Toyota was on top of the world in the early ’90s. The 1989 launch of Lexus had exceeded all expectations. The Camry and Corolla were selling like gangbusters. It didn’t matter that Toyota’s then-current bread-and-butter models were good sellers; Toyota had tasted success, and they wanted more.
Introduced to America in 1983, the Camry (from the Japanese word kanmuri, which means crown) was a large, boxy compact that blended nicely into the background. It was boring but extremely reliable, and quickly earned a reputation as a sensible choice.
The gen2 1988-91 Camry sold quite well, and Toyota intended to keep their successful medium-priced model competitive.
With the Camry’s reputation now established, Toyota decided it was time to have some fun. The Organic look was on the horizon, and Toyota wanted to be on the leading edge. Toyota spared no expense when it came to engineering the new gen3 1992 Camry, even using triple-sealed doors and asphalt body mounts to make the car incredibly quiet.
Power came from either a 2.2-liter, 130-hp four-cylinder or optional 3.0-liter, 185-hp V6 engine. Most Camrys came with an incredibly smooth-shifting four speed automatic transmission, but a five-speed manual was available with the 2.2-liter four.
This Camry generation marked the introduction of the incredibly luxurious XLE, a sedan as nice as any Lexus, as well as the sporty SE model. There was a basic Camry DX , but the vast majority of these cars were mid-range LE models.
Toyota’s tag line for the 1992 Camry was “We Just Couldn’t Leave Well Enough Alone.” My dad wanted one of these so bad. We test drove several of them, but at the time they went for roughly $21K (well over $30k adjusted)–just a bit outside my family’s budget.
This generation spanned 1992 to 1996, during which both Camry sedan and station wagon models were available. The wagons’ styling was unusual, with an oddly-shaped D-pillar and two windshield wipers on the backlight.
The Camry wagon left the U.S. market after 1996. The rarest today? A 1995-96 V6 XLE with leather. I wonder if any are still around.
The biggest change came in 1994: The Camry family got a new two-door coupe body style and dual airbags throughout the lineup. The following year saw only minor changes to front and rear styling.
I’ve pegged today’s CC as a 1994 model: It sports dual airbags and is painted in Silver Taupe, a color that debuted on the Camry in 1994 (I had a 1995 Corolla this color, and I remember the dealer telling me it was new). This car has well over 200,000 miles on the clock and has held up rather well, considering it lives in the upper Midwest.
1996 was your last chance for one of these Camrys–perhaps the best Camry ever. By 1997 the party was coming to an end. The Camry had lost much of its style and engineering excellence (and complexity) in the name of cost cutting. Although some of the 1997-2001 generation with V6 engines had issues involving engine sludge, it maintained its reputation as a smart choice, and continued to be a best-seller in the U.S. for several more years.
Today’s Camry is still considered a safe and sensible choice as a family car, but it can never quite compare to the 1992 edition, and that’s too bad. There aren’t all that many left, making them a fine choice for collectors of ’90s cars–but they were just so good that most owners simply drove them until they couldn’t be driven any more…and then went out and bought another Camry!