By on February 19, 2010

TTAC’s Steve Lang recently documented the historical “leaning” of the Camry beginning with the 1997 model here, and EN’s recent editorial on the transition from “fat” to “lean” quality standards documented Toyota’s rationale and its consequences. So when a neighbor asked me if I wanted to check out and drive a used 1990 Camry she was buying, I figured it was an opportunity to indulge in some genuine Toyota fatness. Little did I realize I was about to have the automotive equivalent of a banana split.

I had suggested she look at for an older Camry after her Volvo 850 munched its valves due to a broken timing belt. She now understands why they’re supposed to be changed. And what did she find? A pristine one-owner 1990 LE V6 with 79k miles that had been driven by a preacher. How’s that for a cup of fresh Devonshire cream?

In my last last review of an older Camry, I pitted a gen3 1993 Camry V6 against a 2008 Charger V6. I’ll let you guess who won. Before you think I go out of my way to drive old Camrys, that was a rental in Hawaii, a beater with over 200k miles on the clock. It acquitted itself quite well, none the less.

This Camry looks almost new. It simply exudes solidity from every extrusion, piece of trim, and its paint. OK; it obviously wasn’t abused in its twenty years with the preacher. But the years do tend to take their toll. As do the damn motorized retractable seat belts, the scourge of all cars of this vintage. I’d almost forgotten about them; despicable.

This Camry may be fat in content, but its size is anything but. In a classic example of inflation, the 2010 Corolla is bigger than this Camry in every way: 2.4″ longer wheelbase, 2.3″ more width, 3.6″ taller, an inch longer overall, and it would weigh more if this wasn’t a V6 version. The gen 2 Camry was the last one still made within Japan’s width=tax limits, and it shows, or doesn’t. It took a minute or two to for my tallness to feel properly accommodated. But that happens with just about any car, thanks to being spoiled by my xB. That’s why I put up with its harsh ride: a profound lack of cranial restriction.

The four-cam 24 valve 2.5 liter V6 purrs to life, and we head for the country on this sunny day. This is a very short stroke and small displacement six, so fatness in its torque band is not part of the equation. One has to poke a bit on that non-e pedal to get some life out of it. But it’s happy to spin, and is about as smooth and creamy as anything made today. With 156 horses, it’s willing to move the 2800 Camry right along, but you have to ask firmly. And the four-speed automatic shifts as silky-smooth as it did two decades ago, and feels every bit as competent as the four speed still being used in the 2010 Corolla.

Speaking of Toyota gas pedals, I came across this heads up from the NTHSA file on Camrys:

Throttle linkage (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990): Various complaints filed with NHTSA suggest some vehicles may have a “sticky” linkage between the accelerator pedal and the engine’s throttle mechanism; some owners reported “sudden acceleration” if the pedal did not immediately return to idle position on being released.

On further investigation, it turns out this was a problem with sticking throttle valves, due to carbon build-up. More often, the pedals wouldn’t go down so much as not come back up, but it does point out that throttle issues are far from new.

Once you get past the almost forgotten seat belt routine (I forgot to buckle the lap belt), the one really glaring time-warp is the steering. The wheel is big, the rim is hard and skinny, and the assist is remarkably low. Compared to the synthetic overboosted electric steering on the new Toyotas, this feels just like a big Mercedes tiller of yore. Heavy, rather dull, and a remarkably strong self-centering action. This Camry constantly screams at you that it prefers not to change directions, ever.

Well, no one ever accused a Camry of sporting pretensions. The ride on its undoubtedly original shocks is still pretty decent; as long as one stays away from curves with any kind of speed. But the really predominant sensation is the utter solidity of this car’s body and interior. After twenty years, there is not one minute creak, rattle, or groan anywhere to be heard or felt. Except for the slightly enfeebled (or were they like this new?) shocks, it feels like it’s being driven off the dealer’s lot. Tight, solid, carved from a granite block, bank-vault like; what other over-used metaphors should I employ?

