By on December 12, 2016

1988 Toyota Camry in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Car writers are expected to love wagons with manual transmissions, but most of my love is reserved for the likes of three-on-the-tree-equipped Ford Country Squires and maybe the occasional 4-speed Datsun F-10 Sportwagon. Still, when I run across a Junkyard Find as rare as a second-generation Camry wagon with five-speed, I photograph it.

Here’s one that I spotted last week in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service wrecking yard.

1988 Toyota Camry in California junkyard, shifter - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Camry station wagon never was a big seller in the United States, and the preference of Camry buyers for manual transmissions shifted from “slight” to “damn near nonexistent” as the 1980s wore on. Has anyone ever seen an American-market ’97 Camry wagon with five-speed? In theory, such a car exists.

1988 Toyota Camry in California junkyard, odometer - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

You won’t see many BMW E34 wagons with this kind of odometer reading, although you will find quite a few (compared to the Camry) with five-speeds.

1988 Toyota Camry in California junkyard, automatic seat belt - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Remember these hateful automatic seat belts? Could be worse.

1988 Toyota Camry in California junkyard, RH view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This car served its owner or owners well for better than a quarter-century, but the damage from its final fender-bender wasn’t worth repairing.


The dawn of a new day for the station wagon.


In Australia, the Camry wagon was so powerful that it snorted the white lines right off the highway.

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57 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Toyota Camry Wagon with Five-Speed...”


  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Trump will make this car great again!

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Love it! And wow, if ever there were a car to demonstrate just how lucky you non-road salt TTACers are, this Camry is it. These things rusted like no other in Central NY, they unfortunately did not last very long despite quite a few (particularly the wagons) being sold in our college town. When I go back there, there are STILL quite a number of Volvo 240s trolling the streets. What’s interesting is that the 90-93 gen Accord is still everywhere (to say nothing of the 94-97) with varying degrees of rear quarter panel cancer and the 92-96 Camry is still a neighborhood fixture (although even they are starting to go around the rear quarter panels).

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      Amen. A rustbelter’s eyes snap to the rockers and fenders of any interesting old car faster than they do to a milf’s bazoom.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        Yep, wheel wells and rocker panels. If a car is 10+ years old, my eyes go there first.

        • 0 avatar

          Depending on how well you know the owner, the next bit is to tap for Bondo.

          In the NYC area, all the 90’s Japanese cars, save those Hondas with a bit of rot around the rear quarters, are gone. Even at car shows, the Supra or ZX are nonexistent.

          Went to SF last year, and was floored by the number of older cars…perfect.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            I had that experience in CA as well last year. On the highway, looking around – what do I see? A two-tone gen 1 Explorer in green, looking brand new! So exciting.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            When buying used here in Southern Ontario a smart consumer always used to carry a couple of magnets.

      • 0 avatar
        rickentropic

        Bazooms = rocker panels = fenders = bumpers. Words with unanticipated symmetry. Bazoomzoom & thanks to old man pants.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Yeah, here in the Sunny South, unless you live at the beach, it’s utterly unremarkable to see an indifferently cared-for car that’s 20 years old that maybe has paint that’s a little dull. (The most notable exception are late 90’s/early ‘aught Honda’s where the clearcoat is frequently completely trashed.)

      But for non-garaged cars, the hot sun does quite a number on interiors. You can have paint-job ready to go for another 20 years, and seats with multiple rips and faded and cracked plastics galore. Not as bad, as, say, Tucson, but still pretty rough.

    • 0 avatar
      ArialATOMV8

      My high school friend’s father has a 3rd gen stick V6 Camry Wagon with 253,000 miles on it. I remember once me and anothrr friend were going to a pool in the middle of nowhere… A straight 2 lane road through a open field. The other friend’s father had a Infinity M-35. On the way there, I went in his car and we went over 100!

      On the way back, I got stuck in the Camry wagon. A little frustrated, my friend and I begged the Camry friend’s father to put your foot down and try to keep up. He agreed and I remember we went 90 before he slowed down. Somehow, that Camry accelerating full throttle was pretty cool considering who it’s normally aimed at!

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I would’ve bought one had I been old enough to drive in the 80’s. Is there a manual mid-full size SUV/CUV? Does such a thing exist, at least in theory? The green shaggin’ wagon is due for a replacement.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      CX5 fwd has a stick shift available, Forester for AWD+stick, until now there was a Patriot AWD 5spd as well. Recently departed FJ Cruiser and Xterra had manual transmissions available. Now the Wrangler Unlimited is the only SUV-type vehicle with a stick shift left, although I’d argue their utility in terms of hauling things is somewhat limited due to the internal roll cage and even just opening up the rear hatch, not to mention not being able to easily mount a roof rack.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Probably the closest thing will be a Wrangler Unlimited. As gtemnykh mentioned, in theory Mazda has a CX-5 manual base model, but they show no inventory within 200 miles of my home base, so there may not be any actually imported.

