By on July 10, 2017

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
When I poke through automotive graveyards in search of the rare and the interesting, I always take a look at late-1980s/early-1990s Toyota Camrys for the very rare All-Trac all-wheel-drive versions and extremely rare manual-transmission versions.

So rare that its existence in the wild is merely theoretical, however, is the V6-powered manual-transmission Camry… and I just found one in Denver. Let’s take a look!

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, manual gearshift - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
You’ll see plenty of first-generation North American Camrys with manual transmissions, of course, but the 1988-1991 versions were about 99 (and many more nines) percent slushboxes. I’ve seen a handful of four-cylinder manuals from this generation, but today’s Junkyard Find is the first five-speed/V6 V20 Camry I have seen. (Outside of a 24 Hours of LeMons race, that is.)

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, speedometer - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Just over 155,000 miles on the clock, and there’s a timing belt replacement sticker in the engine compartment from a year ago, at 148,824 miles.

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The engine is sprayed orange, which means it’s bad. This was something that was done during the Cash For Clunkers era. Colorado doesn’t have an emissions buyback program that I’m aware of, so I’m not sure how this yard specifies engines that should not be purchased.

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, front seats - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The interior looks just about new. Note the misery-inducing automatic seat belts, required by the federal government in cars that had no driver’s-side airbags in 1991.

1990 Toyota Camry in California desert firearms expedition - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
I have a soft spot for this generation of Camry, all thanks to some family history. My parents, patriotic Midwesterners who insisted on buying Detroit cars whenever possible (with a notable exception), got burned so badly by a Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport in the late 1980s that they vowed to avoid American cars forever. They bought a new 1990 Camry.

This car went 250,000 miles (my dad was a salesman whose territory encompassed California north of Fresno and all of Nevada) and had just one problem beyond normal maintenance in all that time: the reverse-lockout button on the automatic gearshift had the return spring fail at 200,000 miles. It was handed down to my sister, who drove it another 50,000 miles before selling it and getting a high-maintenance Volvo wagon. I borrowed it in the mid-2000s for a firearms-in-the-desert expedition; this 35mm slide is the only photograph I can find of this amazingly reliable machine.

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, RH rear view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
These cars were not fun, not even with the 153-horse V6 and five-speed. You don’t buy a Camry for fun. You buy a Camry for the same reason that smart people bought Mercedes-Benz sedans in the 1960s: because they will not break.

1991 Toyota Camry in Colorado wrecking yard, Colorado Parks pass - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Why did this one end up in a place like this, before it made it to 200,000 miles? We will never know.

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51 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Toyota Camry DX with V6 engine and Five-Speed Manual Transmission...”

  • avatar

    > Why did this one end up in a place like this, before it made it to 200,000 miles? We will never know.

    WTF? Because the engine died! Isn’t it obvious?

    These are not THAT rare. I have seen quite a few of these for sale on craigslist. Certainly not as rare as manual Previa, for example.

    • 0 avatar

      Seems odd that it died only 7,000 miles after changing the timing belt. Even if it had been passed on to the stereotypical college-age daughter who never checks or changes the oil, you’d think it could go another 20,000 before blowing up.

      • 0 avatar

        I could see either a headgasket letting go, or perhaps a low-quality Chinese timing belt tensioner letting go after the t-belt/wp change (or maybe water pump, then followed by overheating event and blown HG).

  • avatar

    “These cars were not fun, not even with the 153-horse V6 and five-speed. ”

    Hmm, I would think with the relatively light weight and torquey and smooth V6 with the direct hook-up through a manual transmission, this car would actually be incredibly satisfying to drive. Relatively high clearance and impressive durability and smoothness of the suspension makes dirt road exploration a real possibility with one of these as well.

    If I lived in a desert climate where rust was a non-issue, a car like this would be a tempting daily driver. I know our resident desert-dweller HDC has (had?) an ’89 V6 (auto) Camry that he really quite enjoyed.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Bingo and bingo.

      This is a carbon copy of the car I learned to drive stick on and it was peppy for the time. That little V6 was a good engine. Not a great corner carver, I remember the 98 Camry feeling like it turned on rails in comparison. Sad to see this in the junkyard.

      Regarding ground clearance, a college friend had a 4 cylinder automatic and would go tearing around the desert in it. Surprising where that car would go. Once on a sandy steep ascent littered with cantaloupe-sized rocks, he just gunned it in a cloud of dust, dodging the biggest rocks and letting the ground clearance carry him over the others. He did overlook one large rock, evidenced by the loud impacts on the floorpan as the car scurried over: BAM! BAM! BAM! Car was fine, ran for years afterwards.

