The second-generation Camry is where Toyota got serious about the midsize sedan. The Camry had always been designed with the U.S. market in mind, but the styling of the first-generation Camry (CC here) was–at least for conservative Midwesterners–just a little too Japanese, both inside and out. It was batting practice–and the second-generation Camry was the swing that scored a solid home run.
Camrys (and Accords) are such icons for today’s midsize sedans that it’s easy to forget how suddenly the 1987-1991 Camry was everywhere once it burst onto the scene–at least, that’s how it went out here in corn country. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, we’d slowly become comfortable with Japanese cars as second cars and grocery getters. Throughout the 1980s, Toyota kept working to make its cars less…well, weird, and they finally hit the mark perfectly with the second-gen Camry. It still didn’t hew to the American idiom, but somehow it felt right, and it came with plenty of room and Toyota’s bulletproof quality. We Midwesterners immediately embraced it as primary family transportation.
Sometime around 1990, I had a girlfriend who was a news reporter for a radio station. Radio, like crime, does not pay – especially in such small markets as Terre Haute, Indiana, where we lived. She barely made ends meet on her poverty-level wages (supplemented by occasional cash infusions from Daddy). Although she drove a used-up, badly rusted first-generation Honda Prelude, she aspired to finer cars; in fact, her idea of a fabulous date was visiting a new-car dealer for test-drives. We did a lot of that, at least until we ran out of dealerships in the area.
At the Toyota dealership, she made up a story about being recently married and wanting to get into a family way, a situation to which her Prelude obviously wasn’t suited. The salesman steered us directly toward a long row of Camrys and handed me a key, despite my girlfriend having done all the talking.
As a naive youth, I had staunchly bought American cars, and had never before driven a Japanese car. While sitting in that Camry listening to the salesman yammer, I saw that what everybody was saying was true: Every detail on this Camry was tight and right.
But then I drove it. It was as if Toyota had erected a cognitive-dissonance field around the steering wheel. I felt the wheel in my hands, and it was steering the car; however, when I turned it, the wheel didn’t seem to actually be there. That was my first experience with Toyota’s famously numb steering.
Clearly, that didn’t matter to the millions of people who bought these cars and then drove them for years. I don’t remember when they finally started disappearing from the roads around here, but it’s been long enough ago that I was surprised to find this one during a recent visit to–where else–Terre Haute.