By on June 13, 2012

The Camry first appeared in North America for the 1983 model year and gathered sales momentum in a gradual manner. By 1986, Camrys were not uncommon, but it seemed as though you saw 20 Tauruses and 15 Accords for every example of Toyota’s front-drive sedan. It was the next generation of Camry (starting in 1988) that unleashed the armies of unkillable, bland Toyota midsize sedans that conquered the country. First-gen Camrys are still out there, but sightings are increasingly rare. Here’s one I spotted last week in a Denver junkyard.

Like just about all cars, the Camry got bigger with every generation. The ’86 isn’t much bigger than the current Corolla, but still had room for a rock group or a group of rocks.
221,890 miles on the clock. Even Neons manage figures like this nowadays, but not many mid-80s cars ever saw 200,000 miles.
Toyota kept this overdrive button on the gearshift well into the current century.
You have to love the dated look of the Econo A/C button. Americans don’t want Econo anything when it comes to comfort, a lesson Toyota figured out years later.
Subsequent Camrys had all the quirky Japanese styling eliminated by endless focus groups, but the first-gen still had this goofy rear quarter window.
It was no Cressida, but it also wasn’t anywhere near as expensive as a Cressida.

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42 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Toyota Camry...”

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    This was the car I learned to drive on (when I wasn’t sneaking my Dad’s 533i). It was a pretty nice car to drive. My Mom also got the next generation Camry and I remember at the time how futuristic that car looked on the outside and inside (although the previous Camry felt peppier). That commercial is hilarious. I love the look of the corn fed chicks at 0.09. That’s something you don’t see in today’s advertising. Anyone see the latest “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up commercial?” It’s a lady I’d say in her late 40s / early 50s. At 47 I take offense. LOL. So much for being fat and old, but I digress……

  • avatar

    “221,890 miles on the clock. Even Neons manage figures like this nowadays, but not many mid-80s cars ever saw 200,000 miles.”

    80’s Toyotas were one exception to that rule.

    In 1995, I bought a `1984 Supra (excuse me, Celica Supra in those days, it did not drop the “Celica” tag until the 1986.5 re-make)that had 220,000 highway miles on it. It was an original owner car, and he had a 140 mile / day commute that was almost all highway. It was a great car, that straight six was very torquey. But I digress.

    At 241,000 miles, my clutch started making noise. I brought it to my mechanic and he diagnosed a failing throw out bearing. When he opened up the transmission, he noted that the car was on it’s original clutch!

    At 257,000 miles, the car was stolen. It broke my heart as it was literally the second to last night I was going to be at school before heading home for the summer. I had lived all year at this location with my car parked in front of the house on the curb. The freaking second to last day before I left, I walked out in the morning to find the car gone. I called the cops to see if they had towed it for some reason, and they had not.

    They ended up finding the car the next day. The seats had been ripped out (they had a three chamber lumbar cushion that was inflated with air pumped by a ball that looked like the end of a blood pressure cuff, quite trick for 1984!!) and apparently they were in high demand. Following the seat removal, the thieves had put in a generic Ford seat in order to joy-ride the car. It showed signs of having been driven over curbs, etc., and had a pretty nasty leak in the oil pan. The cops found it with no oil.

    I grabbed a case of oil, drove to the impound yard and poured the oil in. The car started right up and made it about 10 miles before all the oil was lost and the engine seized. I had it towed to my uncle’s house and went home for the summer, carless. With the seats and engine shot, it just wasn’t worth to save and I sold it as is.

    The only problems that car had were a leak somewhere in the fuel ssystem when it was filled over 3/4 full and the rear end bearings starting to whine. That was it. Even the pop up headlights worked. Hell, even the fully automatic climate control worked (snazzy for 1984, again!).

    Great cars those 80’s Toyotas.

    • 0 avatar

      yeah, I had an 81 celica 5 speed that I drove in university, great car, lasted 350,000km, great engine that 22r

    • 0 avatar

      According to Phil, every car that he says is part of the so-called Malaise era is the most unreliable piece of crap ever built.

      • 0 avatar

        And he’s right – by modern standards. I would think 1986 is just after the malaise era, and some cars, such as this Camry, were starting to get pretty good by then.

