No, really, here’s a beige Camry you’d consider owning
The Toyota Camry is the butt of many an internet joke, and not just for car enthusiasts. Much like minivan jokes from two decades ago, everyone pokes fun at the ubiquitous Toyota sedan, especially when finished in a light brown tone. Some call it gold, while Toyota insists on word salads like “Sandy Beach Metallic.” But we all know it’s just a beige Camry. There’s even a beige Camry Twitter account—but I’ve found a way to secretly love Kentucky’s finest family sedan. And it all started with a search on Facebook Marketplace.
I was searching for manual-transmission vehicles in my area, not beige Camrys per se. And yet here it is, a later XV40 Toyota Camry with the not-oil-burning 2AR-FE engine and a legit six-speed gearbox. It’s the right combination for family-friendly fun in a consequence-free package, especially with the performance upgrades present in the SE trim level.
To wit, I remembered a conversation at one of those “please attend this for me, here’s a free ticket” charity gala dinners I attended about seven years ago. Turns out one guy at my table owned a 2011 Camry SE with a manual transmission, and he moved heaven and earth to acquire it. That was the last year Toyota sold a row-your-own Camry stateside, and facts like this were part of a conversation that unintentionally entertained his wife to no end. But still, I realized I couldn’t fully appreciate the need for such madness in one’s life. It’s still a Camry, right?
That’s an ironic question on my part, considering my chariot to said gala was a Fox-body Mercury Cougar with a six-speed manual conversion. A conversion so difficult it rivaled the task of buying a base Camry without the accessories added by Gulf States Toyota … but I digress.
Facebook Marketplace is a rip off of craigslist local classified tool harnessing the power and popularity of Meta Platforms, Inc. That sentence might be an MBA’s word salad worthy of “Sandy Beach Metallic” paint, but consider how many people promote themselves, market their wares, or advertise their businesses on this platform. And when narrowing down the search to one major metropolitan area with a diverse population, there’s bound to be a business selling something to appeal to everyone.
And there it was. Clearly I had to go see this internet treasure for myself. I was destined to put my hand on that shifter.
Unlike the Camry from that hoity-toity gala, this was a base model. It’s not even an LE, as there’s no deck lid emblem or a power driver’s seat. Indeed, this was a zero-option vehicle, right down to the lack of an automatic transmission. I was increasingly smitten by this Camry’s entry-level charms and beige finish, but it’s a little rough around the edges (and I’m knee-deep in other projects). That said, all the issues were skin-deep. Upon closer inspection, almost everything worked.
With hood open, the 2AR-FE revealed itself as clean but not Mop & Glo radioactive clean like those dealerships that overly recondition their vehicles. Which was good, because there were no leaks. All the fluids were clear and fresh. No boy-racer wannabe ripped out the factory cold air intake for a conical filter full of hot air. Heck, even the A/C blew ice cold.
I took it for a quick spin. Between the battered brown bumpers was a large sedan with a gutsy motor that revved effortlessly to 6000 rpms, putting down 168 horsepower in a manner befitting a sport compact. Credit this to the manual transmission’s tendency to put more power to the wheels, as a torque converter isn’t there to drain away a low-power engine’s precious few ponies. The smooth clutch rivaled the Camry’s signature “baby Lexus” ride. The shifter was worthy of a VTEC Honda from the good ol’ days. As I wound the powertrain through first and second gear, I wondered if the optional V-6 was worth the cost, weight, and fuel-economy penalty. To say this beige Camry is a great daily driver is an understatement of monumental proportions.
Speeding along in the Camry’s velour-lined, tomb-silent interior, a shift knob under my palm, I felt the sort of automotive perfection rarely experienced in the U.S.A. I considered making the seller an offer on the beige Camry—warts and all—just to have the opportunity to drive this forgotten Toyota sedan on a regular basis. Swaying me so far is no small feat, considering my feelings on these Camrys back in 2006.
But 16 years of depreciation changes everything, especially when an automatic turns into a manual. I had a lot to process as the test drive ended. So I handed the keys back to the seller and exercised restraint. The seller had a non-hustling sort of used-car dealer hustle, a refreshing experience at this price point. I ultimately resisted the urge to make a low-ball offer, as I neither enjoy putting the screws to a nice guy, nor do I know how much is needed to refresh this tired Camry to my satisfaction.
While the body had its issues (the front end was in a minor impact) the Camry’s gooey dashboard problem hadn’t surfaced on this example. (Turns out I was right when I said, “look a little closer, feel around a bit, and the quality subsides.” Back in the day.) The cheesy aftermarket shift knob was a disappointment, but I found two good replacements on eBay for dirt cheap. Wow, this is starting to get real.
Falling deeper into the beige Camry well, I searched for parts at local junkyards, hunting for bumpers, tan interiors, Toyota wheel covers, and maybe a decent set of OEM headlights. It’s all available, I bet $600 to $800 spent there with a few hundred more for bumper resprays nets me a sweet little runner. A cool car that nobody knows is cool?
Ever since I drove off—and even as I write this sentence—I wonder if I am missing out by not owning this beige, three-pedal Toyota Camry. I might be walking away from an experience that very few can have, much less truly appreciate. And perhaps I’m the one to save it from a painful, wholly avoidable destiny in the junkyard. This beige Camry might need my restorative capabilities more than I want it, considering my affection for my manual-swapped Cougar and my special ordered, stick-shifting 2011 Ford Ranger. I feel this beige Camry’s spirit in my bones, and it’s truly blown my mind.