So where do you want me?” The words bellowed out into the brisk Northern California morning, echoing off the nearby buildings as the sun began to take its rightful place in the mid-summer sky. The words, although common among photo shoot subjects, carried a cool confidence, reserved for a chosen few, who’ve truly seen and done it all. The tone made sense however, considering that the subject of this photo shoot was not just an “average Joe” in the lowrider scene. We were in the presence of the leader of Northern California’s New Style Car Club, Doug Vigil. During his past three decades of service to our culture, he has been a New Style Car Club member for 16 years, and the ruling President for the last cinco.
As with most Car Club leaders, it took a few phone calls to track down this veteran, as we needed to build a trust among his people to assure them that we were truly who we said we were. No sweat, we explained that this assignment came straight from the Editor, Joe Ray, himself. Doug instantly gave us the green light, and set up a time to meet, so that he could share with us his stories and experiences regarding his life in the low-lane.
The first conversation we shared took place on a cruise in his black Benz, as we made our way to Modesto, California. It was early in the morning and unfortunately for me, Doug doesn’t drink coffee, which made me shiver at the thought of us possibly not making a latte stop. Graciously, he obliged anyway and with coffee in hand, we went on about our schedule. He made a couple of calls as we drove, checking in with the two businesses he works with to make sure there weren’t any emergency work obligations that might prevent him from focusing his time and attention on our interview. Luckily, nothing had come up, so he was cleared for the entire day. We all wish we could just build our dream cars for a living, but the reality is that we must all work outside businesses in order to remain stable for our families, especially in this economy. This work ethic is shared by Doug- even though he is New Style President, he holds down two other jobs to put food on the table. When he’s out of the garage, Doug works as a foreman for J&M Inc. as a heavy equipment operator, and owns and operates his own service, Mel’s Water Trucks in Modesto, CA.
His road to Lowrider royalty has been a long one, and before there were name plaques, club shirts, trophies and victorious car shows, there were bicycles. During his teen years in the late ’70’s, the bay area native molded up a Schwinn lowrider bike and joined Reality car club. Among the ranks of this club, Doug met Big Al Zepeda, aka “The King”. Doug recalls the many times Big Al, “would pick [him] up, [along with] his bike, and take him to club meetings.” This proved instrumental to his growth in the culture. “This membership and exposure to the car club gave [me] an opportunity to learn and move closer to the dream of owning and restoring my own car,” he states. He also remembers competing against the legendary Alex Ochoa throughout those early years, eventually becoming good friends with him, as they shared bike building techniques with each other. Ochoa went on to form the Ochoa Bros. Kustoms shop, based out of Stockton, CA, finding motivation from their early experiences. Doug also garnered his first press in the late ’70s, scoring front page coverage in his high school newspaper, and later with the Tracy Press for a Cinco De Mayo special feature. Even though he was still on two wheels, he was heading towards his destiny.
It was as a 15 year-old in 1979, that Doug finally put the wheels of his dream in motion, literally. He managed to save up enough cash from both his summer farming job, and a part time Parks and Recreation gig to buy four tires and wheels. He owned no car mind you, just 5:20 thin whitewalls and the highly sought-after True Spoke rims. He kept them in his closet at home. “My dad thought I was a little nuts,” he says. After all, his dad Francisco and his uncle Joe were no stranger to working on classic cars. His father owned a ’57 Ford Fairlane 500, and his uncle Joe drove a ’56 Ford F-100. The Fairlane was stock, but his father had lowered the vehicle with cut springs. Though modest in nature, the lowrider influence was evident in his childhood, and slowly but surely had him wrapped up like the click of a seatbelt. The cars were “not much” he admits, but they impressed him a lot when they went for short drives through town. It was enough to keep motivating him. Doug would pull the wheels and tires out of the closet once a month to clean and polish them, dreaming all the while about what kind of ride they would one day support. His automotive determination was strong, and about a year later, at 16, he finally had a car for those wheels.
The car was a ’68 Chevy Impala hardtop, and he had spotted it in a gas station parking lot with a big FOR SALE sign on it. Looking back on that day, Doug says, “It was nothing fancy, I forked over $400 and my dad dealt another $400 for the pink slip, and I drove it home and swapped the wheels out for the ones [I had] in the closet.” And just like that, Doug was cruising in style. Within a week, he bought hydraulics and had them installed the following weekend by his friend Nuna. He was doing it big, hitting the switches with front, back, and side-to-side, and jamming to a new cassette stereo, all inside three months of the purchase date. Not bad for a 16 year-old.
At this point in the interview process, we found ourselves in Doug’s house, located on a busy street corner across from a church and an elementary school. There was enough lot space for a multitude of cars, an enclosed trailer, a three-car garage, plenty of room for other members’ rides, and you could still play a game of flag football. Doug walked us through his property, and after the photo shoot, it was off to lunch at one of his favorite spots, El Marinero on Crows Landing Road. This is where Doug, today sporting a black and gold football New Style jersey, orders his usual plate of Chili Verde, and then relaxes behind dark sunglasses, contemplating the possibility of neighborhood kids taking mail out of his box on their way home from school. It’s a regular occurrence he says, because when he comes home, the mailbox door is always open. Today is no different, and as we pull up to Doug’s lot, the mailbox door is ajar, having been pilfered by tricky and sticky hands. We suggest, not so jokingly, about putting up a sign stating that stealing mail is a Federal Offense punishable through fines and hard jail time. Ah, the work of a car club president is never done.