And for what cars were those metaphors typically used back in the day? Mercedes. This Camry is the closest thing I’ve ever driven that mimics the sensations of an old W124 Benz. The structural solidity, the low-torque high-rpm six that has to have the spurs put to it, the heavy and dull steering (the W 124′s Achilles heel), the high-quality interior materials. Obviously, the Camry can’t touch the Mercedes in terms of the interior design and tactile feel (and room), but everything is genuine quality padded vinyl or cloth. Nary a hard surface to be seen, except that highly unpleasant steering wheel, which the early W124s also had.

Yes, this Camry is the classic old school Japanese “imitation” of an old-school Mercedes. They both espoused pure unadulterated quality as the key to success. And then they both threw it away, at about the same time. But for $3500, my neighbor just bought a high-calorie virtual time capsule from 1990, and I suspect she may have it for a while. Just don’t forget to change that timing belt!

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77 Comments on “Curbside Classic Review: 1990 Toyota Camry LE V6...”


  • avatar
    eggsalad

    When I first met my ex, she had the stripper version. It was a 1991 model, with the twincam 4, 5-speed stick, and no a/c.

    That motor ate valve seals like nobody’s business. By 120k, city driving used 1 qt of oil every 200 miles. You could drive it 1000 highway miles on the same quart.

    Soured me on Toyotas for a *long* time.

  • avatar
    segfault

    I thought the Volvo 740 had a non-interference engine. You learn something new every day.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Nice write-up and comparo, thanks!

    btw, the 20+ y/o design has held up well too.

  • avatar
    jplane

    My wife bought a brand new 1999 Camry. Least favorite car we ever owned. She wrecked it on a snow day in Dallas a year later and we bought a 2001 Honda Accord. The Accord was better in every single way. It has soured me on Toyotas ever since.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Curbside (or roadside in this case) yes, classic? I’m not thinkin’ so.

  • avatar
    rmwill

    Sorry to disagree, but I had a 1990 DX 4cyl 5 speed that I bought new. The car had major rust proofing issues. The body side mouldings were rusting apart and the cancer spread to the rear fenders. This was within the first 18 months. The car ran great otherwise. I ended up trading it for $1000 less than I bought it new for with 50,000 miles. It was a good buy, but I questioned the longevity of the bodywork. Maybe thats why you see so few in the rustbelt today.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      I’ve read that was due to the recycled steel the Japanese were fond of using at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      There isn’t much difference in corrosion rates of steel until you get to stainless steel with high concentrations of chromium and nickel. And there isn’t much difference between sheet steels used for car bodies from one manufacturer to another. Rustout is ordinarily caused by poor design that allows moisture/dirt/salt to accumulate in places where it can’t easily be washed out, or by poor surface coatings.

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      fincar1, I will bet you good money Detroit used thicker gauge steel in their passenger cars than Japan. That didn’t help the corrosion perforation either.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Segfault:

    Late ’89 and 1990 models of the Volvo 740 used the B234F engine. It was largely the same as the B230F and it’s antecedents that Volvo had been using since 1976, *except* for a 16-valve cylinder head. That particular engine was an interference engine.

    So *some* 740GLE models had an interference engine. Maybe Paul’s neighbor had one of those. If not, somebody lied to her about the head being shot after a timing belt break.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You don’t see many camrys like the one pictured here in Ohio, because they rusted away long ago. Quality construction? LOL

  • avatar
    gslippy

    That 90 Camry looks like a really nice car, but I’d hate to work under the hood. Eeks.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Just out of curiousity, was this a J-vin car or a Kentucky special?

    I would think the final-gen Cressida would get the nod for being Toyota’s rendition of an ’80s Benz.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    90′s Japanese cars are awesome. I like the body style that came after this one, as shown in the last picture. Rust isn’t an issue here in Sunny So Cal, if I needed another old car I would look for a V6 Manual with working AC

  • avatar
    salhany

    I had an ’88 Camry, similar to this one except with the 4 cylinder and with the rubber-colored bumpers. A maroon car that had faded to semi-turd brown, but I loved it. Same auto shoulder belts too. I got it when it was 10 years old in ’98 and drove it for another 3 years with no problems at all until I got rear ended on the highway in it. Great car, very solid runner, comfortable ride, really the ideal first car for anyone (which mine was for me).