      If you want am actual manual transmission station wagon, Mini can set you up.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      A little smaller than your request but our local Kia dealer offered me a deal on a brand new manual MY2016 Sportage.

    • 0 avatar

      If you are really a glutton for punishment, there was a manual Porsche Cayenne. Supposedly deals on used ones can be had if you can find one because your average soccer mom doesn’t want a stick shift.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Hummer H3!

  • avatar
    CAMeyer

    Could have been clutch failure that did this one in? I had a ’92 with a five-speed that was rock-solid except for needing two clutch replacements over ten years. These repairs cost north of $500,maybe a $1000. A frugal driver could live with body damage, as well as many other old car woes, but the car of course won’t go without a clutch.
    Amazing mileage, though.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    “American-market ’97 Camry wagon with five-speed? In theory, such a car exists.”

    No more camry wagons after the ’96 MY, and the 5spd transmission was only available on the SE coupes and DX trims, the DX Wagon was dropped for ’95. It’s too bad, the Toyota Gracia looks like quite a handsome and capable beast of burden:

    img.favcars.com/toyota/camry/toyota_camry_1996_images_1.jpg

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Great car, I learned to drive a manual transmission on this generation of Camry, with the 2.5 V6. The sound of the automatic shoulder belts was a fixture of my childhood and I didn’t think anything of them but I’m glad they are a thing of the past. My first car was a Cutlass Ciera and there was no comparison in the build quality and driving dynamics when compared to this Toyota.

    This 4-cylinder wagon is quite a bit slower, but C&D pulled a 9.2 0-60 run from this engine and was quite smitten with it, writing that its acceleration “proved the equal of many so-called sports cars”. How times have changed. The current V6 will hit 100 mph by the quarter mile and they still sh*t all over that car list the carryover engine as a “con”.

    The wagon that came after this one was one of the ugliest cars on the road in the 1990s. Beached whale.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    My father had an 88 Camry sedan – 4 cylinder, automatic. Built like a tank. He got over 200,000 miles out of it. I drove it several times and found it to be a very smooth riding car – and very comfortable. Not very fast – but certainly adequate for the times.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “The Camry station wagon never was a big seller in the United States,”

    What nonsense is this? Everyone says how wagons would “sell great” if we could only get them here!

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I think part of the problem was that it was an expensive sucker.

      I do think a boatload of more affordable Aries Ks and Escort wagons were sold, and even a lot of Century and Cutlass Ciera A-body wagons, even in import-centric Ithaca NY. Of course this gen Camry wagon would be competing against the likes of the gen 1 Caravan and other early-minivans and the first SUVs like the XJ Cherokee.

      1988 Camry wagon price:
      DX $13,100
      LE $15,500

      Caravan price:
      SE:$12,900
      LE:$15,900

      Cherokee price:
      4dr Laredo 4wd: $17,000 (that’s the wheezy 2.5L 4cyl to be fair)

      Century price:
      Custom wagon: $12,800

      Aries “American” wagon price: $8,100

      Escort LX wagon price: $8,400

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Whats even more shocking is that mini-vans were outselling them! That wretched thing any real “car buff” would never set foot near!

      • 0 avatar

        For all the hate that minivans get, they hold a ton of people and/or crap, are easy to drive, and easy to get in/out of.

        Source: parents owned an ’89 and ’98 Voyager and an ’02 Town and Country. I owned their ’98 Voyager briefly until it threw a rod, and then bought a Ram C/V

    • 0 avatar
      thattruthguy

      Wagons were dying. My ex’s dad’s last “new” car turned out to be a 95 Camry wagon lease return because there weren’t new Camry wagons. Compared to his Caravan, it felt like a Mercedes. Great car.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    My dad had a 5 speed All Trac sedan. Even as a 5 year old I knew it was something special.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    We purchased the tall boy Civic Realtime AWD Wagovan rather than a Camry or Accord wagon. With a 6 speed manual. The 6th gear was an ultra low gear that locked in the AWD system.

    Those Civic wagons had the same type of flip/folding seats as all the auto ‘journalists’ swoon over on the Fit. Could fold them all flat to form a full length bed.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I remember my dad test driving one of the Realtime 4WD Civic wagons. Seemed like a fun car to a 11-12 year old. But we kept our ’81 Civic and moved to a ’91 Tercel sedan when it came to replacing it (the Civic wagon was pretty rusty by 1991).

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      After losing a deposit to a crooked private seller on a ’87 6spd RT4wd wagovan, my family ended up with a ’90 Civic wagon in much more mundane automatic/fwd guise. Blessing and a curse I suppose, the newer EF chassis with the double wishbone suspension was more modern and probably a bit roomier and had more power, and arguably less rust prone than the 3rd gen chassis. But undoubtedly more boring. If we had the RT4wd I probably would not have spent my formative years pushing our fwd Wagon on bald-ass all seasons up the hill to our house. My dad would put my 12 year old brother behind the wheel, and then a 9 year old me and my dad would push the struggling Civic. This might also explain my OCD insistence on all of my vehicles having dedicated snow tires, and I even keep a set of chains to go on the back of my 4Runner. Talk about overkill!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Was this the one with the twin rear window wipers?

