The Camry Conundrum – Why Every Gearhead Should Make Friends with One

Let me make one thing clear – the Toyota Camry is by zero means an enthusiast vehicle.  It doesn’t matter how many “Sport” badges, fog lights, lower body moldings, or paddle shifters are added, the midsize Japanese namesake simply does not have the panache to match even the the slowest motion handbrake turn an edgy commercial can capture. Despite the car’s vanilla demeanor, there is a big question mark surrounding the Camry and its relationship to the people with grease under their fingernails who’d rather ignore it – why are we ignoring it? Isn’t it time we put aside our differences and tap into the Camry’s potential?

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Like most car people, my lack of enthusiasm for the Camry eventually turned into disdain. Since being aware of what a car is, there have been three distinct varieties in my life – all of which were never owned by me. Even when I held an ostensible hate for the Camry as an entity, neither of three variants that touched my life directly ever caused me any harm. Not even the one that I unknowingly adopted with a mechanical problem. In fact, all three cars gave no indication that they wanted me dead, alive, or engaged in any fashion, but all three robotically ensured I never had to face the consequences of my foolhearted actions with other vehicles.

The first Camry in question came into my life in 1999 as a replacement for Parky – a blue 1985 Buick Park Avenue that would take me wherever I was going to go with velour protection and science fiction amenities. It was one of my favorite things – even at the delicate age of 11. Back then and being the starry-eyed car buff that I was, I looked at Parky’s replacement with welcoming thoughts. The 1999 Camry was sleek, nice, quiet, safe, and didn’t guzzle gas, meaning my mom would stop complaining to me whenever she passed a gas station. However, when we went to go look at Parky one last time at the dealership lot, my feelings for the new replacement instantaneously switched from acceptance to pure, unadulterated hate. I vividly remember kicking the Camry as an outcry to what it was doing to my friend Parky.

I resented that 1999 Toyota Camry for a long time – despite its relentless actions to ensure my safety and development. I was lucky enough to have a stubborn father who refused to purchase new vehicles, which resulted in a string of comical Ford pickup trucks and a Pontiac T1000, but that Camry continued to play a constant role in my adolescent years. It was the first vehicle I drove on public roads by myself with a law abiding certification. It was also the first machine I ever witnessed my mom cry over.

During that car’s stay in my life, it served as a loyal servant for a exceptionally important person, and a friend to me. I sometimes talked to it when I was by myself. I knew it was wasted effort but after a while, I started to appreciate the car for what it was – a damn good vehicle. From zero to 180,000 miles, that 1999 Toyota Camry taught me a valuable lesson that cars, despite an enthusiast’s attempts to personify them, are just machines. It was a sad realization but one that will pay off down the road. Among all my attempts at breaking and fixing my personal vehicles that tried so hard to be animated, there was always that 1999 Toyota Camry to save me and operate as a time-piece for forward momentum.

In 2014, my mom did the unthinkable and bought a brand-new, 2014.5 (literally) Toyota Camry. Oddly enough, that car was purchased under my direction and guidance. When a namesake can run almost without fault for 15 years, it makes an impression. As of this writing, the 2014.5 Camry is operating as any Camry does: impeccably. The transition from Camry to Camry wasn’t easy; my mom cried when her 1999 model met its new owner – a college student whose father knew a reliable steed when he saw one. When that girl graduates, I assume the Camry will be left behind to find another owner again. Whoever that is, I’m sure they too will appreciate it for its unrelenting attempts to save the world.

Between all of this, there was another Camry that almost changed my mind about these things – a 1991 model called Jay because it was blue. I didn’t name it.

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Apparently, this car was bought brand new and handed down the same family until it reached the hands of a young girl named Coco and her boyfriend Phil. It also made it to Miami, Florida from Washington state. There were talks of it being shipped out of the country, but costs and logistics meant that when Coco and Phil parted ways from Florida and I didn’t, I voluntarily adopted Jay.

At the time, Jay entered my life when I was knee-deep in dreaming up ideas for my Jeep. I had an itch that needed to be scratch, so I indulged in making my Jeep inoperable – when I had to be at work on Monday. I did this without panic because, sitting quietly on the corner with a for-sale sign around its neck, was Jay.

I drove that car for a few days as if it was my own. Going back and forth from auto parts stores to junkyards until my Jeep fired backed to life again. During this time, the elderly Camry did what elderly cars do – started to fall apart. It wasn’t anything serious, but enough to cause the car to sit on my front lawn without any suitors. I spent a week chasing down a problem that resulted in a near full overhaul of the car’s ignition system. Cap, rotor, coil, and distributor. The ease at which I replaced these parts on a whim was incredible. Jay drove like a champ and met its new owner who, after driving up the coast of Florida, tried to sell it for twice what he paid for it. He used my photographs too but I’m not bitter about it.

These cars proved themselves to be exceptionally well-built, smartly engineered, and welcoming to shade tree endeavors. Make no exception – the Camry is a machine pure and simple. A device used to transport people from point a to point b. No matter how hard product planners try, you can’t accessorize a washing machine to be a machine gun. You can’t customize fun out of nothing. But, you can create a device that lets people experience life and be truly free to make mistakes, learn from experience, and try new things.

The point I’m trying to make here is a plea to gearheads around the globe – stop chastising the Camry and accept it for what it is: the World’s greatest car. We are a minority and don’t deserve the time and attention Toyota spends perfecting their mainstream sedan. The Camry isn’t an affront to our way of life – it’s just a damn good car for all types of people. Once you accept that, you can move on with your life and appreciate your hobby while everyone else enjoys their washing machine on four wheels.

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