    That engine would never, ever die, but by the time I had to dump it due to the accident the tin worm was starting to kill the rear quarters after 13 years on the road. Never any oil burning issues, always started right up. I was very fond of that car.

  • avatar
    Ion

    Did these cars ever come in a gloss finish? My 92 hand-me-down Carolla was gun metal, my neighbor’s 91 Camry is steel blue, I’ve seen a few metallic reds around, not once have I seen a Camry or Corrolla of this vintage in a gloss finish.

  • avatar
    threeer

    While not a 1990 variant, my parents owned a 1993 4 cylinder Camry for over 10 years, before my mother decided to buy a new 2003 Corolla (albeit the LE with leather, sunroof, etc…). She often comments on how she misses her Camry, as it felt much, much more refined and solid when compared to the much newer (and much more optioned) Corolla. She sold the Camry while overseas to a young Sgt for a song (feeling sorry for the poor guy who had just moved to Germany, needed a reliable family hauler for his young family, she sold it for peanuts to him…). Six years later, as she readied to come back to the USA, she still saw that old Camry cruising around…:)

  • avatar
    jmo

    Keep in mind the MSRP of that car in 1990 was $17,078 or $27,790 adjusted for inflation. So, how do you think Toyota would do trying to move V-6 powered Corolla sized cars that cost almost 28k?

  • avatar
    crash sled

    Speaking of bad grammar, I’d hate to have to slog through the owner’s manual for a 20 year old Toyota… “all your base are belong to us”.

  • avatar
    mrh1965

    My folks had one of these, a 1988 model, I think. White, red interior, vaguely BBS-looking alloy wheels and the four cylinder. Nice, simple and solid, nothing particularly wrong with it. I liked it just fine, in fact, but then they bought a 91 Accord Coupe, which really felt like a step up in terms of refinement. That Accord still lives, I am told.

    • 0 avatar
      talkstoanimals

      I concur. The Accord always felt like a step up in both refinement and driving engagement. Ditto the previous generation Accord, the one with the pop-up headlights. Ditto the 1990 era Passat, which felt closer to a value priced Merc to me and had the bonus of a much more accomodating interior. Of course, neither the Accord nor the Passat were available with a V6 at the time. And that’s where the Maxima came into play as a more enjoyable Camry alternative.

  • avatar
    midelectric

    A V6 in a Japanese car of this class was pretty unusual then, previously you had to get the top-of-the-range model like the Cressida, Maxima or Sigma to get more than 4 cylinders. As I pored over the specs in Pop Sci when they came out, I couldn’t quite figure out why the contemporary Alfa Milano 2.5 made the same amount of power using 12 fewer valves in an engine that hadn’t changed since 1981. It led to my belief that Japanese cars were more complex than they needed to be, especially after looking under the hood of both cars.

    Of course, no one interested in a Camry would cross shop a Milano and vice versa. As much as a Camry was suitable for the pious, a Milano could only be appreciated by an unrepentant sinner.

  • avatar
    fiestajunky

    The highest level of refinement for one of these is really obscure and just about forgotten now – The Lexus ES 250 of 1989-1991. Camry was the donor car for the entry level Lexus in those years and I was lucky enough to drive one for about 6 years. Great car. The 2.5 was then and remains the smoothest engine I have had the pleasure to possess. The car itself was kind of an odd duck – It had a 5 speed. That transmission was like silk. Everything on the car worked like it should until the day I sold it with over 200,000 miles on the (still mechanical in those days) clock.I owned three Mercedes following the 250 and none of them came close in quality and dependability.

