Toyota Camry - Series 1 (V10)
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
In Australia the Toyota
Camry (V10) was quite a surprise – it was bigger than most industry observers thought it would be, preformed better and looked arguably a little European in styling, leastwise if you parked it next to a contemporary Lancia
. Its introduction price of A$13,700 was also very competitive. On paper, the Camry had the wood on the Camira
in overall size.
It had the longest wheelbase - at 90mm greater than the Telstar
- and was longest overall. That may not seem all that important, but as a means of tempting a Commodore buyer into something in the mid-size class, the Camry put forward a compelling argument. It may not have had the space of the Commodore, but with the space-saving front-wheel drive design, it came close. The exterior width was a scant 32mm less than the Commodore, while the wheelbase was only 68mm behind.
Perhaps more important was the impression you had when you were behind the wheel. And that impression was that you were in a bigger car than outside impressions suggested. The seats were generous, with padded buckets being provided up front, and the rear passengers seats were very comfortable too, and even had individual headrests – something rare back in 1983
. The engine was an amazing performer too, providing acceleration the equal of most Australian built 6 cylinder cars, and even beating the General’s small 4.2 litre V8.
At the time Toyota
were considered the leaders in mass-produced engine technology – while GMH
had fallen behind. The Camry achieves its performance thanks to a combination of light weight in the traditional high-mass area of engine transmission, plus a highly-developed induction system that used electronic fuel injection to extract maximum efficiency. The engine incorporated all sorts of tricks to achieve a very low overall weight of 125 kg.
It had a hollow camshaft, plus what Toyota
claimed to be the world's first hollow crankshaft. The engine was a long-stroke, which meant the overall length could be reduced through the smaller bore size. The engineers had also done some extensive paring-down of the block's external dimensions, employing ribs for strength. The hollow crank ran on five main bearings and had eight balance weights. This design minimised vibration, and many motoring journalists considered it to be one of the smoothest fours around.
The gearbox was the typical for the era five-speed job, with overdrive on fourth and fifth, while the A140E auto version was a four-speed with a lock-in clutch that operated on the overdrive on top gear. The transaxle transmitted the engine power through two equal-length drive shafts. Suspension was independent with McPherson struts and negative-scrub geometry up front, while struts with a dual link setup were used at the rear. The coil springs were of the then increasingly common conical design for better space utilisation, and stabilizer bars were used at both ends. Apart from the fact that the body had slightly more generous dimensions than its competitors, it was also well designed, with a fuel tank that was located under the rear seat – and an exceptionally low close to flat floor.
Styling wise the V10 Camry has not aged well – at least not to our eyes. You rarely see them on the roads these days – but in the early 1980s the look reflected the then latest technology in wind-cheating design. Toyota claimed a .36 Cd. and the car was unquestionably aero-efficient but to our eyes at least, the slabby sides and front end treatment just did not look all that wind cheating. The nose was low, clean and well integrated, wipers were semi-concealed and the windscreen had a "fast" angle. Toyota were yet to use bonded glass in ail the fixed areas. Still, it wore a Toyota badge, and for most punters that was all that was needed to inspire confidence that the car would be reliable and hold its value come trade-in time.
For all its weight-saving, the V10 Camry still felt a very substantial. Obviously because of the lowering of frontal weight, the rack-and-pinion steering didn’t need power assistance - but it was an option. You controlled the steering via a thick-rimmed, largish steering wheel, chunky gearshift and well-padded seats. Typically Toyota, it felt as though it was built to last at least 20 years. And as it turns out, many did. You could pound it over rough roads without producing too many squeaks and rattles, and Toyota were always leaders in setting low NVH characteristics in their cars. The Camry’s silent travel helped confirm the impression that you were driving something upmarket from a 626
On the Road
The engine was set up to provide most of its torque down low, so it was surprisingly quick getting away from the lights. There was certainly enough power to have the front wheels lose traction and induce wheel spin which, in a front-wheel-drive car, is not a good look. However, most of this action would start to fade away once the revs climbed towards 5000 rpm and although the redline was at 6000, we doubt too many owners took it that far as even the sweet Toyota engine would start to get loud and rough. With its electronic metering, the fuel injection system provided smooth across-the-board operation from cold starts, running efficiently at high speed on the freeway and idling in traffic. In performance testing the Toyota virtually ran neck-and-neck with the Mazda 626, but the 626
weighed less than the Camry, and was slightly smaller, so the Camry was the real winner.
And the handling was the equal, or better, of the 626 too. Rightly or wrongly, Toyota’s had ended up with a “stodgy” moniker for their cars. Reliable - yes, fun to drive - no. But with the Camry Toyota engineers had added an element of driver enjoyment to the package. It had a lively spirit, and would not wallow around slowly. The Camry represented Toyota’s new-generation for the 1980s thinking, and it was the equal in the handling department of other contemporary front drivers such as the Telstars and Geminis, cornering with only a degree of understeer. It did respond a little more noticeably to mid-corner throttle lift-off than these cars, but that action did little more than tighten the corner. Thankfully the oversteer was gone.
The ride of the Camry was helped a lot by the seating. Traditionally Japanese seats were pretty awful, not suited to the larger framed Western bums their cars would need to cater for in their export markets. But by the time of the release of the Camry, the Japanese were catching up - and the seats in the Camry gave an impression of silent durability. The driver's seat had a range of adjustments that altered height, lumbar-support tension, rake and reach. Passengers, particularly those in the back, got a good deal without any juggling compromises necessary if four, or even five adults were being carried.
Inside the Camry
Optional on the Camry was a high-end stereo system which used a power amp and graphic equalizer which really was much better than the standard fare. Luggage-carrying capacity was increased thanks to the location of the fuel tank - under the rear seat. There was the usual split-backrest arrangement to help make the most out of the hatchback design by allowing someone to still travel in the rear while a set of skis, or similar, were being carried in the boot. As was the trend of cars from the era, the Camry was fitted with a rear window wiper – but where it differed was that it had intermittent operation.
The instrument panel featured a two-stage fuel gauge, where the final quarter tank was read out on a separate, larger scale. There were twin tripmeters, one covering the normal 999.9 km, the other running to 9999 km and enabling the driver to run two checks concurrently. Another subtle touch was the individual climate control, previously a feature only found on luxury cars. The Camry’s system offered two separate levels of airflow at the dash centre via the normal swivel vents, or a wide, single vent running higher up across the passenger's side of the dash.
North American-bound V10 Camrys were available in DX and LE trim levels. LE models included additional standard features such as body-colored bumpers, tachometer, upgraded stereo, power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, et cetera. A minor model update in 1985 included new headlights, taillight update, new gauge fonts, slightly larger front seats, and larger center glove box. The cruise control switchgear on models equipped as such were relocated from the dash to the wiper stalk. DX trim tire size also increased from 165 to 185 millimetres (6.5 to 7.3 in), the same width as the LE trim. Here in Australia, the Camry range was limited to a single-grade GLi liftback variant.