17 November 2016

The Saigon Camaro

You Could Order Anything From The PX

Back in 1968, army supply clerk-turned-MP Carl Virden knew he'd need a car when he was discharged from his Vietnam service. While on R&R in Hawaii, he rented a Datsun 1600 roadster one day and a stripper Camaro the next. It was no contest, and when he returned to his post in Saigon, he went to the Post Exchange (PX) and ordered a new ’69 Camaro, checking all the right boxes, including those for the 350-cid/300-horsepower engine, four-speed transmission, Positraction and the SS package.

After a long six months, Virden flew to Oakland, California, to be discharged, caught a helicopter to San Francisco and took delivery of his Camaro at Les Vogel Chevrolet. Curiously, it was delivered with the incorrect badging — a Chevrolet Bowtie instead of an SS on the rear panel — and it had to be returned to a southern California dealer to have the correct badge installed.

With 300 horsepower and his newfound freedom, Virden headed south toward his home in Redondo Beach, stopping for lunch at a small cafe. After his meal, he walked back to the Camaro to continue his trip home. “My new car was surrounded by about 50 people who had just arrived on a bus,” he says. “It was a great feeling to make my way through the crowd after answering several questions about it.”

Almost 50 years later, retired carpenter and occasional actor Virden is still the proud owner of the Camaro he took delivery of the very day he was discharged from the army.

The Camaro was Virden's family car until 1979, when he retired it from daily use after what he refers to as a “fender bender.” Though he never completely restored it, after the body repairs, Virden had the Camaro resprayed in its original Le Mans Blue. The odometer now shows 109,000 miles, the vinyl top has never been replaced, and the interior and transmission also remain original, while the original engine has been rebuilt.

Today, Virden uses the car sparingly, showing it occasionally and sometimes driving home with a trophy or two. Returning from one show, a driver in another lane wanted to buy the Camaro and kept waving a handful of hundreds, hollering out the window while motoring down the freeway. But there is no way he could ever sell it. For Carl Virden, the Camaro is as much a part of the family as his grown son and daughters. Son Bret agrees and has already staked claim to Dad's “Saigon Camaro,” ensuring that it will remain in the family for at least another generation.

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