    Another interesting note – The 2.5 L engine was tuned to achieve 1 horsepower per cubic inch – This was considered a benchmark for performance engines in those days.

    I have been looking for another low miles example for my son’s first car.

  • avatar
    Turbo60640

    It’s interesting that it’s suddenly in vogue to trash Toyota and try to portray them as the Yugo of our times.

    This of course after America unconditionally ate them up like McDonald’s for the past 20 years.

  • avatar
    Audi-Inni

    The vintage after this, which I believe came out in 1992, was the best Camry ever. I had the Lexus counterpart and it was absolutely bulletproof. Sold it at 90+k miles and the buyer had to pry the keys out of my hand (my wife wanted an SUV and my car was older than hers). Each next generation was worse and more plain the the last – pretty much the same for the ES, too. It took a long while to find a car equal to the quality of that vintage Toyota/Lexus.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I concur. That generation was the last before the decontenting of design and material quality began. I remember the auto press talking about how the successor to the generation you mentioned had to be cost competitive in a bad currency exchange market. Things like simplifying the front end assembly and cutting the quality of the rear seat coverings were mentioned. Anything to get the cost out. That was the beginning of Toyota’s decline.

  • avatar
    saabista63

    I used to have one of these, a 1986 station wagon. My wife loved it – and still thinks, it was the best car we owned. Bought it in 1995, sold it in 1999 for a used Citroen XM. I don’t know if anybody here has a clue what that implies.
    Strangely enough, I think it was the most American car we used to drive. A wonderful, softly riding long distance runner.

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      “Bought it in 1995, sold it in 1999 for a used Citroen XM. I don’t know if anybody here has a clue what that implies.”

      It implies that it was boring and you wanted something with more character.

    • 0 avatar
      saabista63

      Tosh,

      you are right. The XM was much more entertaining, in the sense of: What’ll make it break down tomorrow?
      It was a beautiful car, though, and the ride was incredibly smooth.

  • avatar
    Neb

    In the dry Canadian prairies, this era of Camry is still plentiful. Though they all have a little rust, and often enough paint issues, they still roll on. A good friend of mine has a 87 with nearly 360,000 km on the clock, and the engine doesn’t leak any fluids at all. The mechanicals (if not the bodywork) are completely bulletproof. This is especially impressive if you consider the prairies have a 80 C temperature variance; +40 in the summer, -40 in the winter!

    The V6 is still a fairly rare bird, though. Unlike the 4 cyl versions, that one was made in Japan, and cost a fair bit more.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    In and around Vancouver BC, the one thing I have noticed is that a vast majority of the 80′s and early 90′s built cars you see remaining on the road are A) Japanese and B) Toyota’s. This says something about their older cars for sure.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    My mother owned a 1990 Camry LE V6 and my dad owned a 1991 Mercury Sable. It made for an interesting comparison, and that’s why I think Paul’s review is out to lunch.

    The Sable is the car that should be accused of being over-contented: driver and passenger map lights, cornering lamps, air bag, rear parcel storage, cupholders, coin-trays, and interior floor lamps, all missing from the Camry. Our Camry had ABS brakes, a sunroof, and a cargo net, but ours was the top-of-the-line 25th anniversary edition; you could equip a Sable the same.

    The Sable was also the better riding and better handling car, with far greater suspension travel. It had the stiffer chassis, better headlights, and a far superior stereo to the Camry’s tinny unit. The Sable’s manual seats were more comfortable for me than the Camry’s 6 way power seats, and I hated how the Japanese made you sit way forward to reach the steering wheel. The 2.5L V6 sounded great, but it was slow and thirsty, taking about 4.6 seconds to get to 30mph and 12.5 seconds to 60 mph. We averaged 15L/100km, about the same as my 290hp LS430.

    The kicker was that the Camry began to rust like crazy by year 7, whereas the Sable only started to get ugly around year 12.

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      Did your father have any problems with Sable head gaskets or automatic transmissions?

