The cars we loved.
The Camry has become a model of what to do correctly in a car. Its become the go to poster child for dependable if not bland transportation in the crowded and very competitive mid-size sedan segment. Almost from its inception, it found itself on Ten Best lists and Recommended Lists in every market it was sold. Current Camry owners may take their cars for granted, because they have become so appliance-like.
There was a time when the Camry was a bit more interesting. Interesting might be a stretch, but at least there were more variations. When the formally compact Camry made the jump up to the next EPA classification in 1991, it was already well on its way to becoming a top 5 sedan seller in America. In 1994 a coupe would join the wagon and sedan. Before that the Camry had no two door model in America, even as its biggest competitor, the Honda Accord did.
As a world car, the Camry was known by many names; Scepter, Vienta even as a Holden called the Apollo. Oddly enough American had more body style options than Europe. Requardless what it was Called, all Camry derived models were identifiable as such. The general high level workmanship had become a Camry hallmark and endeared the Camry to very high resale values. Its quality, or the perception of it was beyond most cars costing two or three times low 20k something loaded price.
Starting in 1991, the Camry was built in Toyota’s then new factory in Georgetown, Kentucky. Code named VX10, the American built car was wider than its Japanese counterpart, but still had similar engines. It also shared many components with the then new Lexus ES300.
As a coupe the Camry looked neither sporty or too luxurious. It managed to look as unassuming as a two door car could look, all while offering the Camry brand of practicality in a slightly more personal package. The coupes came with the same engine options as the sedan, either 2.2 4 or 3.0 6 cylinder power. The durable DOHC designs were typically more advanced than what was in many domestic competitors of the time. Various packages would lean towards sport but most often they were luxury oriented. As a concession to sporty driving, it was possible to get a 5 speed manual transmission, although they were usually matched to entry level DX four cylinder models. 15 inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler topped off the must have appearance items for those who wanted more style than the sedan.
However the coupe was dressed up, it shared most of its parts with the sedan, including much of the interior. Despite the few degrees of separation, the coupe was a good seller for Toyota in America. In fact it was an American only model. As the generation progressed, the Camry coupe became more lush, if only slightly more so than the more practical sedan. The 130 hp in the four cylinder DX and LE models were merely adequate as basic transportation.
When equipped with the 3.0-liter V6, the top SE V6 Camry’s personality would mimic that of near luxury cars like the big Chevy Caprice coupes of the 80s. For all intents and purposes, it was a cut rate Lexus coupe. A popular package featured champaign metallic paint with gold accents, just like a Lexus. On paper the MacPherson strut suspension with gas shocks and independent rear sounded like the makings of a sports coupe. In reality, the coupe handled fairly well if not pushed. It was softly sprung and a bit floatly with just under 190 lazy horsepower at your beckon call – lazy because it was almost always attached to four speed automatic that was calibrated for smoothness, not quick sport shifting. Stopping was just as uneventful with discs all around except on base models and ABS on the top line XLE.
The move towards more comfort and refinement would eventually earn the coupe its own special model designation as the Solara when the fourth generation model made its debut for 1997. In a testament to the durability of these cars, plenty remain on the roads today, although the coupe sold fewer than the sedan (something like 5 to 1), it still possible to catch one on the road.