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I had a girlfriend with this generation Camry sedan with the 4 cylinder and 5 speed, and even at higher mileage it drove quite well compared to my Mk2 Jetta. Like 30-mile fetch above mentioned, even the 4-pot seemed to offer fairly healthy acceleration for the day. 0-60 in the low 9s was very respectable for a bread-and-butter sedan of the late 80s. I doubt that the ’92 Cutlass Supreme I learned to drive on beat those numbers even with its V6.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    “In Australia, the Camry wagon was so powerful that it snorted the white lines right off the highway.”

    I thought only DeLoreans did that.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    I owned one of these vintage Camrys, also equipped with the 4cyl and 5-speed; worst car I’ve owned in 40+ years of car ownership. Repeated clutch trouble, premature rust, leaks, peeling paint, and a general flimsy feel, all occurring with fewer than 100K miles.

  • avatar
    Jimmy7

    Wait, did you FIND an F10 Sportwagon and I missed it?

  • avatar
    thelastdriver

    I’ve owned five! Dad bought one new and I’ve grown addicted. The only manual was a clutch-eater but the 4-speed autos were great and predictable — complete with PWR button!

    Living in Cleveland I’m fairly sure myself and an older ethnic guy are the only people on the east side still rolling these. We both have parts cars.

    Something about these still make them feel like a properly Japanese car. Wagons were assembled in Japan versus Kentucky for most sedan manufacturing. Better fit and finish IMO.

    Rustproofing? Invest in a garden sprayer filled with used motor oil. Fill the inner wheel wells with roofing tar.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Oh man I’ve finally found a fellow “believer” lol. There needs to be some kind of sect similar to the “Church of 3800” for us old-Toyotaphiles on TTAC.

      “Drink this [Toyota ‘Red’ long life coolant], all of you, for it is my blood,”

    • 0 avatar
      Eyeflyistheeye

      Not true.

      When we bought our 1993 Camry V6, my crazy great-aunt bought the same but a cashmere-colored wagon. Our sedan was made in Tsutsumi, her wagon was made in Georgetown.

      Sold the damn thing after the head gasket busted. It was in mint condition too aside from the engine. I would have made her an offer on it if I only knew.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The closest wagon to this which was available at the time was the Ford Taurus MT-5. It had the 2.5-4 with a 5-speed. The manual transmission version of the Chevrolet Celebrity wagon was dropped in 1986.

  • avatar
    KM From AU

    Back in the late 1980’s early 1990’s when I first started work out of School these were THE fleet car that everyone got, particularly if you worked in State Government down in AU.

    My first one was an SE (yes, the absolute starting rung on the ladder) which had (mercifully) been upgraded with Power Steering and AC. Management use to get a CS with the natty tweed like interior. Only thing was you always got an Auto

    They were (and still are) automotive whitegoods, but geez they were bullet proof.

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    Technically true, meaningfully false; some E34 wagons came with 5-speeds – the rest 4-speeds – but they were all automatics (on this side of the pond). All E34 wagons were relatively uncommon to begin with, but of those surviving, a reasonable proportion have that kind of mileage and above. They are more vulnerable to overheating and general neglect, but less vulnerable to rust. They also had normal seatbelts and a relatively benign bong/chime (compared to the horrid shriek of some contemporary Benzes). Mine has 262k. And a 6-speed :)

    I have never seen a 92-96 Camry wagon with 3 pedals, but once drove a MT coupe, which was the least enjoyable MT car I’ve ever been in. Also drove an ES300 with a 5-speed manual – one of… four? – and it was much better.

    Starter interlock may be more annoying, but is easier to correct than these seatbelts. They’re one of the main things holding me back from buying/building one of what you found here.

  • avatar
    DownUnder2014

    My Dad had a 1989 Camry Sedan CS-X w/ 5-Speed Manual in Australia back in 1994 for a short while before it got replaced with a 1995 Ford Falcon (EF) GLi (not the greatest car, left us stranded a few times when relatively new).

    The Camry was relatively unremarkable but being a CS-X, Power Steering, A/C, 4 Speaker AM/FM Radio Cassette Player, Electronic Antenna, Central Locking, centre console storage compartment, remote fuel filler release, variable intermittent windscreen wipers, digital clock and rear centre armrest were all standard so ours was relatively high spec (in 1989). Was alright to get around in, and more reliable than the 1995 Falcon we had afterward.

    Not even the 2010 Camry Altise we had some 15 years later came equipped with the rear armrest…

    These are literally fridges on wheels, but they also do seem to be reasonably sturdy, considering the fact I still see them occasionally even today (even the elusive Ultima or V6 trims) in Australia, which is more than can be said for some of it’s then-current competitors…


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