    • 0 avatar

      My uncle had the exact same 86 Camry described in the article. He was a bit of an idiot savant, and had no idea that cars needed “oil changes”. He went 115k on it (city miles, BTW) without changing the oil once.

      The car went on for 335k before he sold it without any problems or any work done on it other than maintenance.

    • 0 avatar

      I still have a 1984 Celica Supra. Everything but the AC works. However, it doesn’t have as many miles, getting close to 100K.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Wow. The first used car I ever purchased. $500 plus an impound fee.

  • avatar

    My 85 LeBaron GTS went 206k miles, but it required a lot of love to do so.

    This Camry had a 2.0L engine – how quaint. This really shows how times have changed.

    I still see these on the road once in a while – quite durable.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    No special ’55’ indication on the speedo. That has to be rare for an ’80s car.

    A compare-and-contrast with this Camry and a Chevy Celebrity tells you all you need to know about the auto industry for the last 50 years.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d rather have an 1986 Taurus as a yard ornament than to be seen rolling this Camry.

      It’s fun how Toyota defenders only pick Chevies for comparisons.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        To each their own, but the Taurus was a Cressida-sized car. I haven’t seen a 1st-gen Taurus that wasn’t a lawn jockey in over a decade anyway. Ford was still deep in the Driver-Returns-on-Foot era in those days.

        For better or worse, GM was regarded as the top of the domestic heap back then, and there are a few Celebrities still operating under their own power.

      • 0 avatar

        I have to agree that in the mid-80’s the Camry wasn’t really a big deal. In 1986 the new Taurus was all the rage as it was a real game changer in styling. The Camry was still a quirky Japanese car that wasn’t suited to American tastes.

        Back in the day I was shuttled around in many Camrys just like this one. Fine competent vehicles but when the neighbor got the Taurus in ’86 it was like something out of the future. A sculpted dash and door panels and a smooth flowing exterior design. By comparison the Camry was a bunch of pieces tacked together.

        The Camry redesign for 1992 (and most praised model on TTAC) was styled after the Taurus. It also took Toyota 6 years to “get it” and right size their mid-size vehicle for the American market and mega sales.

        Edit – I do see an occasional 1st gen Taurus up here in the rust belt. They are over 20 years old now too. Lots of Gen II taurii sill roam freely.

      • 0 avatar

        to tack on to the back of 200K min’s post: Back in the early 90’s, it was not unusual to see high mileage Taurus’ show up on our lot in mid-Georgia.

        The factory was in Atlanta, and many companies used them as company cars, they eventually would show up as trade ins. Comparing the same model year cars, the Taurus won over the Camry, hands down. The other 800 lb gorilla at that time was the Accord, the battle was really between those two.

        Back here in the rust belt, I STILL see 1st gen Taurus’, early and late models both. Although the early models have almost completely faded away. I’m no raging Ford fan, but I have to give credit where it is due. Those old Bulls held up.

        There are ZERO Camrys of this post’s vintage up here, and nearly the same number of the succeeding generation, either. There are a few of the 1992-1996 “fat” Camrys, and the rest are much newer.

        And the other 800lb gorilla is represented here pretty well too. I still see mid 80’s Accords rolling around, albeit many are being hooned by young kids.

      • 0 avatar

        Geozinger, whatever you’re smoking, you need to share with the rest of us.

        In my neck of the rust belt, the 1st gen Taurus has been essentially extinct for over a decade. The 2nd generation is pretty light on the ground now and the 3rd gen is fading remarkably fast. Even the ’00-’07 cars are quickly migrating to hooptie status.

        The Taurus most certainly did not hold up. The Vulcan engines were pretty durable, but almost every single other component was substandard crap. Typical for Ford in the ’80s and ’90s. Superior initial quality compared to GM and occasionally Japan, but grossly inferior over the long haul. I’m not entirely sure that’s changed, either, but that’s a debate for another time.

        The early Camrys, though, just won’t die. Given how notoriously rust prone these were, I’m amazed how many I still see here. Almost “cockroach”-like. The first generation is very uncommon, but I regularly see a near-mint ’86 identical to the feature car during my highway commute. Also keep in mind that Camry sales didn’t really take off until the second generation.