      I’m in Vancouver, BC. Those early Camrys and Accords like to rust; to see a non-beater is a rare sight. I’d probably skip right to the ’92 model year. Driving the ’97–’01 Camry IS like using a refrigerator: great V6 engine, fun-sucking 4AT.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      Only the 3.8L was prone to headgasket problems. If his Dad’s car had the 3.0L Vulcan V-6, they were bulletproof, if a bit crude.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      I still have a 92 Sable that was used for train station use. Now it jut sits at home, but it has been outside for 18 years of Northeast weather and still is rust free. The paint is still pretty good and the trans still original. And yes, it has the Vulcan. My friend’s dad had the 90 Camry V6 and that car was mechanically a rock. The body strained against the Connecticut winters, and the rear wheel wells rotted pretty severely. The engine was a gem. In comparison the Vulcan seemed like a reject from a John Deere factory.

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      We had the 3.0L Vulcan, crude for sure. Zero problems with the engine or tranny fortunately, though it was starting to smoke a bit at full throttle, and constant a/c issues. But both cars were good for their time.
      He only got rid of the Sable in 2009 after I gave him my 98 Camry, a vastly more refined car.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to mention, 1990 and up Taurus/Sable already had airbags…not those stupid passive belts!

  • avatar

    I never understood what soulless car was until the year 2000 when I had a rental Camry for one week, it gave me the excitement of using a refrigerator.
    Now I drive a Mazda3 hatch that is the complete opposite of the Camry, it’s not perfect, eat a lot of gas and feels fragile at times, but you can get a smile on your face every time you drive it, something you never get in a Camry.

  • avatar
    levi

    Great review, Paul. Pics great, too.

    TTAC keeps moving forward with these fresh looks at the past.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    “In and around Vancouver BC, the one thing I have noticed is that a vast majority of the 80’s and early 90’s built cars you see remaining on the road are A) Japanese and B) Toyota’s.”

    I think it depends on what you notice. As a ’90 Dodge Spirit owner, I see lots of Spirits and Acclaims all over BC and Alberta. Probably more than older Camry’s, although I have no idea about the original sales numbers.

    I like to think that if you somehow ignore brand reputation, and relative to the difference in original price, the Spirit/Acclaims compare well to the Camry. The difference would account for some really perishable parts put into the Spirit/Acclaim. The 3.0 V6 versions get excellent highway economy but can also go like stink. The interiors are exceptionally hospitable. Certainly they are less vulnerable to rust than the Camry. There were lots of engine/transmission choices the Camry didn’t have.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    My ex-wife had a 1990 DX. Decent enough car, but I could never get used to its upholstery. Prickly-type cloth, reminded me of burlap sacs. Was quite glad when we traded it in for a 1993 Dodge Intrepid.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    “90’s Japanese cars are awesome.”

    Yep. Like an episode of Ranma 1/2, you can’t go wrong. Japanese should have stayed where they were at… (simple, nice cars) instead of moving to decontented bloatville and thus letting Kia / Hyundai rip them to shreds.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    One thing I never cared for about Japanese cars from this era was their fascination with putting cloth on the door trim panels – most cars I used to see back in my Jiffy Lube days (when they were only 3-5 years old) had quite a bit of grunge on that fabric from people rubbing their hands and arms up against it…eww…I wonder if there was any way to clean it without damaging the fabric? That door panel fabric always seemed more “fragile” than the seat fabric, so that must be why people never tried to clean it?

  • avatar
    Juniper

    I have also rented numerous Camrys of all years (even tho they don’t do fleet sales) I have never walked away thinking, I need to buy one of these, I just walked away.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I’ve always found the 1987-91 Camry sedans to be uninspiring (and the mouse-motor belts are real deal killers), but the wagon is an absolute jewel. I would say it challenged Volvo as the best midsize wagon of its time (particularly after ’88, the last year of the Cressida wagon).

