The case has already been made, by none other than Our Editor, that this is one of the most important Toyotas ever. Road & Track also hinted at this in their 1983 review, saying that Toyota “Joined the FWD family fray.” Given how important the Camry became for Toyota’s presence in North America, this is entirely true from a North American point of view. But from the Japanese perspective, things are a little more muddled. I mean, they even switched the name of this one to Vista!
There are surprisingly few Camrys in Japan, even nowadays. They do exist, but they were never big sellers. Toyota’s JDM range was always so plethoric that it seems some models were drowned out by the sheer numbers of nameplates. The Camry name came about in 1980 as the Celica Camry, which was an A40 Carina saloon with a remodeled nose. Some models eventually got an IRS setup, but the somewhat ill-defined nature of the car led to its cancellation by 1982.
The Camry name was then recycled as a stand-alone nameplate for the V10 platform, Toyota’s newest and biggest FWD effort, launched in the spring of 1982. At the same time, Toyota launched the Vista as the Camry’s twin model. This was standard operating procedure for many JDM nameplates, as Toyota had different dealership channels (Toyopet Store, Corolla Store, Diesel Store, etc.) selling differently-named models. Corolla Stores carried the Camry nameplate, but the Auto Stores, gradually renamed Vista Stores starting in 1980, carried the Vista.
Strangely enough, the V10 hatchback (or, to use contemporary Toyota parlance, the “Liftback”) was only available as a Vista. Notchbacks. On the other hand, were available as either Vista or Camry. The Liftback is probably the more interesting one of the two, as it was a bit more aerodynamic, spacious and practical, yet this body style was not carried forward to the V20 generation. Instead, Toyota opted for style over content and went for a “pillared hardtop” saloon.
Obviously, Toyota thought the Vista was the stronger of the two nameplates – on the JDM, anyway. The dealership network was renamed Vista (renamed Netz since 2005) and the Camry was only available in a single body variant. However, probably because the word “vista” had already been used by the likes of GM (and eventually Chrysler as well), export markets only received the Camry. And in the end, that’s the name that really stuck.
As Toyota’s first transverse-engined FWD model, the V10 Vista/Camry was primarily aimed at foreign markets. The Corona was still going strong in Japan and Asia-Pacific countries, but other markets needed something a bit more contemporary. In Japan, these cars were advertised as being roomier than the (higher grade) Toyota Crown, thanks to the FWD configuration. The Japanese market was never fully convinced that more space was such a hot thing, apparently.
This is reflected in the sales numbers: Toyota sold just over 100,000 first-generation Vistas between 1982 and 1986. This is less than what they usually sold in a single year on the US market alone in the mid-‘80s. It’s also far from the sales numbers of the Mark II, the Crown or the Corona. This is despite the fact that Japanese customers were offered many more variants than any other market. Our 5-door 1.8 Ci VF feature car is but one of 20-odd different flavours of Vista on offer in 1984-86, as we can see in the table above taken from a Toyota press release announcing the V10 platform’s 1984 facelift.
The rest is history: the Camry kept gaining ground in North American and Asia-Pacific markets, becoming one of Toyota’s greatest global hits. The only folks who never really got the point were some European markets and the JDM, but you can’t please everyone all the time. It seems Toyota never really minded about the Vista/Camry’s lack of domestic success, as it would only have cannibalized other big Toyota saloons if it had been popular.
Now that the Mark X has left the range, Camrys might now be set to become more popular on the JDM as one of Toyota’s bigger saloons, positioned between the Prius and the Crown. It all came too late for the Vista though: that nameplate was pensioned off in 2003 when the V50 stopped production, having been consciously uncoupled from both the North American and the Asian versions of the Camry. Nice to see where it all began though – especially in this Liftback shape.
COAL: 1985 Toyota Camry – All Grown Up, by RichP