        My folks had an ’85 when I was growing up, followed by a ’91. They weren’t exactly exciting, especially the bottom of the line ones my dad always preferred. I initially liked our next door neighbor’s ’90 Taurus LX a lot more. When paint started falling off that Taurus around year two while our Camrys withstood near-criminal lack of maintenance without flinching, I started to understand.

  • avatar

    Very interesting memory about this model Camry.

    A friend had an ’83 or ’84 model and I always looked at it closely. It was the first Toyota I really took notice of since 1975.

    I carefully compared this to our 1984 Chrysler E-Class and though not as plush or attractive as the Chrysler, I was aware that something was significant about this car. It was just as roomy, about the same size and it seemed to be at least as well put together. I don’t think it was better, but apparently Toyota’s engines and drivetrains were possibly more durable in the long run. Statistics seem to prove this, too.

    The engine in the E-Class gave up at 96K in 1994 and we sold it. Who knows how long that Camry lasted.

    Shades of thing to come, for sure.

    Oh, there’s nothing at all wrong about that “goofy rear quarter window”, either…

  • avatar

    “Goofy rear quarter window”? Geez, damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Would you rather see a black plastic triangle? Because those are the choices.

  • avatar

    And it was available in a liftback hatch model, now known as a Venza?

  • avatar

    I hated the looks of this Camry. The rear wheel well treatment seemed like a desperate American styling plea. They kept it in late 80s/early 90s Tercels and also ruined the looks of those cars. The 86-89 Accord was 1000x more attractive.

  • avatar
    Mark in Maine

    There are still two of these down in town that I see regularly – a pristine blue four-door, and a less-than-pristine beige five-door liftback. I always marvel at the difference between these early Camrys and the ones from later generations that I see all over the landscape. I once owned an ’88 wagon with the five-speed box. Although it eventually rusted too badly underneath to continue patching up with screen wire and Bondo, I still remember it fondly – a fun-to-drive car with decent room in the front seats & footwells, along with the whole practical-because-it’s-a-wagon thing . . .

    • 0 avatar

      You called a Camry “Fun to drive”, I applaud you for that.

    • 0 avatar

      I would’ve broughten a Camry after my Horizon but most Camrys are abused for 200k and sold for $800, runs but needs a battery and a timing belt.

      These are fine cars, but even they need maintenance to keep on going, well if you want to surpass 222k.

      I ended up with a 3rd gen Tercel, perhaps we’ll see a junkyard fine with one of these soon?

  • avatar

    I drive by one of these on my way home from work every day. It is in much rougher shape than this example. And it is legally parked on the street, taking advantage of Virginia’s antique car registration laws.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    my 86’s engine died at about 240k miles and to this day I regret not getting it fixed or replaced with a rebuilt one, it was better than my current 98 Corolla by a wide margin, loved that car, specially after coming out of an Xcar Buick

  • avatar

    My old Subie/Toyota dealer used to have a few of these as loaners. Some are even this exact color. I got to drive them some, whenever my car is in service. I must say I like them! They have a honest, no nonsense feel to them. They just feel so durable, like they will last a long time.

  • avatar

    Had a maroon ’85 bought new, and it was a revelation compared to the American cars available at the time. It wasn’t luxo, but it was comfortable, and everything worked for a long time without incident.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Looking to buy one fro 88 to 91 but the fact that they’re among the most stolen vehicles in America, I have my doubts.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    The problem with the Econo|A/C button was it didn’t work. The system was designed to offer a “low power” setting for the compressor, which theoretically cooled the interior while allowing for high fuel economy levels. In fact, all the Econo setting did was lower your fuel economy while providing no cooling benefit. Most owners quickly learned to push through until both the upper and lower halves of the button lit for proper compressor operation.

    The Camry of that era was exceptionally plush compared to its competitors; I referred to my father’s as a compact luxury car and in that role it was ideal for the frequent visits I made back to the islands to visit M&D, who kept their Camry around for an additional 6 years as an easy way to give me something to drive around the island whenever I flew out there. The only nasty shock most shade tree mechanics encountered on that generation of engine was Toyota’s coil-in-cap ignition system. It was generally reliable, but once any component inside the integrated housing failed, you were looking at a triple digit part cost for replacement.