    Also, the ’91 Camry really helps explain the phenomenal impact of the ’92. Compared to the sensible-shoes look of the ’91 (and the largely carryover styling of the Accord), the ’92 Camry looked downright sexy.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    The vulcan wasn’t exactly noisy, or rough like some in here are talking. Sure, overhead cam engines are somewhat quieter and smoother running, but the difference is often overblown. Most people drive with their radios on nowadays, windows up, a/c going.
    You can’t even hear most engines from inside the car under those conditions.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Moparman, I guess we might be exaggerating but smoothness, like wealth, is all relative. When I had to replace my 2.2 litre Plymouth (253K miles) the Vulcan sounded pretty smooth in comparison. But when revved up and pounded on, it becomes a bit coarse. What makes matters worse is the fact that the engine and trans don’t seem well matched; shift points and engine power output seem at odds with each other unless driven in a conservative fashion. The V6 in the Camry spins delightfully, with a refined mechanical cadence.

  • avatar

    I’d forgotten about those horrid motorized shoulder belts. My 1990 Accord had them, and they were incredibly fast. One time I got behind the wheel with a lighted cigar in my mouth and without thinking turned the key. The belt whizzed up, knocking the cigar from my mouth and into the back seat, where it burned a quarter-size hole through the tan cloth upholstery.

  • avatar
    50merc

    The vulcan’s shortcoming was inadequate low end torque for a car as heavy as the Taurus or Sable. Combined with a transmission that was sometimes slow to downshift when you needed oomph (like merging on a highway), the car felt underpowered. It left me wishing for the 3.8 in my ’92 Sable, but maybe that’s how it got to 90K miles with only a split heater hose.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I agree, 50 merc. about 12 years ago I bought a loaded 89 sable from my sister to use as a winter beater. It had the vulcan, and that sucker definitely didn’t have any guts.
    Those engines were durable, though. It had 186k on it, and my sister was never known for taking care of her cars. She would often drive it 20k between oil changes! The trans was replaced once, but that was most likely from her never changing the fluid/filter.
    It had the power lumbar seats, and was comfortable. I loved the driving position, and the way it rode and handled. It felt very solid.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      If the new management at TTAC wants to do a CC series on old Taurus/Sables, I’ll gladly give bunch of photos of a real survivor free of charge!! I might even throw in a few of the nearby ’93 Cavalier that looks like it spent all of its life outside, too. The differences in how one car held up and how one deteriorated is quite the study in material choice…

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Back in the early 90′s I was selling Toyotas, took many of this generation Camry for test drives. The V6 were very nice cars, but rather expensive for the times. I once ran across a DX model with V6 and 5 speed, that thing was a speed demon.

    I had a couple of bad experiences with them, one of which was a time I was descending a hill in the rain merging onto a county freeway. Just as I was about to enter the freeway, a small animal ran out in front of me, my natural reaction was to try and avoid it. As I swerved and braked, the rear wheels locked and spun the back end of the car around, resulting in me entering the freeway backwards. Lesson learned.

    Otherwise the cars were rather well built, but just didn’t appeal to me. My FIL had one, absolutely loved it. He would harass me about my choice of Dodge Lancer Turbo ES as a family car, regaling me with stories about how dependable the Camry was… As we drove to the Sears auto department to get it’s third new muffler put on… While living in semi-arid Georgia…

    He continued to buy Camrys, but by the time he got to the 1997 version that was the end of the line. He never really told me what put him off of them, but after that he started buying Crown Vics. I don’t know, maybe it’s an age thing…

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      I was selling Nissans in 1990, and can remember the ride-and-drive comparisons. The Camry’s driving dynamics never impressed anyone, and the tactile quality was merely “good”. The Nissan Stanza was an even match (despite being a dud in the marketplace) while the Maxima of the day stood head and shoulders above both cars.

      And then there was the rust. People paid $20-30k (Canadian) for those Camrys, only to have them looking like Swiss Cheese before the world had ever heard of Monica Lewinsky. Only those which wore a perpetual coat of black slimy oil lived to see the new millennium.

