Gearheads in the United States are spoiled by the bountiful horsepower opportunities the country offers. In other parts of the world, high-performance vehicles are rarely ever seen, let alone something the average person can own. Doug Nguyen may not originally be from the United States, but his twin-turbo 1957 Chevy pickup shows he’s assimilated to our car culture in spectacular fashion.
Doug came to the United States from the country of Vietnam when he was just 15 years old. It was a massive culture shock to say the least, especially during the 1980s when so many changes were happening in America. Doug had a lot to learn about living in a new country, and the automotive world of the United States really caught his attention.
“I wasn’t into cars when I lived in Vietnam — there wasn’t a real car culture, and it was rare to ever see a high-performance car. There’s a lot there now, but nothing then. When I came here and saw the car culture it changed me. It was rare to see a Mustang in Vietnam back in the 1980s, when I came to America they were on every corner, I just thought that was amazing. It was a big shock, but I loved it. I would go to car shows and not know what anything was, but I was walking through the shows and just enjoying everything I saw,” Doug says.
Since Doug was in high school when he came to America, he decided to get a job to make some money. His first job was at a local body shop where he cleaned the shop, washed cars, and learned how to do detail work. While he was working at the shop, he started to see hot rods and other cool cars come in for work; at that point, he decided he had to build his own cool ride. Mind you, he still didn’t know much about cars and didn’t even have a driver’s license, but that wasn’t going to stop his dream.
Doug’s exposure to the body shop work environment was a big influence on his career choice, as well.
“When I started at the shop and saw the body guys fixing panels and pulling frames, I thought to myself, ‘I can do that.’ I started to learn it and now I’m a full body technician that’s certified in Tesla, Mercedes, Porsche all the high-end brands. I really wanted to make cars my life and I found a way to do that by working through the body shop system and become a certified tech,” Doug explains.
Not everyone who works in the automotive industry is into racing…they want to leave work at work and have other hobbies. Doug was fascinated by high-performance cars and didn’t have an issue spending his free time checking out local car shows or cruise spots. Doug had never seen drag racing in Vietnam, but when he saw it for the first time in the United States he was captivated.
“I got into drag racing because I saw it on the TV, thanks to Diamond P Sports. I was amazed at how fast the cars were. After that, I decided I had to build a fast car, so I started looking around at what was available to build. Drag racing just captured everything that grabbed my attention about cars and just added in speed, it just made sense to me to get involved,” Doug states.
Doug began his drag racing career by finding a car to build — his first racecar was a 1968 Chevy El Camino with a feisty small-block under the hood. The El Camino build was a lot of fun to work on and when it was finished he was ready to head to the track with his new ride.
“It’s hard for me to really describe what it was like making a pass for the first time. I really got a big thrill from it and wanted to make more passes. The first time I sprayed nitrous with that car it actually scared me a little bit when it hit and I let go of the wheel for a second. The next time I was ready and made a full pass. That was it, that totally hooked me and I needed to go faster from that point forward,” Doug says.
Doug has built and owned a lot of different vehicles over the years. Each of his builds has its own unique touches and story. Doug’s 1957 Chevy pickup wasn’t actually a build he was working on for himself originally, but just like so many other projects, it became his when circumstances changed.
“I got the truck from a friend who was going through a rough time with cancer. He needed to sell it to make some money…it was worth maybe $2,500, but I bought it for $5,500 to help him out. The plan was to build the truck for my son so he could drive it after he turned 16, but that changed and I ended up keeping it for myself. I intended to just make the truck a really nice driver, but one thing led to another, and all of the sudden the build got a little crazy,” Doug explains.
The truck’s 400 cubic-inch engine, built by Steve Morris, is based around a Dart Little M block that’s filled with a stout Eagle rotating assembly. On top of the engine, you’ll find a set of CNC-ported cylinder heads and intake from Edelbrock.
LP Racing was tasked with fabricating a custom turbo system that would not only flow plenty of air but also look good under the hood of the Chevy pickup. Doug selected a pair of Precision Turbo & Engine 6766 turbos for the build, along with a pair of 40mm wastegates from Turbosmart, and a ProCharger blowoff valve. A PTC-built TH400 transmission and ProTorque torque converter make sure all the small-block’s power reaches the pavement as efficiently as possible. This combination makes just over 1,100 horsepower on the dyno.
The front end is from a Mustang II, and Doug grafted it to the Chevy himself. The back half of the chassis is a kit from Chris Alston’s Chassisworks and it holds a Fab-9 rearend that’s also from Chris Alston’s. The Fab-9 is filled with parts from Strange Engineering, and Doug elected to use QA1 shocks at each corner of the truck. He did all of the bodywork and painted it himself too.
Doug actually ran into a challenge when he was trying to get the truck running: he needed to find someone to tune his Holley Dominator EFI system so it would reach its full potential. After looking high and low, he was finally introduced to Las Vegas native Gil Navaras. Thankfully, Gil was able to get the truck straightened out so Doug could enjoy it.
The truck may look pretty aggressive and it does make big horsepower, but it’s far from a trailer queen. Doug puts a lot of miles on his Chevy and that’s one of the things he enjoys most about his ride. He doesn’t like to have to deal with racecar problems, as it takes away from the time he could spend driving the truck all over Nevada.
“The truck is still totally street legal…I don’t even own a trailer to tow it with if I had to. It gets driven on the freeway, city streets, it doesn’t matter. This truck is different than most things you see on the road and at the track. It had to have a full interior and I’m even going to put air conditioning in it. It just drives so nice on the street. At the track this thing is just a blast to drive — it lifts the wheels, throws you back in the seat, and just goes,” Doug says.
Doug really likes the way the truck has turned out so he isn’t going to make any major changes anytime soon. He doesn’t have any desire to try and push it much further in the horsepower department, since he doesn’t want to give up how well the truck drives. Doug isn’t interested in class racing either — he is looking forward to getting the truck sorted out to see what its potential is in its current form.
“Right now I’m having a blast just driving it wherever I want to go. Gil is going to help me get it sorted out at the track some more so we can start making full passes under power in the future. It will be fun driving the truck out to Midnight Madness at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to make a few hits and then drive home with the air conditioning on. I’ll still go to events like the Street Car Super Nationals because I like hanging out at the track and check out out all the cool cars,” Doug states.
Doug Nguyen’s story is pretty cool when you think about it — he came to this country and found something he was passionate about, then turned it into his way of life. Doug’s truck is proof that if you put your mind to something you can make it happen no matter what kinds of obstacles you face. You know he’s enjoying all 1,100 horsepower he has at his command as he cruises the strip in Las Vegas, or is making a hit at the dragstrip.