Junkyard Gem: 1998 Toyota Camry CE with 5-speed manual transmission

Junkyard Gem: 1998 Toyota Camry CE with 5-speed manual transmission

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The last model year in which car shoppers in the United States could buy a new Toyota Camry with a manual transmission was 2011, but three-pedal Camrys became very rare here in the early 1990s and nearly (but not entirely) nonexistent by the end of that decade. During my junkyard travels, I'm always on the lookout for clutch-equipped Camrys; I managed to find a 2006 model with a five-on-the-floor last year, but that was an oddball special-order car with the semi-upscale LE trim level, strangely equipped with both a manual transmission and power seats. Today's Junkyard Gem is a Camry that (probably) lacks the usual automatic because the original owner insisted on pinching pennies.

Related: Toyota Camry is being discontinued in its home country, Japan

The Camry first hit American showrooms in the spring of 1983, as the replacement for the rear-wheel-drive Corona (which was available here from the 1966 through 1982 model years). Plenty of those first-generation 1983-1986 Camrys had five-speed manuals, partly because manuals got significantly better fuel economy than automatics in those days but mostly because the out-the-door price was much lower on the three-pedal version. How much lower? In 1985, an automatic transmission added $800 to the cost of an $8,948 Camry sedan, adding the 2023 equivalent of about $2,428 to the price tag. That's uncomfortably close to a 10% price boost over the base cost of a car, just to avoid shifting for yourself!

Fast-forward to 1998, and the cost of the cheapest Camry (the CE) with an automatic increased that car's price from $16,938 to $17,738 ($31,109 to $32,578 now); the cost of the slushbox was still 800 bucks, but it's a lot cheaper in inflation-adjusted dollars ($1,469 today) and doesn't represent as frightening a price hike. On top of that, Americans' love for two-pedal cars had become stronger between the middle 1980s and late 1990s.

Most Camry CEs (which stands for "Classic Edition," not "Cheap Edition") went to fleet buyers, but there's little chance of a government agency or rental-car company buying cars with transmissions that an ever-shrinking minority of drivers are capable of operating.