmit what little power it had to the road.

Suspension and steering

The Nomad’s independent front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering system and front disc brakes came from the Chev 1900, while the rear axle, leaf springs and rear drum brakes were sourced from the Chev 3800.

Which one to get

For once, it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. Everything is reasonably simple to fix, so make an offer based on the bakkie’s condition/how much repair work it needs. Some 2,5-litre engines have been swapped out, ostensibly for fuel economy and weight-saving reasons, but if you want to keep the Chevrolet original, we spotted a classified advert for a Nomad 2,5L engine (plus gearbox and a new set of gaskets) priced at R4 500.

What to watch out for

If rust is a problem, it won’t cost much to get panels welded because most of the Nomad’s sheet metal is flat, as is the windscreen glass. The engine is robust and easy to overhaul.

The fuel consumption during CAR’s extended test drive (from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town) in 1976 was around 12,0 L/100 km (at 90 km/h). The fuel tank held a generous 60 litres. The front suspension was not quite up to supporting the mass of the engine, body and heavy-duty steel bumper, so may require some attention.

Availability and prices

In the first year of production, 2 372 units were sold, but thereafter the figure dropped to just 250 to 350 per year. Despite the dwindling sales, there are usually a couple of Nomads offered for sale on internet classified sites. Prices should vary between R10 000 and R50 000.

Interesting facts

The Nomad was planned to be a very basic bakkie in the interests of affordability (it was meant to cost as little as R1 400). However, inflation was a big problem in those years – in the order of 10 to 15 percent per annum – so the eventual launch price was R2 950. One of the efforts to curb costs was the utilisation of two-wheel drive with a limited-slip differential instead of a full 4x4 drivetrain.

When one of CAR’s staffers drove that 1976 test unit for 800 km at night, in teeming rain, the Nomad’s soft top did not provide much protection. As there was no heater fitted, it must have been one miserable journey...