Nineteen-year-old Northport, New York, resident Butch Jensen received his draft papers in March 1968. The Vietnam War was in full swing halfway around the world and the Long Island teenager was about to get a full ride to the Southeast Asian battleground, courtesy of Uncle Sam.
When his marching orders came, Butch proudly packed himself up and headed to infantry school at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, for basic training. He was soon assigned to the 1st Infantry Division (the famed “Big Red One”) as an 81mm mortar man. In August 1968, the young soldier was sent to the battlefield to fight.
When infantryman Jensen wasn’t thinking about dodging impending danger, or how he was going to effectively return home in one piece, he often thought about his future life after he returned home to the States. Being a car guy through and through, he frequently thought about the new ride he was going to buy with his saved military wages on his return to Long Island. Coming from a Ford-infused family, Butch’s first choice was a Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet. It was definitely a potent Pony, and was a car his Blue Oval loving family figured a young car guy like Butch would buy. But that just wasn’t in the cards.
In April 1969, Butch’s squad leader Al Jenicek finished his tour of duty and left Vietnam. With that move, the young Long Islander was bumped up to Sergeant and made the troop’s new commander out on the battlefield. It was a big jump up the ladder for the freshman soldier.
His buddy Al got back to the States and immediately started car shopping. The muscle car wars were in full bloom, and the ex-serviceman had an abundance of hot cars to choose from; many of which had high-horsepower powerplants raging under their bulging hoods.
After Al picked his new ride, he sent a letter to Butch with a photo of the new car he had chosen. Interestingly enough, his choice was a 1969 Dusk-Blue-skinned Camaro Z/28.
When Butch received Al’s letter and spied the photo, to say he was blown away would be an understatement. The lines, the stripes, the aggressive stance; that picture gripped Butch’s attention like a turbo-powered torque wrench. That Mustang he had once longed for became an afterthought. Butch knew instantly he had to have one of these new Camaros to call his own.
Even though he was surrounded by life-threatening situations, Butch couldn’t throw the idea of pre-ordering a set of “hot wheels” for his return home. But being entrenched in a major war and locked down on a battlefield 6,000 miles from Long Island definitely made the process of ordering a car a difficult task. So with that thought, he did what he could do; he sent a letter to his parents, stating he wanted them to help him purchase a new Z/28, and have it there and ready for when he was done with his tour of duty; four long months down the road.
Like any set of loving parents, the Jensen’s did their best to comply with their son’s wishes. With only the words he wrote in his letter home to go on, they went to BF Chevrolet in East Northport, New York, and ordered the car their son lusted after. Since Butch was actively engaged in battle, and had only the picture and short description Al had given him of the car, the process was rather simple. The Jensen’s just asked for “a 1969 Z/28 Camaro in Dusk Blue.” That was it. No frills, no add-ons, no options. Nothing. The car that the Jensen’s ordered for their hero son was as bare-bones as you could get, and exactly what the young soldier wanted. A simpler purchase order would be pretty hard to find these days.
Once Butch’s new Camaro came in at the dealership, it was quickly delivered to the Jensen house and lovingly placed in the garage for safekeeping and the arrival of their son. And, knowing that his brand-new ride was back home waiting for him must have given Butch stomach knots. But, he still had time to serve, and had to keep his wits about him.
Over the next four months, Butch battened down. He blew off any R&R he was offered so he could save more of his wages to pay for his Camaro-in-waiting. As time rolled by, the youngster led his troops onward, making it through the summer unscathed. By August 1969 he had finally finished his tour in Vietnam and was ready to head home. He still owed seven months of service to the Army stateside, which was just fine by him.
Butch came home to find his Camaro waiting for him in the garage. The Chevy was more beautiful in person than he had ever imagined. It was almost like a dream. The process that led him to this purchase seemed surreal, made possible only by his inner persistence and his parents’ loving support. But in the end, his hard work and determination paid off. He was back in Long Island and he was ready to start his new life, in his new ride. Things just couldn’t be any better.
Butch’s Camaro is as raw as possible. No options except for the Z/28 package were ordered with the car. The Dusk Blue paint was a must in Butch’s eyes and the hood is the original flat-style, as he did not order the special cowl-induction piece. A standard vinyl interior was just fine with the owner, and his car received the full-length spoiler out back. No power steering, no power brakes or windows … this baby is as manual as it gets. Without a brochure or anything to order from, Butch had inadvertently skipped all the extras, and in the process got what he really needed—a stripped down street burner, without all the bells and whistles.
After a month of R&R in Long Island, Butch had to report to duty in Washington State. So, after three weeks of breaking her in, the serviceman hopped in his new ride and drove the 3,000 miles to the left coast. Talk about a journey to clear your mind. One moment you’re fighting for your life, and the next minute your living life beyond expectations … flogging the open road in the car of your dreams.
Butch and his Z/28 were inseparable for the next 12 years. Love and then marriage came, and with them, a growing family blossomed. Still, the owner and machine found time together. Butch just loved showing off the “most beautiful car in the world” to the members of his local car scene. However, in 1981, 2 years after his third son was born, the Camaro was retired and sent to the garage to live out the next 33 years. Though it was out of use, the car never left its owner’s thoughts. He knew one day the Z/28 would see daylight again.
In 2014 that day came. The Z/28 was pulled out of storage and sent for a complete makeover. For the next 18 months the car was torn down, with every part going through an in-depth restoration process. To say it was a nut and bolt restoration would be an understatement.
First off, the trusty 302 was removed and disassembled. Gary at The Performance Shop in West Babylon, New York, did the machine work and blueprinting. It was in relatively good shape when it was torn down, as it was still running well when parked. Mike Chirello at MVA Customs in Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, handled all the bodywork, and getting this Camaro back to its original form. Last but not least, Glenn Hunter at Hunter’s Garage in East Northport, New York, handled all the mechanicals, the engine rebuild, and pulled this build together to reach its final state.
What does the future hold? Well, Butch is making up for those three, long decades where the Z was out of commission as he now regularly flogs the beautifully restored Camaro around Long Island’s North Shore, hitting the local shows and the cruise night scene. He’s using the car for what it was intended, as it’s no trailer queen. The car gets driven hard, and often, out on the local byways. And Butch, well, he just wouldn’t have it any other way.