QOTD: Dependability - the Sexiest Automotive Element?
We’re all abuzz about Camrys here at TTAC, or so it would seem. Our website, our tweets, even our Slack conversations always manage to conjure up the specter of the Great One. No, not Gretzky – another consistent scorer.
Nine years on, and I’m still wracked with guilt over letting the best car I’ve ever owned — the most reliable and trustworthy car to ever find its way into my life — fade away into the automotive afterlife. It certainly didn’t deserve to be traded in at a used car lot for peanuts, and I can barely entertain the thought of what came next. No, it was wrong to let it go, but financial circumstances at the time necessitated a vehicle with no deferred backlog of minor repairs. Certainly, my job at the time didn’t jibe with an odometer reading approaching the half-million kilometer mark.
I’m of course talking about a rare beast born from a litter of lookalikes. A 1994 Toyota Camry. But not just any run-of-the-mill, plain-Jane Camry. Yes, it was beige — it was hard to find one that wasn’t — but my Camry stood out. It excelled. It impressed. It had two doors. Two doors … and a stick shift.
Truly the Greatest Generation, the North American market Camrys of model years 1992 to 1996 were big, roomy, comfortable, efficient, and — above all else — reliable. It was a better Buick, and in (admittedly conservative) coupe form, something special.
This was the generation of Camrys that cemented the model’s status as the midsize for all others to beat. Sold in Japan under the Scepter name (as the global VX10 Camry was larger than the Japanese market model), it offered the solidness of a Lexus for a perfectly reasonable amount of money. On the used market, it was a steal. For a guy in college, it was a low-maintenance, low-cost dream.
I’ll forever champion two-door non-sports cars after living three long and happy years with my Camry. The long door opening and expansive side glass was well-suited to my lanky frame, helping to push that intrusive B-pillar out of sight and out of mind. Passengers still had plenty of room to access that spacious, napworthy rear bench.
Oh, I could go on and on. And on. And on and on and on. The little 2.2-liter four-banger, though slightly underpowered, never burned a drop of oil or required a single mechanic’s touch. Outstanding fuel economy. The five-speed transmission never required a new clutch or master cylinder during its time in my driveway. Like the faithful partner you return to after an ill-considered fling, it was, in a word, dependable. A rock. It haunted my dreams for years after I let it go.
Even after hitting its second deer at about 45-55 miles per hour, about 15 minutes worth of do-it-yourself repairs brought that headlight back into alignment. The hood? Meh, just a little buckle. Applying my 210-pound body to it smoothed out that crease in a jif. People who aren’t in the know — who haven’t experienced the joy of owning a mid-’90s Camry — don’t understand my reverence for that generation of Toyota midsize. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t fast. Nor was it sexy by any conventional use of the term — but isn’t reliability sexy? Isn’t being confident in knowing you’ll get to your destination on time, in your own vehicle (instead of a cab or tow truck), a positive virtue?
Isn’t knowing that your car won’t pull a Giulia-on-the-auto-show-pedestal breakdown a good thing? Of course it is. Yet looks, speed and efficiency often reign supreme in buyer’s minds. This makes sense for new models with no track record with which to draw from.
So, the question today is: to what degree does reliability factor into your buying decisions? Is it a consideration, or is it the consideration? Or, assuming your budget allows it, does flash and dash rule the day, as life is too short to not enjoy the hell out of every minute?
Let’s go a bit further and make this a twofer. As I’ve traveled quite far down memory lane today, perhaps the Best and Brightest can do the same. What’s the most reliable car you’ve ever owned?
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