    • 0 avatar

      I once drove a 4 cyl automatic, They’re fun in a “slow car driven fast” way, softly sprung but not too heavy or big. Felt like my old Omni but with a decent interior.

    • 0 avatar

      I think Camries get slagged as “not fun” the same way the 200 got labelled as terrible. Everybody just knows it’s true…because everybody knows it. I test drove 5-speed Camry in the mid 90s, and it was perfectly fine. The stick was pretty close to Honda-slick, and the steering was no worse than your average FWD sedan. No, it’s not a track queen, but you could enjoy hussling it down a curvy road, if you’re not in a huge hurry.

      • 0 avatar

        They did go through a rough period in the mid-2000’s.

        The ’92 Camry I mentioned below was owned by an older lady. She loved the ’92 Camry she had for 13 years but in 2006 she decided it was time to get a new vehicle and pass that one on to her son. I took her out test-driving and we drove the Versa, Altima, Fit, Civic, Accord, CR-V, Impreza, Forester, and Camry.

        The Camry was the least impressive of the bunch. It was so wallowy she was uncomfortable driving it on the highway because she thought is felt unstable. When she was examining the interior materials she had a look of disgust on her face. I suggested we drive the Rav4 next but she had no further interest in any Toyotas.

        She went with the Forester. She loved the visibility, the open feeling of the huge sunroof, and the practicality of it.

  • avatar

    I swear I found a 5-speed manual ’92 Camry V6 back when I was car hunting in my mid-20s. I almost bought it but I ended up with a Nissan truck instead.

    Did I imagine the manual?

    *A quick Google search says yes I did. It must have been an auto.

    • 0 avatar

      There was indeed a V6 paired to a Manual in ’92-96 Camries, and even ’97-01 Camries, but I believe only in lower trims or the SE Coupe (’92-96 gen). You could even get a stick shift ES300 (92-96)!

    • 0 avatar

      My buddy drove a ’92 V6 5-speed up until a couple years ago. It had been in the family since ’93, I believe. Nice car. I drove it a few times and helped perform a lot of maintenance and minor repairs whenever he was back in town over the years. But with a new family, the parents on both sides were financially encouraging them to get something newer. So they traded it in at around 300k miles on a manual 2016 CX-5 after it developed a vibration that they didn’t want to deal with near the start of a long highway drive home.

      I hope it didn’t end up in the junkyard. I suspect it may have as they did the deal near Vancouver where emission testing is required. They just happened to come across a Mazda dealer with the exact CX-5 they wanted when the vibrations started.

      “Yes, we do have a CX-5 in that trim. But unfortunately it looks like it’s a manual.”

      “Oh darn (YES!!!), we’ll take a look at it anyway.”

      It had plenty of life left, with the only other issue being a knock sensor CEL. The sensor was pricey and buried under the intake manifold so we just let it be.

      Here it is in 2011, on its Solara summer wheels with 215/55R16 General G-Max tires:

      The factory 15″ steelies were used for the studded Gislaved winters.

      • 0 avatar

        Sweet! I bet the vibration was just a CV axle going bad. It’s hard to let go of stuff when it’s still perfectly functional, but real life and family priorities dictate our choices sometimes it seems.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    155k on the odo and the interior in the condition it is in….I am surprised that an engine swap was not done as otherwise it appears this is a perfectly serviceable rig.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Yes, Murilee has left many of us with an important unanswered question. The condition of the interior, the fact that the belt was changed less than 7k ago, the apparent lack of body damage. Just what happened? Was it orphaned?

      • 0 avatar

        The only way we’ll ever know the truth is if we can somehow get crabspirits to appear.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Failure to check fluids by the final owner destroys many cars. This generation of the Camry is pretty rugged, but never checking the oil or coolant will eventually kill it.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          If I had to bet money, I would go with faulty timing belt install. Seems awfully close in mileage terms for the motor to go bad. Of course, we don’t know **what** is bad in the engine. Knowing if it is bottom end or top end would solve the mystery more or less.

          Either way, this car had way more useful life left in it had some care been taken.

        • 0 avatar

          Yes, yes, yes! And replacing all the fluids is the easiest and perhaps the best maintenance you can do on a new-to-you old used car.