Doug’s list of accomplishments is about as long as some of the pinstripping jobs on his big traditional masterpieces. After the ’68 Chevy, Doug got his hands on a ’65 Chevy Impala convertible, then built a candied cobalt blue Chevy Camaro. In 1987 at 23, Doug and pals Frank Rodriguez and Joel Moreno founded Serious Play Mini Truck club with his all new ’87 Chevy S-10, titled “Future Shock.” That creation he says, “afforded [me] the opportunity to meet and establish friendships with many people in the industry.”. His next project went from four wheels down to two, although this time it wasn’t on a bicycle like it was before. Doug put his stamp on a candied-out ’88 Honda Interceptor motorcycle, and later that same year, he showed his creativity in the car world, aptly freaking a wine colored Chrysler Le Baron convertible.
In 1989, Doug went back to his roots, and took the traditional road with his first ’64 Chevy Impala convertible. “That was the car I always wanted. It’s the same year I was born, too,” he beams. The Impala came out exactly as he pictured it, and they say “perfection breeds perfection”, so it was only right to step it up a notch with an encore. Two years later, he refurbished one of the most sought after cars in Chevrolet history, a ’64 Chevy Impala Supersport Convertible. He dubbed the Chevy “Classic Blues,” and fully restored it back into its original glory, turning heads wherever he went and rightfully earning tons of respect from his peers. It was in the late ’90s where Doug flourished, making a bold commitment to himself that the next ride he built was truly going to be one of the best the culture had ever seen. He was right.
Making the decision to go all out on a vehicle is easier said than done, and it means you have to have a building plan. Realizing that plan may take a year or more at least, so patience and dedication are the keys to success, according to Doug. “One thing for sure, it takes a lot of heart and soul to put into it,” he preaches. After a few years in development, his patience paid off, and in 1999, Doug unveiled his best ride to date. His “Heavy Hitter ’64,” a total revamp of the Supersport Convertible, made a statement and steered Doug towards the full custom class. Winning in that class wouldn’t be easy, however. He encountered some tough local competitors like his own compadre, Trino Alfaro, the builder of “Cherry ’64,” and other serious Impala customizers like Chuy, aka “Scarface”, Harold James’ with his ’63 Chevy ragtop “Hawaiian Punch” and Southern California’s Vernon “VMax” Max, with his extensive collection of traditional Impalas. As much as these guys are great lowrider competitors, overtime, they also became Doug’s good friends. “On any given Sunday, anyone of us could take First Place. That’s how neck and neck we were.” says Doug, who also adds that he shares a mutual respect with those guys, whom he feels are all as equally dedicated as he.
2002 would provide Doug with two of his most cherished memories from his illustrious lowriding career. His 2002 Supershow appearance in Las Vegas earned him a Third Place trophy for the Lowrider Car of the Year Award, and he also made LRM’s centerfold feature layout in our December 2002 issue. That third place ranking fondly shares a home on his shelf, along with many other trophies that undoubtedly hold interesting stories of their own. Some of those tales stem from the numerous TV appearances his cars have made throughout the years. He’s been asked to bring his cars to the set of NBC’s “Nash Bridges,” and participate in local evening news shows like “Graffiti Night” in Modesto. He also saw screen time in music videos, most recently garnering airtime on “Pimpeando” for MTV 3, and a few years back with a call from Delinquent Habits for their music video shoot in 1997.
His work is not all centered around the glamour of television and movies, Vigil has also given back to his community in many ways. In 1999, his Aunt Velma Lucero, a member of community action group in Sacramento, was having trouble getting a campaign car built for her AIDS program. Doug happily stepped in, and delivered the perfect vehicle to her doorstep within a month. That ride turned out to be a ’53 Chevy Bel-Air known as, “Tu Vida Cuenta,” which was driven throughout California for a Statewide Aids Prevention and Awareness Campaign.
During the time we spent with him, Doug constantly reminded us that the club is held together by the fabric of club unity, community, and family. Since taking the reins, Doug stresses his view of quality-over-quantity when it comes to membership in New Style. His goal is not that they are the biggest club they can be, but rather that they are the best, and he believes that having truly dedicated members is the only way to achieve that goal. Once a month in the basement of his house, the club meets in the entertainment room to discuss the club’s latest and greatest activities. Often they decide where family get-togethers will take place, and plan family oriented activities like BBQ’s, club bowling, and trips to the zoo.
Doug also believes in carrying on club tradition, especially when it comes to charity work. Since the club’s inception in 1974, New Style has participated in serving local functions like annual toy and turkey drives, benefiting numerous agencies such as the local food banks, the Merced Fire Department, the Children’s Hospital in Madera and the Patterson Migrant Farm Camp.
Doug’s close knit family remains as “tight” as the paintjobs on his many masterpieces. His wife Susie is a great support to him, taking excellent care of the house and offering up her own creative tips and styling ideas regarding Doug’s prized projects. “Doug had some ‘wack’ ideas, and I’m just glad I was there to set ’em straight,” she jokes. As if the constant competition in the Lowrider culture isn’t enough, he currently has toned it down a little bit, filling his momentary building void by coaching women’s softball. Hey, with all the money he’s spent, the hard work he’s put into building “Heavy Hitter,” he has to do something competitive.
Doug’s story is one of dedication and hard work, and the virtues and rewards that come from being a positive member of society. Everything in Doug’s world is very real, and expressive. He loves photographs, lowrider bikes, youth little league coaching and spending time with his close knit family, both at home, and in the club. As we scanned his entertainment room/pool-table/trophy room, the images kept coming. A humble man, Doug freely admits that even though this story is about him, he must thank his wife Susie for her 27 year commitment, in addition to commemorating the blessed remembrance of his father Francisco and his mother Dolores. Doug Vigil is a true leader in every sense of the word.