Not exactly ubiquitous in the UK when in production, this 1997 Toyota Camry was a welcome surprise.
I have mentioned previously that my rural backwater, while having charms aplenty to commend it, is not exactly a car spotter’s paradise. There are plenty of shiny and expensive new cars around, but few one might describe as interesting, esoteric or left field.
I have also mentioned my habit of heading for the remotest corner of public car parks in the hope of minimising the risk of picking up a parking dent or scrape. Pulling into my local supermarket car park this morning, my usual space was occupied by this Toyota Camry, an XV20 model manufactured between 1996 and 2001. Although a best seller in the US, the Camry barely made a dent in the UK sales charts, so it was an unusual and welcome sight.
In my opinion, this generation Camry was one of the very best in design terms, with a smooth, linear and unfussy style that might owe more than a little to Peugeot’s 605 and 406 models. There is not a single detail of the design I would change, and Toyota’s 1999 facelift merely altered but did not improve the front and rear ends. It stands as a quiet rebuff to the excessively fussy and overwrought fashion that currently prevails in automotive design.
Having done the weekly shopping, I was lucky enough to encounter the owner when returning to my car. He told me that he had chosen the Camry as a company car new in 1997, when its list price was around £18,000. When he retired three years later after forty years’ service, he was presented with the car as a retirement gift. Since then it has been meticulously maintained and always garaged when not in use (but never when wet).
The Camry is, however, no ‘garage queen’, only to be wheeled out on high days and holidays. It is his day-to-day transport and has now covered more than 150,000 miles. During its 24-year life, it has required nothing other than regular servicing and the usual consumables. Astonishingly, it is still on its original exhaust silencer. Its 2.2 litre four-cylinder engine runs as smoothly as ever and the car has never failed an MOT test.
The owner was happy for me to inspect it closely, and the impression in the photos does not flatter to deceive: the metallic dark green paintwork is smooth and lustrous, with only the most minor of stone chips on its front end. The interior is immaculate. Even the driver’s seat shows little signs of wear despite the high mileage. It is clearly a cherished car, and a tribute to its owner’s care, but no amount of care would preserve a car as well as this if it were not well built from high quality materials in the first place.
It was satisfying to see what appeared to be a wholly unremarkable car still giving good service after almost a quarter of a century, and likely to continue to do so as the owner has no interest in selling it. Should something major finally fail, he will have it repaired even if it makes no economic sense to do so. That, for me, is truly sustainable motoring, and a riposte to an automotive industry that relies on the churn generated by three-year corporate leasing and PCP contracts.
I imagine that, unlike more obviously charming older cars, the Camry attracts as little attention today as it ever did, but it certainly brightened my day.