    One of the best features of that generation Camry was its incredible fuel economy regardless of what position the A/C button was in. I recall one visit where I was given the car with a little less than a quarter tank of fuel; the low fuel warning light shone steadily on the 2nd day of driving around the island and I let it go for an additional 3 days of visiting friends and favorite haunts before I even began to worry about filling the tank. The next time I visited, the tank was still nearly full, as M&D didn’t bother to drive it around between visits.

  • avatar

    Why would someone want to steal a 24 yo car that wasn’t an exotic?

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      the parts, the parts, seems like they cannot be found in salvage yards so they steal them for parts.

    • 0 avatar

      Majority of stolen cars are plain jane daily drivers, for chop shops. It is very hard to steal an exotic and find a buyer without getting tracked. It would be a high end theivery ring for those.

  • avatar

    A pristine, one-owner ’84 Camry with about 80k miles came up for sale on eBay a couple months ago. It looked nearly mint, except that the hood sat a few mm lower on one side. Still had the “Toyota of Orange” frames on the license plates. I thought it should have been in a museum or kept in someone’s private garage for fair-weather cruising. As you pointed out, Mr Martin, 220k miles is pretty respectable for this ’86 model.

  • avatar

    Ah yes, first gen Camry. There are still some zipping around Vancouver Canada. I remember well when these first arrived on dealer’s lots. The design was like Japanese meets American with a really big helping of boxy sensibility. It seem to work. I liked the lift-backs.

  • avatar

    Neons went out of production 7 years ago, 2005, and are fading away fast. Even here in Chicago, near where they were built, rare to see them in good shape. I really don’t think too many people want to even drive them over 100K!

    Also, the 1987 model introduced in fall 1986 was start of the 2nd Generation Camry, not 1988. (’88 was a new Corolla.) The 2nd gen Camry started climbing the sales charts, and the next 92-96 added to the momentum.

    • 0 avatar

      Chicago, I hate to be the one to tell you this. But a neon engine has a much stouter bottom end than this camry engine. The 16 valve version uses mahle pistons from the factory and with stiffer valve springs will handle 8k rpms without breaking a sweat. There are quite a few neons with over 200k on them out there, in fact there is one on the allpar website with over 446k miles on it with the original engine.

  • avatar

    Here in southern California, these are rare… I’m a Toyota parts counterman and I seldom see these…. there’s one guy that has one that comes in every so often for little oddball things… things like trim items, clips, grommets, ect. The 2nd gens are starting to head that way, but still not exactly rare, just less and less of them. The 3rd gens however… different story. There are probably 5 of those in my work’s employee parking lot alone. There’s even a clean looking trade in that might end up on our used car lot…. if it does, it’ll be gone in a day or two.

  • avatar

    These are still around in decent numbers in Northern California, and it’s not unusual for me to see a couple a day. 2nd Gens are also very common, and the 2nd gen is my favorite Camry. Comparable Tauruses are quite rare, forget about seeing the comparable GM or Chrysler.

    These cars really are reliable tanks and pretty well-equipped for the day. I love the 80s Toyota styling and the steering wheel in these is the same as the ’83 and ’84 Cressida, along with the Van.

  • avatar

    Had an ’84 as my first car, and my brother had an ’86. ’84 being the family wagon, I remember that ‘ECONO’ button, quite well.

    Nothing like sitting in the back-seat crawling up I-95 with the sun on your back on a 100 degree day with your pops insisting that it needed to be on ECONO. Backsweat.

    At one rest-stop we staged a coup, got him to ride in the back seat when we changed drivers. Curiously, he ceded the whole ‘lets keep it in ECONO mode’ for the remainder of the trip.

  • avatar

    I had a more-or-less identical ’85 Camry LE. It was pretty slow. By the time I traded it in at only 96K miles the front suspension was shot, the brakes were always awful, and the transmission was beginning to slip. It had been my mom’s and was always well maintained and no, I didn’t hoon it which was more or less impossible thanks to that wheezy 2.0, crappy mushbox and flodgy suspension.

    A serious junkyard find would be the turbo-diesel Camry which I think was only sold in 85-86 model year and not in California.

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