          I recently bought a mid-1990s Toyota for an around town beater car. Most of it is in very reasonable shape, the result of good maintenance and components that were built to last.

          The automatic transmission was, uh, a little neglected though. The fluid that drained out of that was so dark and the wrong smell that I honestly questioned myself if I’d removed the correct drain plug. After three drain/fill/drive/repeat cycles, the fluid was a satisfactory color and smell. The timing belt was last replaced at some unknown time and milage (odo stopped working at 203 thousand-something), but it was done recently as the belt is still very new. No maintenance records but many obvious signs that somebody really cared for this car- so the forgotten transmission fluid had me scratching my head. Hopefully the thing lasts for me.

        • 0 avatar

          Heres my guesses:

          1. As others have mentioned, Faulty Timing Belt installation

          2. An oil leak that was either overlooked or would require the replacement of a gasket in a tight area, thus ignored

          3. Overheated, be it head gasket or just not checking the coolant.

          • 0 avatar

            I keep seeing this notion repeated throughout many of the comments speculating on this engine’s demise, which I had to correct.

            For the record: an improperly installed timing belt would NOT have killed this engine… heck, a broken timing belt wouldn’t have killed it (at least not in the “pistons chewing on the valves” sense). The 2VZ-FE in this car is non-interference, like most of Toyota’s standard passenger vehicle engines of this era (some of their high-performace engines tended to be interference, along with the newer stuff, especially those equipped with VVT-i). Now, granted, it wouldn’t have run right if the cam and crank weren’t on the right teeth of the belt, but that is easily fixable. In any case, there’s nothing timing-belt related that could’ve put this car in an early grave.

            I’m going to extrapolate some character traits about this car’s previous owner, based on what we know/can see. This is entirely subjective, so others will likely disagree, but I think we can paint a pretty good portrait of the type of person who owned this car.

            Point 1: I think that this is likely a one-owner car. The timing belt sticker indicates the car was driven 6,370 miles since that service was done, a little over a year prior to this post according to Murilee. The car was 26 years old, and at 155k miles, was driven ~6,000 miles a year, very close to the amount driven the year prior to its entry into the yard — if the car had been sold on, a larger difference between those two values would be expected. That, and the condition of the car (which I touch on more next). If it was a one-owner car, that is usually a good indicator that it was properly cared for.

            Point 2: Given the excellent interior and exterior condition of the vehicle, the relatively low mileage, and the fact that it’s a 2nd gen V6 manual Camry, I wholeheartedly expect that all of the standard maintenance items (and any component failures) were fastidiously addressed/kept up by the previous owner. I mean, they just spent money on a timing belt replacement, for Pete’s sake. They wouldn’t kick the car to the curb because of some leaky valve cover gaskets. This is the type of person who immediately pulls over if the low oil pressure light comes on, or the temperature gauge starts climbing — and even if something unforeseen had happened to either of those fluids, the owner would’ve stopped the engine before permanent damage had been done.

            No, this car was loved and well cared for. The only things I can think of that might lead to this outcome would be either an accident (not the case here, obviously), or an extreme, catastrophic mechanical failure, something that would require a significant outlay of cash at a Toyota certified mechanic to fix (because this owner isn’t the type of person that would even entertain the notion of having Bubba down the street just pop a junkyard engine in it).

            I know it’s a Toyota, and reliability blah blah blah, but honestly, no manufacturer is immune to bizarre one-off failures. A family friend had a ’97 Camry CE, with the base 4-cyl, a very reliable (if underpowered) engine, who was as anal as a person could be about maintenance. At 14 years old and 177k miles, a connecting rod liberated itself from the enslavement of its piston overlord, and made a break for freedom by smashing a hole in the side of the block. The sort of thing you look at and say, “there’s no way — that just doesn’t happen…” But it does. Very, very rarely. A statistical outlier, sure, but the chance of occurrence is non-zero.

            So yeah, if I were to bet money, I’d say something catastrophic (but not the timing belt!) completely destroyed that engine, and the owner couldn’t justify the (likely insane) amount quoted by their local Toyota stealership to fix it. Which is too bad, because Bubba down the street could’ve probably pretty easily and cheaply swapped that junkyard engine in it, and the car could’ve stayed on the road for many more years.

  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    i had a 1990 4 cyl 5sp back in the day, loved that car and always pined for a v6, but having driven several auto v6 of the same vintage later on i realized i was not missing all that much.

