Junkyard Find: 1988 Toyota Camry All-Trac

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

When American Motors introduced the Eagle for the 1980 model year, followed by Audi beginning Quattro sales here a year later, it was finally possible to buy cars—not trucks—that powered all four wheels with no confusing decisions demanded of drivers. Toyota's response to this was the All-Trac AWD system, which first appeared here in 1988 models. Here's one of those first-year cars: a Camry All-Trac found in a Denver self-service yard recently.

By far the best-selling of the early All-Trac cars was the Corolla wagon, and I've found quite a few of those during my junkyard travels. There was a Corolla All-Trac sedan available at the same time, but I have yet to find one of those in the boneyards.

The Previa minivan was available with All-Trac (and, for a couple of years, All-Trac and a manual transmission), and I've documented some of them as well.

The Camry All-Trac was sold in North America for the 1988 through 1991 model years, and it was popular enough in Colorado that I'd managed to find three used-up examples prior to today's Junkyard Find.

This car appears to have been involved in a crime last fall. We can assume it was impounded by Johnny Law, eventually being auctioned off… straight into the hands of U-Pull-&-Pay.

What evidence was inside?

The "BIO" warnings inked on the glass made me cautious about poking around inside this car. I've found plenty of used hypodermic syringes (and worse) in junkyards.

It was worth a peek inside, though, because this car has a five-speed manual transmission. I'd heard that manual Camry All-Tracs were available in theory, but this is the first example I've seen in person.

All-Trac was a true all-wheel-drive system, in which you could drive on dry pavement all you wanted without damaging anything. Such was not the case with the four-wheel-drive Tercel wagon, which had to be manually switched into front-wheel-drive mode on dry pavement (many drivers didn't understand this and tore up their tires or worse).

Under extra-slippery conditions, the driver of an All-Trac-equipped Camry with a manual transmission could mash the DIFF LOCK button to lock the center differential. If you had an automatic All-Trac Camry, you got a button that unlocked the center differential.

Even this much simple decision-making proved befuddling to many American drivers, so such controls were deleted from all-wheel-drive vehicles as the 1990s went on. If you're assuming that I bought the DIFF LOCK switch and this indicator panel for a future car-parts boombox, you are correct.

The Camry All-Trac wasn't available here with the V6 engine, though you could get a 1988-1991 front-wheel-drive Camry with both a V6 and a 5-speed that year. This car has the 2.0-liter 3S-FE four-cylinder, rated at 103 horsepower.

Sadly, the Camry wagon wasn't available with All-Trac, at least not in North America.

The emissions sticker tells us that this Camry was a "49-state" car, not originally sold in California.

The odometer shows just over 120,000 miles, which is very low for a junkyard Camry.

It has air conditioning, which cost $795 (about $2,067 in 2023 dollars) and the $190 AM/FM/cassette radio ($494 after inflation). You needed this audio rig to appreciate the unforgettable tunage of the era.

The interior doesn't seem to have been too trashed when it arrived here, though there's a thick coating of dog hair on everything.

The rust got nasty around the fenderwells. This car probably was a runner when it hit the auction, but its combination of biohazardous crime-scene provenance, body rot and manual transmission likely proved off-putting for potential bidders who didn't work for car graveyards.

Ford sold Tempos and Topazes with all-wheel-drive around the time this car was new, and Subaru had just begun its transition from four-wheel-drive to all-wheel-drive (by the 1996 model year, every new Subaru sold in the United States would have all-wheel-drive as standard equipment).

Even GM joined the AWD car party during the late 1980s. Within a few years, sedans with four driven wheels would be commonplace … just as sedans themselves became increasingly shunned by vehicle shoppers.

You'll get there in time, Mom. You've got a Camry All-Trac.

The JDM commercials for All-Trac-equipped cars are a lot more fun.

[Images: The Author]

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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3 of 18 comments
  • Bfisch81 Bfisch81 on Apr 04, 2023

    My first car was an 89 Camry with the 2.5L V6. It was such a wonderfully oddball car. It had the same burgundy interior as this one does with the same virtually indestructible fabric. When the Camry became mine (it was a hand me down due to its rust not making it a desirable trade-in) I read the owners manual cover to cover and I remember being super interested that there was all AWD version available. Sad to see this one in the boneyard. On a related note, my Camry was the last daily I owned with *glass* headlights. We have 100% moved backwards with the biodegradable plastic lenses we have these days.

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Apr 05, 2023

    The main reason plastic replaced glass was a combination of cost and weight. To bean counters, every little bit adds up.

    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Apr 05, 2023

      A composite headlamp assembly is cheaper than a sealed beam? Not in my experience, not by a long shot.

  • Akear I am counting the days when Barra retires. She has been one long nightmare for GM. People don't realize the Malibu outsells all GM EVs combined.
  • Redapple2 you say; most car reviewers would place it behind the segment stalwarts from Honda and Toyota,........................... ME: Always so. Every single day since the Accord / Camry introduction.
  • Akear GM sells only 3000 Hummer EVs annually. It is probably the worst selling vehicle in GM history.
  • Amwhalbi I agree, Ajla. This is theory, not reality - hence my comment that Americans don't like hatchbacks. But one of my neighbors bought one of the last Regal hatchbacks that were available for sae, and it is a darn nice car. I still think the idea makes sense, even if history is proving me wrong. And my sister does have a Legacy, which rides a bit higher than my Sonata, and that also is an excellent driver. Even if the general public doesn't concur with me.
  • Hermaphroditolog The tycoons and Nazis hid the IMPLOSION ICEs and propagated the compression ICEs to consumers.GEET engines are more IMPLOSION than compression. Also the ICEs of the Shell-ecomarathon. Classic hot-bulb ICEs are more IMPLOSION than compression - Ford assembly lines do not accept to produce tractors with these simple ICEs.