If there is one car that has built its popularity and reputation on being boring, it’s the Toyota Camry. Make no mistake that through the years, the Camry has been a safe bet for those seeking dependable, reliable, and predictable transportation, with few surprises. Yet through those years and through the hundreds of thousands of Camrys sold each year, Toyota has thrown us a few curveballs by way of the Camry. One such was the 1994-1996 Camry coupe — the Camry that dared to be sporty and personal.
Now despite its rather sedate, largely anti-enthusiast reputation in the recent years, Toyota is not a brand without a performance pedigree, having been a purveyor of sports cars since the mid-1960s. While early efforts such as the Sports 800 and 2000GT were low-volume editions, by the 1980s Toyota had a repertoire of popular sports cars including the Celica, MR2, and Supra.
Yet by the early-1990s, as Toyota was chasing Honda for first place in the midsize segment and for the title of best-selling car in America, it became evident that Honda was offering something in its Accord that Toyota lacked in its Camry — a two-door bodystyle.
While sedans were indisputably the volume leaders by far, in the days before jack-of-all-trade CUVs, many automakers actually offered multiple bodystyles of popular mainstream models to broaden their appeal — who knew? So while Toyota beat Honda to the market with its Camry wagon in 1987, Honda soon released its Accord coupe (not to be confused with the 3-door Accord hatch) in 1988, followed by an Accord wagon in 1991.
It’s unclear if plans for a Camry coupe came late into development of the XV10 generation (1992-1996), but regardless, the coupe didn’t join its sedan and wagon counterparts until late-1993, as a 1994 model. Like its Accord coupe competitor, the Camry coupe sported virtually unchanged (apart from 2 fewer doors) styling, with an ever so greater sloped roofline that required side-by-side comparison to tell if it was actually any different from the sedan.
Following a decades old American automobile industry practice, Toyota priced its 2-door Camrys less than comparable 4-door models, albeit by several hundred dollars. Available in four trim levels, DX, LE, LE V6, and SE V6, the coupe eschewed the sedan’s range-topping XLE trims in favor of offering most of its comfort and convenience upgrades as extra cost items on LE and SE models.
Hardly a model with many meaningful performance modifications, much as the Camry SE is today, “Sport Edition” SE coupes added blacked out trim, 5-spoke alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, firmer suspension, front sport buckets seats and the V6 engine as standard. Oddly enough, SE coupes were only available with automatic transmissions. Presumably due to low popularity of manual transmissions with Camry buyers, beginning in 1994, Toyota limited availability of the standard 5-speed manual to base DX coupes and sedans with the 4-cylinder only.
Which is what makes this 1995 Camry such a unicorn, at least as far as Camrys are concerned. Of the 326,632 Camrys Toyota sold in the U.S. during 1995, it’s probable to bet that close to 300,000 of them were automatic DX and LE sedans alone. Divide the rest among the SE and XLE sedans, the wagons, and finally coupes, and odds are that there weren’t more than 1,000-2,000 manual transmission Camry coupes produced in 1995, making the total amount of manual transmission Camry coupes only a few thousand more at most.
What the Camry coupe lacked in sportiness and differentiation from the sedan, it made up for in refinement and overall packaging. Generally regarded as the best generation of Camry ever, the 1992-1996 “XV10” Camry struck accord with American buyers and critics alike for its enhanced truly midsize accommodations, new safety features and convenience options, more powerful four and six cylinder engines, and ever upscale near-Lexus levels of finish and fit, quietness, and styling.
The latter is no surprise, as after all, the Lexus ES300 was more or less the XV10 Camry in a more expensive, tailored suit, sharing the same platform, powertrain, and numerous hardware. In spite of this, the Camry coupe simply wasn’t unique or noteworthy enough to warrant much attention from its Camry sedan and other, sportier Toyota coupes.
Coupes, of course, were on the decline by the mid-1990s, and the Camry coupe wasn’t alone in getting sent to the guillotine. North American sales of the MR2 ceased in 1995, while the Supra was withdrawn from the Canadian market in 1996 and the U.S. market in 1998. The sport-compact Paseo was also dropped from Toyota’s U.S. lineup in 1997.
What’s interesting is that while the Camry coupe was such a slow seller, it was given a second chance on life in 1999, albeit with a few things the 1994-1996 lacked, in the form of the Camry Solara. Despite sharing its chassis and other mechanical components with the XV20 Camry sedan, the Camry Solara coupe gained completely unique styling with completely exclusive sheetmetal, slightly firmer suspension tuning, and minor output increases from both engines.
Badged as the “Solara”, and only referred to as the “Camry Solara” in marketing, the model soon added a convertible bodystyle for the first time in the Camry’s history. The convertible soon proved more popular than the hardtop coupe, and largely made a case for the model’s continued existence through 2008, though by then even Floridians, snowbirds, and the limited amount of rental agencies Toyota sold to weren’t enough to keep the Solara around.
The funny thing of course about the Camry coupe is that while it wasn’t popular in real life, on paper, it had all the attributes that should’ve made it popular. Reputable Toyota reliability and dependability, coupled with the aforementioned positive qualities of the XV10 Camry sedan, the XV10 Camry coupe seemed like a winning formula. While it was hardly an emotionally stimulating car, as it was becoming clear to Toyota, “boring” (and I mean that in the most positive and praiseworthy way possible) was what Toyota buyers wanted.
Had it come a decade earlier, it very likely would have been far more popular. Unfortunately, coupes just weren’t what buyers of most any car brand wanted by the mid-1990s, let alone comfort-oriented ones with manual transmissions. And yet we have this 1995 Toyota Camry DX manual coupe… Who knew a Camry could be a unicorn?
Photographed in Hanson, Massachusetts – August 2018