  • avatar

    Just like Gen 3 Accord was the best Accord, this is the car that defined the Camry at about the same time. It’s all bloat after that.

    • 0 avatar

      Saying anything other than 92 Camry is the best is almost as sacreligious as speaking badly of the 3800 on this site.

    • 0 avatar

      The first two gens gave us a decent mid-sized car with some dorky features (eco-AC, transmission modes, digital dash).

      The third-gen Camry defined it best, in that it became a plain fridge with a bit of overhang in the back. Better than the previous generations sure, if a bit more dull.

  • avatar

    A nice car surely done in by failing head gaskets ~ I bought a 1991 V6 LX and it too looked new, ran *perfectly* and even had ice cold AC so I re sprayed it, slapped on new tires and a cam belt before giving it to a Foster boy as his H.S. graduation present ~ it died and was $ wasted trying to fix it as I did ~ lesson learned : early Toyota V6 bad ~ *very* bad .


    • 0 avatar

      Yep Toyota v6s of this generation had some issues when asbestos-based headgaskets were falling out of favor. The new engines with the new gaskets still used head-bolt specs based on the thermal expansion properties of the old style gaskets. Properly redone and retorqued assuming no head-warpage in the initial overheating event, engines like the Cressida’s 7MGE, The 4Runner/Pickup 3VZ-FE, and these early Camry 2.5Ls are really long lived motors.

  • avatar

    Wow, I thought my dad’s 5 speed All Trac was rare. I still remember the big “DIFF” button on the shifter console.

    This actually sounds like a fun combo.

  • avatar

    My sister had a car with those motorized shoulder harnesses. I’m not really sure why, but whenever I closed the door and that thing ran up its track, it always made me think of the Mighty Mouse theme song: HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAY!

    I thought the thing was kind of entertaining, but then I only occasionally rode it that car. If it had been mine, I’m sure it would have been annoying.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Styling-wise, this is my favorite Camry. In my infinite-budget fantasy garage, there’s a place for the ES250 alongside an X80 Mark II and an S130 Crown.

    • 0 avatar

      A man of fine taste ladies and gentlemen.

      Semi related: saw a minty-fresh RHD L300 Delica with Delaware plates down in the Outer Banks. I was mad jelly, and was oggling that thing harder than if it was some sort of exotic supercar.

  • avatar

    My father had an 88 Camry auto/4 cylinder that I drove many times.
    It was a very comfortable, quiet car that for the time had reasonable acceleration.
    He got over 300,000 miles on it and never bought another brand/model for the rest of his life.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    My aunt purchased a Camry of this gen. Gold on brown, auto 4cyl. ,fwd, an 88 iirc, she kept it until maybe 2010(she bought a new camry,unfortunately without a brown interior) and basically gifted to my nephew for his 1st car with less than 130k on the clock for under 1k, was still running well but his dad totaled it 5yrs ago.At one point it was the most reliable car in their family as their Odysey van kept eating transmissions.

  • avatar

    I had a 4 cylinder/5 speed 1991 Camry in this color combo…EVERYTHING inside was that same blue, no dark blue/light blue or blue & gray, it was ALL blue.

    I also discovered accidentally that my neighbor’s blue automatic Camry was keyed the same as mine. I went out on the apartment complex lot, opened up a blue Camry, and was puzzled to see an automatic shifter.

    I also broke the glass sunroof in my car…it had snowed overnight, and I wanted to see what the snow looked like through the glass, so I slid the sunshade back. I guess the defroster was on full hot and the hot air against the cold glass created a nasty crack.

  • avatar

    I sold these cars new back in the day. We got some 4 bangers with manuals, but very few V6s. I remember taking a prospect out for a test drive in one of these; he’d been driving an ancient Corolla for a long while. He was clearly not used to the power, I yelled at him to slow down when we approached triple digits for the third time. It was bad enough that he didn’t buy the car from me, he didn’t buy anything at our store.

    I remember when the V6 motors came on line, the mechanics at our shop didn’t quite trust them at that time. I guess they were right.

    My FIL had one of this generation Camry as his first Yota. He drove them until his 1997 Camry. I don’t know what happened with that car (or possibly the dealer), but that car got traded early and he bought Mercurys until his passing 15 years later.

    • 0 avatar

      I bet you have some interesting stories, as my memories of the car biz during the height of Japanese-supremacy involved selling Dynasties off the trailer with the special “pre-broken” transmission! The first failure is already out of the way!