      Fat quality? Meh. More like viewing the past through rose-coloured glasses in my opinion.

  • avatar
    MM

    Had the ’91 Camry (4cyl, 5m) in Spain from 2006-2009. 280K km and ran like a champ. Only problem was sputtering/hesitation… Toyota put the ignition coil under the dist. cap, and when the rubber oil seal would wear, the coil and underside of cap would cover w/fine layer of oil. Instead of replacing distributor, just popped the cap, cleaned everything out w/denatured alcohol, and ran like a champ another 18 mos.

    Other problem was rust… top of windshield had rusted away, and any rain meant an indoor shower.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    This was the car (4 cyl) that GMH sold as the Holden Apollo, literally badge engineering at it’s most cynical. Holden didn’t have a medium sized car and Toyota didn’t have a “big 6″ to compete against the Commodore and the Ford Falcon. To create economies of scale, Austrlai embarked on the “Button Plan”. Basically the car manufacturers would co-operate and the sharing of parts and platforms within Australia and gain tax concessions. Out of this emerged the Holden Apollo, a rebadged toyota camry; the Toyota Lexcen, a rebadge holden commodore; the Ford Corsair, a rebadge Nissan Pulsar and the Nissan Ute, a rebadged (with vinyl stickers!) Ford Utility. Unfortunately for the car industry, the average Australian punter saw straight through this and promptly rebadged (debadged?) their cars (bought on the best deal) or ignored them altogether. So the Camry and Commodore are still with us today whilst the Apollo and Lexcen faded away. Who says the general public will believe what the marketeers want us to believe.

  • avatar
    sellfone

    This piece perfectly synthesizes by feelings of late; I miss square cars. This gen Camry (and most other cars of this period) had a much more pleasing look (to me) than the blobs of today where everything looks the same.

    The bloat seems to have affected basically EVERY car and it’s truly silly. Why, *WHY* is a 2010 Corolla bigger and (with equivalent engines) heavier than a 20 year old Camry. There is no reason for this to happen, yet every automaker seems to fall into the trap when designing the next gen of a model, “its got to grow”. No it doesn’t!

    Its almost like the automakers do this to preempt the consumers’ “moving up” when its time for their next car. They don’t seem to realize that the customer can make their own move “up” from a Corolla to a Camry, or from a Camry to an Avalon.

    This thinking and practice has resulted in entire lines of cars that are too big, fat, and heavy. The current Corolla’s size is absurd. It is no longer the entry level, “economy” car that it once was. I guess they needed to make room for the Yaris. Whatever.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      “…most other cars of this period) had a much more pleasing look (to me) than the blobs of today where everything looks the same.”

      Yeah, I don’t bother to distinguish between cars today, as they all look the same to me… meh. I believe T-Bird may have started the trend, and when Taurus came out, styling died as far as I can tell. Not to blame Ford, as we were probably headed this way in any event. NASCAR went to a common design form, I gather, and our passenger fleet seems to be doing likewise. But it’ll likely require a TTAC of CY2030 to give us a better recap on this history, probably too early to write it up right now.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    A shopping cart has more style than a camry, and doesn’t rust away after a few years.

  • avatar
    Roxer

    That generation of Camry is great. Not as great as my 87 Corolla GT-S but pretty good ;)

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I would love to see a send up on the Cressida. I like your stuff Paul, these are cars that I remember and the newer ones are cars I would tend to buy as I seem to be stuck in 1988

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Fincar, it’s true that the design of a car’s body has a lot to do with how quickly it rusts. Some vehicles have nooks and crannies that hold salt, and are very difficult to access when washing the car.
    But back in the day different manufacturers treated their cars with different types of rustproofing, which made just as much of a difference.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    That 90 Camry looks like a really nice car, but I’d hate to work under the hood. Eeks.

    I* had one of these breifly, ya I was never able to figure out how to change the rear row of spark plugs.

    The 3 or 4th gear doesnt wanna to engage unless push OD lock out for few miles then release and all the gears seems to be functioning well.

