Design Notes: 1997 Toyota CamryAesthetically homogenized

It’s no secret Toyota is just getting back on track with respect to design distinction. The company’s president, Akio Toyoda, personally committed to bestowing the brand with “a personality.”

As to what point, exactly, things went off course is a matter for debate but the Camry seems to have lost much of its personality with the introduction of the 1997 model year. While certainly not unattractive, the new design blended in where the previous model stood out.

With the abundant availability of up-to-the-minute automotive news these days, it’s hard not to be aware of a new vehicle months if not years before it hits the roads. Until the early 2000s, though, it was far easier for the occasional model to slip by.

I remember times — pre-internet days — when I could be driving contently in traffic only to see a roofline or tail lights that were unfamiliar. Then, contentment and sometimes a destination were out the window in the name of reconnaissance.

1997 Toyota CamryI became aware of the Camry’s redesign for 1997 when I saw one ahead, on a busy boulevard. In a sea of mentally cataloged tail lights its thin horizontal units had me stumped. Being such a substantial departure from the outgoing model, I couldn’t even identify the make as Toyota (I correctly figured it was Asian since domestics and imports were far more distinctive back then).

I don’t want to harp that this is an ultra boring design because I don’t think that is the case. However, at that time, I remember admiring Toyota for having designs that were intricate without being busy. This wasn’t and the brand seemed to trend away from sophisticated intangibles in their styling, if that makes any sense.

In any event, I think the car looks well balanced with nothing out of place. Clean cut, if you will.

From what I could gather there were five finalists after an advanced development stage and the winning design was by Masahiko Kawatsu (Chief Designer). The five proposals are below.

1997 Toyota Camry styling proposal sketch A

This was version “A,” above. I see Corolla in the rear, or is that last-gen 5-Series? Overall, I guess they may have been going for Lexus LS in profile but the jagged curves and proportions don’t come together well to my eye. And it looks large.

Version “B” is below.

1997 Toyota Camry styling proposal sketch B

Okay, so up front I’m seeing Mitsubishi 3000GT, in the C-pillar I’m seeing Eagle Vision and at the rear it’s contemporary Acura TSX. It comes together well, no?

Next up is version “C,” the winner.

1997 Toyota Camry styling proposal sketch C

Although the front is more angular and the rear looks somewhat concave, this is indeed the winning drawing and what the production car was derived from. I’d swear that roofline profile has remained nearly unchanged ever since this car introduced it.


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