      My parents bought an Avalon in the early 2000’s, and the salesman said “It’s been nice meeting you, but I’ll probably never see you again. They last that long.” Guy was not wrong.

      • 0 avatar

        Meh. It was a lot of talking and walking around. Maybe turned 10% of the folks you spoke to. Our dealer group sold everything, so if you stuck around long enough, you’d have all kinds of great stories. I didn’t like that end of the business, so I bailed out when I could.

  • avatar

    Fun is so subjective. I was but a teen when my parents fled GM and bought an Accord (85-ish, pop-up lights). Even as a 4-cyl automatic with so much less power it was a blast to hoon around in (until I under steered into a curb and broke the suspension…).

    My folks trauma was an 83 Century, whose camshaft dissolved at 50,001 miles. Not kidding, the lobes on the camshaft were not. Porous oil/water passages were blamed.

    Present rides: CR-V (car) and Highlander (truck and dog transport).

  • avatar

    One notable thing about this Camry generation, its one of the few that Toyota attempted to get into the US police force, going as far as selling them at $1 a pop to police departments.

    It didnt work out though, couldnt tell you if parts were too expensive or if the car simply couldnt stand up to police tests (despite a few upgrades by Toyota), or if it was just politics, which often interfered with Volvos attempts at the time.

  • avatar

    My guess based on the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any staining around the radiator cap when it came in on the flat bed the first step of the processing was to start or attempt to start it. So when it started up and went knock, knock, knock or when it didn’t spin they found that the engine was seized. So they marked it bad and went about draining the fluids and pulling the battery. I am surprised that it didn’t go in the builder row for a while, but maybe it did, a closer shot of what is scrawled on the driver’s side of the windshield of that back door could tell us more.

    I know I’ve seen cars that didn’t sell in builder row in the time allotted for them in that spot and they end up processed and sat in the yard usually with the price and year still on the windshield but the addition of can’t sell scrawled under the nicely written yr, miles and price.

    If it did I’m surprised they didn’t find a taker, especially if they do like the yards near me and give you a one time discount on the parts from the yard to fix it.

  • avatar

    What was the trim matrix on these? Base-DX-LE, or the other way around?

    This begat the 1st-Gen Lexus ES, correct, B&B? (ES250/ES300, if memory serves?)

    A couple on my parents’ street had two identical Camries like this one. (Slusher and four-pot, but same blue. Good looking cars.)

  • avatar

    Had a few friends that owned several Camrys of this generation between them. Two DX 4-cylinders with manual gearboxes, two LE V6 automatics, and one LE All-Trac 4-cylinder. Oddly enough, something went wrong mechanically to my roommate’s All-Trac and it sat parked in front of our apartment building for at least a couple of months. One night someone torched it and it ended up charred.

    In any case, they were very solid and I remember the front seats being very comfortable.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    These 2nd generation Camry’s are what sold people on Camry’s. I’m sure many moved up from Corolla and Corona’s.

    I wonder if the V6 5-speed drivetrain from this era Camry would fit in a 1st or 2nd generation MR2. I know those have a lot of Corolla components but a V6 would be quite the hoon.

  • avatar

    Hey guys! I actually own a 1991 Toyota Camry v6 with a manual transmission. I came here looking for some info on what I’ve got in terms of how special it is. I can’t get any production numbers from Toyota. Is finding out how rare it is a lost cause or any of you know someone? hahah!

    Info about my car:

    My car was flat towed behind an RV almost it’s entire life. Spent very little time driving. I’m the second owner. The guy who sold it to me unfortunately had a son terminally ill and wanted to get rid of rv and car to clear out because he was moving across country to be with his son. It’s got 194 thousand miles on it (mechanical speedo, so counting miles while flat towed). Nearly rust free. Have a couple spots that are fixable. Needs a good paint job because it lived under the sun. I plan on having professionally redone in next year or so. Top of dash is ruined but I have no plans to fix that sun damage.

    Already invested a lot into getting it running. And spent months finding what Toyota told me was the last oem clutch in the country (cross my fingers that the flywheel holds for years to come)

    It’s a beyond surprising blast to drive. A near 7k redline. Pretty quick. Very surprisingly stable. Good twisty turny road car. And stick shift.

    Someone help me find some info on it please! It’s impossible to find any information about this car. Because it seems like it doesn’t exist yet I’ve got one in my driveway.

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