    There is a coolant valve it will lock out coolant by default = when the solenoid is not working the coolant will not pass thru, is not the best for cooler country, being asia will be OK. Whereas merc’s monojet valve will be open when no 12volt passing thru, so u still get heat on a cold day. A friend was still able to drive his Merc from Ottawa to Montreal during winter mths even his alterator was not producing any voltages.
    He took her to the MB dealer and got charged for 800 to get the alt fixed.
    The Camry was not a bad car, with 200000 +km i guess the 4th gear did have some issues. One guy told me is not good idea to allow 4th gear to run at low RPM in city driving, as trans is not going fast ehuf so does the oil pressure. Is best to lock out OD button in city driving, u gain gas mileage but fix trans at a much sooner time.

  • avatar
    Joel

    @Paul- Yet more minor editing quibbles- “With 156 horses, it’s willing to move the 2800 Camry right along, but you have to ask firmly.” Needs an “lb” after the 2800 if I read that right.

    Also, I love noting the differences between rust belt and non-rust belt drivers and their experiences. I had a roommate that drove a mid ’80′s Isuzu Trooper over to Portland from Massachusetts, and as a 20 year old that hadn’t ever really gotten out of town before, I had never seen rust like that before. Same would go for some of these Camrys. But if it lives on a low to no salt diet, these cars I would imagine could go for 300-400 thousand miles, which really speaks to how Toyota was trying to be the Mercedes of the East.

  • avatar
    Terry

    Blowfish, changing that rear bank of sparkplugs involved removing the upper intake plenum off of the intake manifold.
    Many V6 engines today have the upper intake preventing easy access to the rear spark plugs–Ford Mazda AJ engines(Tribute/Escape, MPV as just 2 examples).

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    These are very common in L.A. Don’t know why they are so apparent as they’re almost invisible in the styling dept.and I have never been interested in them. Perhaps it’s because the design is sort of timeless that they stand out amongst so many on the new horrors being palmed off as “modern” in the ‘post styling” era of the industry today.

    My Mother always wanted one of these because they looked like the cars I used to draw. And: they simply looked like what a car should look like.

  • avatar
    PeterMerlin

    As the original owner of a 1989 four-cylinder Camry 4-door LE which as of today has been gently driven 205,637 miles, I think Paul Niedermeyer has it just right: “utter solidity of the car’s body and interior… It feels like it’s being driven off the dealers lot. Tight, solid, carved from a granite block.” There’s lots of salt used here in upstate New York so the fuel, brake lines and the gas tank/sending unit needed replacement two years ago, and there’s some rust around the wheel wells of course. But other than routine maintenance (oil changes, brakes/pads, muffler exhaust, spark-plugs, fuel-pump, belts, timing belt and water pump–twice), I consider the only two part failures were the “seized” oil-pump at 192,600 and the recent inability to unlock the passenger door electric lock–the only recall in 21 years was meant to prevent this very problem and now it has happened anyway. I still have the original shocks, master-cylinder, alternator and radiator, and those motorized retractable seal belts are just part of the deal.
    200,000+ miles of unexciting driving with reliability and economy (original cost $16M and still gets 32 MPG): It has been and continues to be great driving a 1989 pre-decontented fat Camry.

  • avatar
    segfault

    All of this recall hysteria brings to mind an important question: Which vehicles today are truly well-made, and are any of them affordable? I don’t see many late-model used vehicles that are still tight and rattle-free after 30,000 miles of service. Granted, it was probably rough, rental car service we’re talking about, but still…

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    Great editorial. I had one of these. I had broken my left leg and was going to have to go clutchless for a while, so I found one of these. The only issue was that someone had bolted a luggage rack to the trunk, and the area around the bolts was rusting. Otherwise, it was solid and well-mannered; in fact, too much so for me. My parents told me they had put up their ’90 Accord for sale, and I immediately bought it, since I found driving it far more fun.


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