Nearly 40 years ago US police almost got us a super-sleeper turbo AWD Camry
The Toyota Camry is renowned the world over for its own particular brand of bland, soul-less transport. But there was one time we came painfully close to scoring a high-performance special edition Camry chock full of turbo awesomeness from Toyota's Celica GT-Four rally car!
Back in the mid-late '80s the world was getting their teeth into the awesome Group A era. Many of our most loved and legendary performance cars came to be as manufacturers had to homologate a certain number of road-going versions to make their spicy racing ones legal for competition, and Toyota were right there amongst it.
Despite their staid image Toyota have turned out a bunch of killer performance cars over the years, and the Celica GT-Four (AKA "All-Trac") is one of their best from this era. Packing a turbocharged two-litre four-cylinder 3S-GTE engine and all-wheel-drive grip it proved to be a capable beast in the highly competitive World Rally Championship of the day.
Some of the world's greatest rally drivers, including Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen, and Didier Auriol raced them on the global stage. They didn't have it easy with factory teams from Subaru, Mitsubishi, Ford, and Lancia all battling for rally and stage wins during these years, but they took plenty of epic wins.
What does this have to do with Toyota's most boring sedan? Well, for years it was rumoured Toyota USA built one Camry with the turbo AWD drivetrain from a Celica GT-Four as an evaluation vehicle for the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
So the story goes there was a rule preventing American police forces from using foreign-built cars in their fleets. Toyota wanted a slice of that highly lucrative police market and, as they'd recently started building Camrys in Kentucky, they passed the Made In The USA test.
Among a handful of ordinary aspirated four-cylinder, and one V6, front-drive models that Toyota promised the California police would be better in the snow than their rear-drive barges, there was one special hottie.
While this tale sounds too foggy and odd, even for the Internet, it was recently confirmed by a fella called Joel Luz. Joel would know because after moving from the Philippines to the USA he founded Toysport who were the official importers of TRD hardware to America... but he also handed special projects for Toyota USA.
While they seem diametrically opposed, Luz confirmed the Camry and Celica GT-Four platforms are so closely related the process of swapping the turbo AWD hardware across was a piece of cake.
Added to this, he fitted some HKS goodies, plus he bored-out the turbo compressor wheel andwound up an electronic boost controller for some extra atmospheres. Limited-slip diffs with shorter final-drive ratios provided extra grip and worked with the larger 15-inch steel wheels wrapped in special police-spec tyres, respectively.
The extreme nature of police work means their testing routine is equally hardcore, including having to idle the cars for an hour-straight with all the electronics on. Now, for any kids reading this who haven't experienced the unreliable fun of old cars, today that doesn't seem so tough but back in those days it was a real torture test.
Additionally Toyota had to fit low-bolstered Recaros to pass the test involving having a seat which fit an officer's duty belt. This piece of equipment included a bulky radio, firearm, nightstick and more, so a lot of real estate was required. But the most extreme test involved hopping a 205mm (8-inch) curb 20-times without sustaining damage!
To handle the extreme test the Camry's stock struts were filled with shocks from Toyota Team Europe's TRD inserts and rally-spec springs were added as well. The coils featured spring rates from the WRC parts bin, but with two extra inches of ride height to offset the Camry's extra weight.
Luz then double-stitch-welded parts of the chassis for increased strength without making it too stiff. And while the turbo Camry was regarded as a very good thing, after two years of evaluation testing it didn't pass the CHP's testing.
So far no Internet sleuths have worked out what happened to this spicy lil' California roll, but it most likely was destroyed once it didn't pass the police tests.
This is a real shame as it would have been a fantastic competitor to Mitsubishi's Galant VR-4 or the Subaru Legacy (Liberty) RS Turbo, which were also turbo 2L AWD rockets based on bland base models!
We could only hope Toyota would have eventually put a widebody kit on the Camry, like their IMSA GTO Celica, and entered it in touring car racing! For now though all we can do is dream of this missed opportunity...