By on September 28, 2020

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI’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.

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, manual gearshift - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAmerican 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.

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, decklid badge - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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).

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis 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.

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, decklid badge - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI 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.

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, emissions sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, door handle repair - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1997 Toyota Camry CE in Colorado junkyard, stickers - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI 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™.

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25 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1997 Toyota Camry CE with 5-Speed Manual Transmission...”

  • avatar

    Speaking of manual transmissions and Budget Rent a Car, my neighbor is the Controller for the local Budget affiliate, and both she and her husband are provided cars as part of her compensation. I was talking to her husband a couple of weeks ago. He said he was getting a new stick shift Wrangler to drive. It turns out that Jeep sells stick shift Wranglers to Budget for a couple of thousand dollars less than an automatic one would cost, yet Budget can get more for them on the resale market.

    So, cheapskate wannbe stick shift drivers, go buy a new car for once, or prepare for a shiftless future.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Semi-related… when I was in Amarillo back in July I took an early morning stroll and spotted perhaps the Holy Grail Camry, a ’95 or ’96 V6 2 door with manual. It looked worse for wear but was still running strongly and quietly.

  • avatar

    Really cool find! Looks like a fun ride and that color is very nice.

  • avatar

    “I have an uncle who owns a manual-trans Camry from the mid-2000s”

    Wow a car from the F U T U R E – sweet!
    Tell us, is a 2050 Camry atom powered or what??

  • avatar

    The V-6 was also offered with the 5 speed, and that made it one of the faster cars at that time. Low 15 second 1/4 miles if I recall correctly. In fact I got a ride in one that a friend found used for his wife. It surmounted Vail pass with quiet ease.

    • 0 avatar
      Keith Jones

      A great sleeper for the era, especially in DX plastic hubcaps.

      Even better than my Grandfather’s 96? wire hubcapped Cutless Ciera, powered by a torque happy Buick V6. I loved blasting it through the South Florida traffic in the late 90s. Suprising responsive drive train for an automatic.

      Those V6 stick Camries could keep up with at least some of smaller 6 cylinder BMWs of that era, or even a 735il or small V8 S-Class.

      Not so for the Camry V6 automatics, the transmission while durable had a lazy final drive ratio, were slow to respond and programmed to go into overdrive at 30 mph, even in power mode. I could say that button had no use. I had a 94 V6 XLE automatic. Test drove a stick. Almost a different car, effortlessly fast. The automatic V6 was waifty and in no hurry.

      The 4 cylinder stick probably would have held its own. They were silky smooth DOHC 16 valvers.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw a ’98 Car and Driver review of the V6 CE 5-speed and they called it the Plymouth Road Runner of the ’90s.

      I remember the stats: 0-60 in 7 flat, [email protected], 135 mph top speed. The headline was:
      Camry CE: The Road Runner of the ’90s. Sort of.

      It makes sense what you said. The one they tested had no power windows either!

  • avatar

    A Toyota in a Junkyard?? Impossible! I’m sure it just needs battery or a top off of blinker fluid. Where are the Toyota Fan Bois?

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I almost bought an ’02 with a manual. It was in great shape and drove very well, but I was scared off by the ’01-’02 4-cylinder head bolt problem that is similar to that of the Northstar V8.
    To Toyota’s credit, they binned that engine and started fresh for ’03. But GM kept banging it’s head against a wall for 20 years trying to make the Northstar last more than 5 minutes.

  • avatar

    In Toyota-land, CE stands for Cheapskate Edition.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Quieter? Possibly
    Smoother? Maybe
    Better than ever? HAHAHAHAHA! No.

  • avatar

    Years ago found a manual V6 Camry at a used car lot when I was looking for a commute. Super tempting but the near 200K on the odometer, and Puget Sounds infamous traffic were big deterrents. Camry or not, 200K miles is rolling the dice on potentially expensive parts replacement, and rowing your own in stop and go for 18 miles 2X a day killed my desire to have a manual for a daily.

  • avatar

    Something I noticed in late 05 (last days of the XV30) when my mom and I were shopping for a car for her were that the handful of MT Camrys were all imported from Japan instead of made in Kentucky. Presumably they didn’t have the volume to bother stocking MTs at the US plant.

  • avatar

    We have one of these as our daily driver in the family: 2000 Camry 5MT in Red Sable Pearl Metallic

    However ours is beyond weirdly optioned at the other end of the spectrum. We bought it from the original owner’s family a few years back for $2200 with 150k rust free CA miles.

    It was the father’s first new car purchase, in his 40s!, and apparently he special ordered it from Toyota with every single available option AND the manual.

    V6, LE -no XLE manual available so he basically optioned his own: Leather, Sunroof, alloys, spoiler, real woodgrain, gold plated emblems, fog lamps, mud flaps, etc. Came with the original window sticker showing nearly $30k for a stick Camry LE. Sadly no TRD supercharger however I’ve since added a factory TRD rear sway bar. We have also custom fabricated a Hurst shifter for it utilizing an early all metal shifter assy from a manual ’92 es300 and requisite gold “hurst equipped” badging on the decklid.

    Now sitting at 210k on the original drivetrain, clutch etc it will likely outlive us or eventually get legislated off SoCal roads or both before it dies.

  • avatar

    I test drove a Camry stick in 1996 or so. Couldn’t afford it, but it drove and shifted nicely. If you want to row your own in a comfy, roomy sedan with decent handling, you could do worse.

  • avatar

    We had a 1998 Camry CE with 5speed manual that we donated last year. We bought it new, and it was somewhat optioned up with AC, power windows and power door locks. The engine burned oil like crazy – I had a 2004 Sable SW with the duratec and had more miles on it (255K) and it never burned oil.

  • avatar

    Anyone know what “CE” stood for? Cheap Edition?

  • avatar

    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!!

  • avatar

    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…

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