1967-2008 Toyota Century | Hemmings Motor News

7 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 1967-2008 Toyota Century | Hemmings Motor News

Meant for heads of state but aspired to by hard-working executives nationwide, the V-8 (and V-12-powered) Century is tops in Japanese luxury

Feature Article from Hemmings Sports Exotic Car

Every country has its iconic limousines–cars designed for heads of state and diplomats. Some are flashier than others: In America, they’ve historically been Cadillacs (a fleet is still in use at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), although Lincoln certainly has had the market to themselves lately. In England, it has to be a Rolls-Royce (or else an Austin/Vanden Plas Princess).

Elsewhere in Europe (and indeed elsewhere on Earth), a Mercedes 600 Pullman is the machine of choice; even today, it turns up with regularity in news footage covering this or that third-world despot. In more modern times, Maybach seems to have stepped into the fray. Russia long had the ZIS and ZIL marques, and China has its Red Flag (or Hong Qi). Most of these are somber, long, and imposing machines, though their style and accoutrements (like the grille) impart a sense of occasion. (That stretched Hummer H2 you rented for your daughter’s prom doesn’t cut the mustard.)

Japan, too, has its own famous limousine meant for royalty and heads of state: the Toyota Century. This may come as a shock to people who thought that luxurious Toyotas were spelled Lexus, but the Century predates that made-up marque by more than two decades. It launched in 1967; the Century name derives from the anniversary of the birth year of Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda.

At north of 200 inches in length, it would be considered a large car in the States–but in Japan, where 660cc microcars dot the streets of major metropolitan areas, the Century is both a literal and figurative giant.

The Century was powered by Toyota’s V-series engine family, a V-8 which was a close copy of the Dodge Red Ram Hemi of the 1950s and did, indeed, sport hemispherical combustion chambers. The V-series started out as a 2.6-liter unit in the Toyota Crown 8 in 1963, but grew to 3.0 liters when the Century came on line in 1967. (A gas turbine version was shown in the wake of OPEC I, but only because the Century was the only car with a large enough engine bay to show off the engine.) They are famously painted black, although a subdued color palette of grays and silvers is also available. It’s not even built by Toyota themselves: A contract player, Kanto Auto Works, hand-crafts each Century to the buyers’ demands and desires.

Even though the Century has lasted for 40 years, they all look pretty much like what you see here. Though it launched in Japan in 1967, Toyota took a respite on its every-four-years replacement plan, and let the Century play out. The last of the first-generation Centurys rolled out of the Kanto works in 1996.

While engines were upgraded and made larger (a 3.4-liter version in the early ’70s, bumped up to 4.0 liters by 1982 and remaining there for the duration of its life), and various mechanical changes were introduced (disc brakes and electromagnetic locking in 1973, deletion of manual shift in 1975, electronic fuel injection in 1982, and moving the shifter from the column to the floor in 1987), the basic style remained the same through those three decades.

The reasoning boils down to why mess with success? As with so many things in Japan, it has become a symbol–a goal that one can achieve through hard work. The Century is not a car for the flashy extrovert or the nouveau riche, who might choose a sports car or something with a gigantic chrome grille and a stand-up hood ornament to flaunt their wealth.

A second-generation Century launched in 1997, and to no one’s surprise it looks almost exactly like the old one. It rides a 119-inch wheelbase and is the only front-engine, rear-drive Japanese production car to be equipped with a standard 5.0-liter V-12 engine. That’s right, the Century is rocking a 1GZ-FE, rated at the gentlemen’s agreement limit of 276hp, initially through a four-speed automatic transmission but upgraded recently to a six-speed automatic.

It also has standard air suspension, as well as some other tricks: massaging and reclining rear seats, electrically opening and closing door latches (the mechanical sound of the door opening was deemed too noisy, and much like high-end trunks, the latch need only contact the striker to close completely). Also, the interiors are often ordered in cloth rather than leather–cloth is quieter (!) and, if you believe everything you read, the scent of leather is less desirable to Japanese nostrils.

Cloth interior, in a car costing ¥11,000,000 (about $100,000 at today’s exchange?) Believe it. Even the new Toyota Century Royal, a stretched version built for the Japanese Imperial household, eschews leather: It features wool upholstery, granite running board steps and Japanese rice-paper headliner; four were built at nearly half a million dollars each. Such machines ensure that the Century will continue unabated as Japan’s ultimate status machine for another 20 years, when the next redesign should be due.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2008 issue of Hemmings Sports Exotic Car.

Tagged as:

Other articles of the category "Toyota":

Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts


Born in the USSR


About this site

For all questions about advertising, please contact listed on the site.

Car Catalog with specifications, pictures, ratings, reviews and discusssions about cars