The first Camry. Who would have thought in 1983 that this would come to dominate the passenger car best seller charts for so many years, only to be finally displaced by Toyota’s own RAV4? No one, presumably. But the qualities that made it America’s favorite sedan were already very much on display. It should have been obvious, perhaps.
The first paragraph is the most important one in this whole review’ “Toyota has built a reputation second to none for reliability and anvil-like durability in its cars. This is the result of building fairly simple cars and exercising excellent quality control. Recently, however, Toyota has been getting into considerably more sophisticated areas of design and the Camry reflects the changing face of the products of Japan’s largest automaker. At this point we can only speculate about its long term reliability, but the attention to detail and quality control are evident.”
The Camry essentially was Toyota’s Citation, the company’s first FWD product in the hot family sedan class. But the results in comparison to GM’s couldn’t be more starkly different. The X-Bodies, GM’s Deadliest Sin, were riddled with quality and durability issues; the Camry was essentially perfect from day one. Toyota nailed it.
And the Camry was no lethargic slug either. It’s new drive train, even when teamed with the excellent four speed automatic, was a bit quicker than an Accord with the 5-speed manual. Yes, the ride was aimed at the mainstream American buyer, on the soft side, which meant it was never going to yield the skid pad or slalom number of some of the sportier sedans. But Camry buyers couldn’t care less; they got exactly what they were looking for: a compact, economical, reliable and durable alternative to American sedans, which were mostly lacking in all of those qualities, except perhaps the first.
The Camry was a big leap forward from the rather obsolete RWD Corona, and would come to be Toyota’s hottest seller, once folks became disenchanted with their Taurii.
CC 1986 Camry: Toyota Builds a Better Citation, Forever
CC 1980 Chevrolet Citation: GM’s Deadliest Sin
I usually like boxy designs, but I couldn’t warm up to this edition.
I eventually owned a 1997 Camry. That was an excellent example of less is more engineering. Best A/C of any car I’ve owned. Only two issues over 135k miles:
-front struts eventually came in direct contact with the uni-body at 100k mile mark. Car blogs were just hitting the web at this time and noted that I was not the only one with this problem. Replacement struts solved the knocking noise.
-the techs at the Toyota dealership incorrectly routed the replacement timing belt. For a engine that ran just fine, suddenly had the worse knock. A shade tree mechanic replaced the belt again and it ran flawlessly until crunched by a Chrysler minivan.
They may have been built like anvils, but a bucket of road salt could turn these early Camrys into a pile of dust in just a few years.
I had one of these for a short time, in 2002. It felt like a car from a different era even back then. The big greenhouse, and minimal slimmed-down dash, console, and door panels made it feel very airy. The engine was very smooth and quiet but notably weak by 2002 standards. Good ride, bad handling. Felt well-built in every facet of operation. I’ve never been behind the wheel of its domestic victims of the era, so I lack context there.
This Camry weighs within 100 pounds of my 2017 Fiesta hatchback. It’s only 2 inches longer than a Fiesta sedan and the widths are very similar, yet the Camry felt so much more spacious if I recall. The Fiesta is 4 inches taller. So is a 2016 Camry. It’s rare to see one on the road now, but when I do I am always shocked by how low and compact these are compared to today’s cars.
I’m blown away by how low I sit even in my 1991 Park Avenue driven back to back with my wife’s 2012 Camry. It’s been a while but I now do recall the first time we drove a 2012 gen Camry it seemed like they purposely gave it a taller hip point (the tall K platform affords a ton of headroom to work with), to give drivers a bit of that “secure” CUV flavor even though they were still in a sedan. I recall in the early 2000s the Ford Five Hundred was likewise specifically noted in reviews as having a tall hip-point for a sedan.
Yes, those K platform Camries have a pretty high hip point. It was peculiar until CUVs became du jour, now it feels like a sports car again. I frankly wish it were an inch lower; the driving position is comfortable and I still have headroom, but I prefer my line of sight to be through the middle of the windshield rather than the upper third.
Looking at the pictures and the R&T technical drawing of the car reminds me of the great visibility cars of this era had. Minimal pillars, low belt line, maximum amount of glass. I know safety requirements in new cars require thicker pillars, especially A pillars for air bags, but the high belt lines, huge sail panels and random “kick ups” of the belt lines are just stylistic decisions
One of my disappointments as a model-car collector is that the Jada Stranger Things diecast tie-ins ended where they started with the already-much-duplicated Chevy Blazer (Hopper’s police car) and late gen 2 Camaro (Billy’s). I wanted Bob Newby’s early Camry hatchback!
As a young driver, I did not see the appeal of these at all. As someone who now pays for and spends time maintaining a small fleet, I completely get it. They still turn up occasionally around here in Colorado but were all over the place on the west coast.
It must have been no contest for anyone cross-shopping the Citation in 1983, especially with the four. and the Camry, of course a huge amount of people were unlikely to do so as they didn’t believe a four could do the job. Well, the US offerings mostly couldn’t and were saddled with the econo-car stigma, whereas the Japanese just made them vastly more refined.
Had an early superbeige sedan. A highly-competent people mover, with very little expense. I do recall being thankful it was a non-interference engine after blowing a belt…
R&T got their wires crossed the Corona also went FWD and continued in production into the late 90s but the Camry became the shining star in Toyotas lineup, once they got the world model widebody version sorted out there was no stopping it.
I think they were speaking from a US-centric audience perspective. The Camry replaced the Corona in the line-up here and the Corona name was not heard of again.
Toyota probably glad they’re not trying to sell a car called “Corona” the last two years…
Standout stat: 164 feet to stop from 60?!?!
I was in my early 20s when these came out and just could not imagine myself driving something so frumpy and unstylish. My experience was as a passenger in a 1984 Camry hatchback that was owned by my sister-in-law’s parents. They were then conservative, middle-aged suburbanites traumatized by serial ownership of some of GM’s deadliest sins, including the Citation which the Camry replaced, a Chevrolet-engined Olds 88 that rusted out within two years, a really nasty early 70s Nova (dubbed the Slug), and a fleet of Chevettes primarily driven by the kids. That Camry felt quiet and serene within, with that really soft velour upholstery common to Japanese cars of the time and was extremely well-screwed together. It proved to be the first of a series of Camries they owned, with the last one a 2012 hybrid now driven by one of the grandchildren.
From R&T’s see-through profile drawing, it looks as though the engine block is tilted back towards the firewall, and that the diff could be in front of the engine block (front axle ahead of the engine) though that seems unlikely.