The Toyota Camry has been a staple household name in Australia for over 3 decades. For many, it's been a dependable and practical family car. For others, it's the bane of all driving enjoyment. Regardless of what you may think, it will soon be remembered in history as the last car to be manufactured in Australia. While I highly doubt there'll be wave of nostalgia over car owners and their Australian built Camry, I'm happy to share my experience through a review of a 1999 Camry I once had.
As I would say to my friends whose eyes would glaze with feigned enthusiasm at the mention of my car, this was no ordinary Camry. It was a V6 Touring. While it probably wasn't special enough to be labelled a “Touring”, being packed with a sweet 3.0 litre engine, sports tuned suspension, and a 5 speed manual weren't exactly disappointing things to have in a car. If it came with the Australian GTP bodykit, it would've also looked aesthetically pleasing to me. Unfortunately it didn't, so I had to live with the modest rear spoiler and alloy wheels as the only markings that this Camry was a bit special.
Before I talk it up too much, let me say that it's no 86. The FWD chassis meant there was excessive torque steer and body roll, killing the fun out of spirited driving. The gearbox wasn't great either, being too tall and feeling loose between shifts. On the flip side, its performance was quite usable as a daily driver for overtaking and cruising at highway speeds, and the lazy gearing made it easy to use in traffic.
There's a silver lining to that FWD layout. With virtually no changes to the physical dimensions, the V6 Touring was just as practical as any other normal Camry with generous amounts of front, rear, and boot space. With only “plush-knit” fabrics and leather strapped gear-knob and steering wheel to set it apart, it could've been a bit more interesting But overall the design is honest and inoffensive. I also liked how its plainness meant I wouldn't feel pretentious relaxing inside with the engine off, sunroof open, seat reclined, and feet up with the radio on.
Reliability, was not as bulletproof as you would expect from Toyota's image. There were some problems, such as an engine oil leak, a falling rear window, and a master cylinder going out. While these weren't cheap to fix, they weren't issues that I thought this generation of Camry was notoriously bad for. It's more a case of the ritual owning a used car: regularly maintain it, and be prepared when a part breaks down.
A significant flaw of the V6 Touring was, tragically, the V6 itself. As the move towards smaller capacity engines in even mid to large-sized cars highlight, the V6 engine is no miser and refused to be treated like one. My Camry came installed with an aftermarket LPG tank to lessen the blow, and when LPG prices are around the 60-70 cent range, it certainly did. However, the consequence was not only the price of installation (which was government subsidised at the time it was done), but the fact that a big flammable tank took up half the the boot space and debilitated its 60:40 split fold function. Using LPG over unleaded also dulled the throttle response, and turned the car's performance anaemic. It's not pretty, being forced to choose between fuel consumption and driving enjoyment.
My 1999 Camry V6 Touring was not the most reliable, practical, or fun daily driver to be had. It had parts that broke down, a space filling gas tank in the boot, and torque steered a bit too much. Yet when I look back, I don't regret owning the car. I loved that it was a ridiculous compromise of everything. A jack of all trades but master of none. During my early university years I could ferry around friends to wherever I needed to, drive with a bit of fun, and frugally as well with LPG tapped on. The fact that it could be driven with manual, and still came with hydraulic steering and drive-by-wire technologies, added physical feedback that gave you a sense of the road. It's a Camry I'm proud of having, and a story I'll be proud of sharing when the time comes that we look back to reflect on the cars that were once built in Australia.