Manual. Turbo. Diesel. These are the kinds of words that will make an enthusiast like me drool, especially when searching for a practical and reliable daily driver. But these features aren’t usually top of mind when you think of the Toyota Camry in early 21st Century North America. But there was a time when you could, in fact, get a turbodiesel Toyota Camry with a manual transmission. I have found proof.
When people old enough to remember think back to the late malaise-y period of the early ’80s, they usually recall cars as being boring and uninspiring. This post-OPEC oil embargo era was a time of stringent fuel economy and emissions standards coming into effect as well as the 55 mph speed limit which is well highlighted on the speedometer on any cars of this era sold in the USA. The golden age of the automobile was clearly over on these shores. Or was it?
When you stop and think about it, the early to mid ’80s was still a pretty interesting time to buy cars in the USA, much more so than today. There was actual variety in the automotive marketplace. You could still tell Hondas and BMWs apart. You could buy compact station wagons with manual transmissions and small trucks. SUVs and crossovers had not yet taken over the roads. But most curious of all, it was a time where you could order a lot of different passenger cars with a diesel engine. And not only Euro cars like Volkswagens and Mercedes-Benzes. But domestic cars too like Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs. And Toyota Camrys, like this 1984 example that recently sold on eBay.
Here is the 1.8 liter turbodiesel engine. I know nothing about these engines other than they liked to eat head gaskets. They were still probably quicker than a contemporary non-turbo diesel VW.
This one has 133k miles on the clock and sold for $2250. The seller claimed 35-40 mpg which seems pretty reasonable with this powertrain. Being from Virginia, the body looks solid. That “TurboDiesel” badge, affixed with what looks like wood screws, is from a W123 Mercedes Benz 300D (I drove one of those in college). I guess the owner thought “TurboD” by itself was just a bit too vague. You don’t see many of these first-generation (1982-86) Camrys anymore. They were also available as a four-door hatchback. I remember my kindergarten teacher drove a new one.
The interior is typical elegantly simple ’80s Toyota with what looks to be the same steering wheel as my ’85 Toyota pickup. Though clean, it’s interesting to see how all of the different types of plastics have adopted different hues of blue as they’ve aged.
Assuming the engine isn’t on its way to blowing a head gasket, I’d say it’s a pretty good buy considering the overall condition of the car and its rarity. You’re sure to have the only one in any parking lot. I’d drive it — not something I’ve ever said about a Camry.