Curbside Classic: 1991 Toyota Camry – An Existential Cigarette Killer Found Only at Wal-Mart


If one were so inclined as to read the various CC’s I have written over the past few years, there is one common theme that might quickly become apparent:  Nearly every one of them is about a car produced in the United States.

Sure, there was that tempting frauline named Mercedes plus the fluke Tatra found in Memphis.  Other than these limited European examples, combined with some recent Australian fare, there has been nothing but American cars.  My writing about a Camry isn’t any weird confluence of moon phases and circadian rhythms caused by being in a different time zone.  Nor is it gloating about having bagged something on the turf of Messrs. Grey and Cavanaugh.  In finding this Toyota, a long-ago quote was the first thing to come to mind:

“This stupid thing has ruined a lot of good cigarettes.”

1972 Pontiac-08

The first example of this generation Camry I ever saw belonged to a neighbor where I grew up.  She and her husband were in their early ’40s when they disposed of their pristine 1972 Pontiac Bonneville with its 455 cubic inch (7.4 liter) V8 in favor of a new, white Camry.  One day soon thereafter I was at their house for some long forgotten reason.

Upon my inquiry, Mary Jean showed me her new Camry.  She was having a distinct adjustment period, referring to the squirrels under the hood and the general lack of power.  She also showed me the motorized seat belts.


If you think about it, going to this Camry from a cherry 1972 Bonneville was quite the adjustment.  The biggest was the near perpetual startle Mary Jean had every time she hit the ignition switch.  A heavy smoker, she said there was always the “what the hell” moment accompanied by turning her head toward the movement.  The moving seatbelt would rip the cigarette from her mouth.

What a way to remember a car.

Last week, after leaving the Wal-Mart at the interchange of I-69 and I-465 in Indianapolis for the last leg of my trip to Auburn, my initial thought was to write a full-blown account of that cigarette annihilating Camry from many moons ago.  As a Camry, like most Toyota products, seems to be a lightning rod for strong sentiments, giving a narrative of these experiences seemed like a fairly low risk treatment of a car in which I really have no interest.


However, upon further reflection, this Camry has somewhat burrowed itself in that part of my brain that controls analytical thought.  The realization that I had not seen one of these in several years soon occurred; further thoughts and various conversations that weekend, especially with Jim Klein, made me start to think about how grand and regional our automotive passions are.

In my day job, I cover an area that is the size of Delaware and Vermont combined (or about 1.5 times the size of Wales).  That’s how I am able to find the cars that I do.  In the week since finding this Camry, I have covered a lot of territory, including two university towns, without seeing another Camry of this vintage.  Asian cars over ten years of age simply don’t exist where I live.  When you witness that, then read and hear how durable Asian cars tend to be, wouldn’t you greet what you are hearing with some degree of skepticism?


On the flip side, there are likely troves of these Camry’s in other areas of the United States and elsewhere.  Seeing a Camry like this in Eugene is probably as easy as finding greasy fingerprints on a restaurant menu.  I can see three B-bodies at the same time on I-70 in downtown St. Louis; finding three B-bodies so rapidly in Portland likely isn’t as easy.  Like accents, automotive tastes are regional.

Another part of my realization is that I had actually noticed this Camry.  Would that have happened prior to my involvement with CC?  It’s debatable, but I certainly would not have taken pictures of it.  Nor would have I been so proud of my find as to forget to buy the shaving cream that prompted my stop at Wal-Mart.

So, I will say it:  This Camry isn’t so bad.  In fact, it’s rather attractive in a sterile, non-hostile, and dishwater sort way.  When this generation of Camry was being made, it was nowhere on my radar; perhaps that is due to so few of them having sold in the area I lived.  Yet for what it is, a small, fuel-efficient car made to inspire confidence in the owner by supposedly being more reliable than the competition, it did succeed in its mission.


Just don’t think I’m above poking fun at them in the future – even those having color coordinated bandages for their cancer.


Related reading: Paul Niedermeyer Drives And Reviews A Pristine Low-Mile 1990 Camry V6