02 June 2014

Car Stuff: Clusters

I know my efforts on this feature have been a bit erratic lately; last week I kind of just blew it off, because I'd planned on writing something about the recently concluded half-season of Mad Men (and I might still do that). Next week I'll have another Random Sighting of a genuine classic, but today I want to try something a bit different.

In walking around my neighborhood, whether with the dog, running errands, or just generally wandering, I've been lucky to spot some interesting old cars, primarily ones from the 1980s. But there's another category that I haven't paid much attention to: the daily driver that's approximately 20 years old, not yet old enough to be considered a classic or antique by any standard measure, and probably at the low point of its monetary value due to high mileage and resulting wear.

There are quite a few such cars where I live, and I started to notice that certain cars were particularly plentiful, and fell into groups of models or "generations" of a model (by which I mean the range of years in which a specific design of a particular model was produced). Today I'm going to talk about one of these, the third-generation (1992-96) Toyota Camry.
There are at least four Camrys of this generation in my immediate vicinity, and I've seen several others in parking lots and driving around locally. These cars sold quite well when new, from almost 285,000 in 1992 to more than 357,000 in '96. (Chances are you or someone in your family owned one; in my case my brother did, and he drove it for more than 200,000 miles.) It certainly didn't hurt that the car resembled its uptown cousins that wore Lexus badges and cost at least 50% more.

There's a very simple reason that so many of these cars are still in daily use: they were absurdly over-engineered, vault-solid, and put together very well (many in the gigantic Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, which I have toured). Some of these cars were probably passed from parents to children, and some were likely purchased from craigslist ads and are being used as commuter cars.

In fact, such serious engineering proved to be a major expense for Toyota, and when they were designing the next generation of the Camry they deliberately looked for ways to reduce costs, which unfortunately resulted in a product that was lower in quality in noticeable ways.
There were also wagon and coupe versions of this car, as with its competitor the Honda Accord, and as with that car finding either a coupe or a wagon is a lot harder, since they sold in much smaller numbers than the sedans.

The condition of the cars near me varies; the green one (with a gold badge package that was pretty popular for a while in the '90s) lives directly across the street from us, but has been parked in its driveway, unmoving and without license plates, for at least six months, strongly implying engine issues.
The other cars around me get driven frequently. Here's a pair that belong to the same household. They are almost always parked together in front of their owner's house, though sometimes they switch places. (You can tell from the snow in these pictures that I've had this idea for several months.)
By chance, while I was noticing and taking pictures of these cars, I found one of the second-generation models; even though it's in much rougher condition, it's still driven regularly.

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