Junkyard Find: 1997 Toyota Camry CE With 5-Speed Manual Transmission

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1997 toyota camry ce with 5 speed manual transmission
I’ve spent years documenting the rise of the Toyota Camry through the lens of the junkyard, from the homely-but-rugged 1983-1986 V10s through the Taurus-sales-pummeling 1987-1991 V20s to the very last US-market Camry wagons of the middle 1990s. After that, the ubiquitous Camry faded into the boneyard background for me… until about a year ago, when I decided to search for the newest possible manual-transmission-equipped discarded Camry.
American Toyota shoppers could buy a three-pedal Camry all the way through the 2012 model year (in theory), and so I figured that if I could find such non-slushbox rarities as a stickshift Mercury Mystique or a five-on-the-floor Dodge Caliber, a shift-for-yourself 21st-century Camry should be no sweat. For a year, I poked my head into hundreds, maybe thousands of junked Camrys in four states, finding nothing newer than 1991 with a manual. Then, success in Denver last week!
Yes, this bargain-basement XV20 is now the absolute newest automatic-deprived Toyota Camry I have been able to spot in a car graveyard. Part of the problem here is that the Camry became more reliable even as it became less interesting, holding its value so well that it’s tough to find junkyardized examples newer than the early-to-middle 2000s. Not that the later cars are likely to have the myth-shrouded Camry manual gearshift inside, but this limiting of sample size makes the search tougher for me.
The CE sat at the very bottom of the Camry trim-level hierarchy of 1997, and car shoppers could buy the four-cylinder/five-speed version with no air conditioning for just $16,398 (about $26,790 in 2020 dollars). The four-banger CE with automatic listed at $17,198, quite a price jump, and all the higher-level Camrys came with slushbox at no extra charge. The top-of-the-line 1997 Camry XLE with V6 set buyers back a hefty $24,018 (but at least the CE came with a four-speaker AM/FM radio and tilt steering wheel).
This car has power windows and air conditioning, so the original purchaser didn’t cheap out entirely; in fact, the $1,004 AC option wiped out the savings from the transmission and then some.
I can’t believe that any fleet cars would lack automatic transmissions, but here’s evidence to the contrary. Yes, I know, Budget sells non-fleet used cars, too.
The California Emissions package cost $34 extra on the four-cylinder Camry in 1997 and the original purchaser did without that option, so the 5S-FE in this car is a “49-state” model not legal for sale (when new) to a buyer in the Golden State.
The LCD-display odometer means there’s no telling how many miles of road passed beneath this car’s wheels during its 23 years, but the field-expedient door-handle repair suggests a very high total. Many low-priced Toyotas of this period suffered from the busted-off-latch problem, as I’ve documented.
I have an uncle who owns a manual-trans Camry from the mid-2000s (and he says he’ll keep it until the Minnesota Rust Monster eats it completely), so I know such cars exist. Sooner or later, I’ll find one in my local U-Wrench yard.
Quieter. Smoother. Better than ever.For links to 2,000+ more Junkyard Finds, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.
Join the conversation
2 of 25 comments
  • 3SpeedAutomatic 3SpeedAutomatic on Sep 29, 2020

    My first "new" car was a silver 1997 Camry CE. A row of Camrys were just outside the showroom door. The salesman moved to the left where the XLE models with leather, power sunroofs, and V6 engines were stationed. The salesman failed to realize I had gone to the right where the CE (baseline models) were parked. We settled on a CE with automatic and air, manual windows and manual door locks. The cruise control was installed by the dealer. I put 165k trouble free miles on the car before the front end was torn off by a distracted driver at an intersection. I was sorry to see it go!!

  • JimC2 JimC2 on Sep 30, 2020

    I just checked the Carmax national inventory and there are zero manual transmission Camrys (going back to model year 2009) and a few thousand automatics- many of them tagged with an automatic transmission as a feature ("lol" as the youth say). There are eight manual Accords, just for comparison, out of about a thousand. A year ago there were something like 20-30 manual Accords, before lockdown really choked the supply of automobiles both new and used. I'm not sure if any of this is positive evidence of the existence, or otherwise, of manual transmission Camrys built around 2010 in this universe or elsewhere in another ethereal plane...

  • Tassos The EQS is the best looking BEV, better than even the only Tesla I would ever consider (the S) and more luxurious inside etc etcThe self driving features will come in handy when I'm 110 and my eyesight and reaction times start to suffer.But that's four decades away, and only Tim recommends 40 year old "used cars"
  • Tassos "Baby, Baby light my fire!""Oh God please give me a Kia Forte" --Janis Joplin
  • Tassos The fugly looks of any Subaru, and especially the non-sporty non-elegant, fugly, low-rent looks and interior of the WRX are alone a sufficient turnoff to never want to own one.One can be a 100% car enthusiast but ALSO demand a beautiful AND luxurious vehicle one can be truly proud of and which makes one very happy every time one drives it.The above is obviously totally foreign to Subaru Designers and managers.
  • Thehyundaigarage Am I the only one that sees a Peugeot 508?
  • Lou_BC I realized it wasn't EV's burning by the absence of the usual suspects.