By on May 5, 2017

Toyota Century, image via eBay

Heads of state and other dignitaries typically like to ride around in large, sedan-shaped vehicles. Offerings like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and contemporary Rolls-Royce sedans have long been the go-to around the world. Of course, there are exceptions. For places like the United States, national pride dictates an American-made Cadillac or Lincoln.

The Japanese also have a strong sense of national pride, and for decades there was only one vehicle appropriate for heads of state and CEOs — the Toyota Century.

Now it’s gone.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured a Toyota in the Rare Rides series, nor is it our first limousine. But this Century is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the MEGA CRUISER or the ZIL. I don’t think its owners would’ve approved of such capital letter usage, as it’s too vulgar.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

The Century was the flagship of the Toyota line, and has been since since its inception. It was always designed as a dignified, quality conveyance for the governmental and well-heeled Japanese elite. More modern luxury options like the Toyota Celsior (which we received as the Lexus LS400) did not shift the crown from atop the Century’s squared-off head. Produced since 1967, there were just two generations for its entire 50-year run. Generation one ran from 1967 through early 1997, when the second generation bowed in. Generation two continued with minimal changes until just earlier this year. Production ceased in February, and the Century was quietly removed from the Toyota of Japan site.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

Priced at around $100,000 USD in Japan, the Century was always the most expensive sedan produced by Toyota, that is until the introduction of the Lexus LS600h L (that’s the hybrid long wheelbase one) in 2008 to the tune of an eye-watering $125,000. The Century was solely a Japanese market vehicle and was never exported to other markets. The example you see here is currently on eBay and has been imported to the United States under the 25-year rule.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

The first generation wasn’t big on power, and three different engines were used in succession. All of them were V8s of 3.0 to 4.0 liters in displacement. The 1997 redesign brought along the only V12 Toyota made — the 5.0-liter 1GZ-FE, an engine only used in the Century. The engine in this particular example is a 4.0-liter VG40, found in the Century from 1982 through 1997.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

The interior of better-specified examples will contain the luxurious wool cloth you see here. Leather is just too loud; its shine too flashy.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

The back seat is a space of lavish comfort, passenger controls, leg rest/pass-through, and factory-fitted throw pillows.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

Numerous power options were available, of course, but I can’t read any of the buttons to tell you what they do.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

The exterior has a bit of extra festoonery, which look to be some sort of early phone antennae and rain guards. Might have to get those off of there as they’re quite unsuitable.

Toyota Century, image via eBay

The eBay auction has four days left, and no bids at the seller’s starting price of $8,000, which is hardly a big ask for a vehicle of this caliber with 36,000 original miles (though the reserve is unknown). I’ll leave you with the video below, which has an English voiceover and explains the majesty and hand-crafted nature of each Toyota Century.

At least we’ll always have the memories.

[Images via eBay]

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101 Comments on “Rare Rides: In Memoriam, Toyota Century...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Gone? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      The LS will suffice, with its new hybrid and V6 engine.

      *tear*

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      At least it didn’t go out like a b*tch.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        True, but I’d say the current one kinda came in that way from day one. An S-class Benz outclasses the current LS in about every way possible.

        (I do like the F-sport version, though.)

        • 0 avatar
          Not_a_luddite

          Except reliability.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            ….and, closely related, degradation to squeaks and rattles appearing too quickly.

            In all fairness to MB, I have no idea if that is the case in the latest ones, as I’ve never been in one with more than initial lease miles on it. And the new ones certainly have moved back towards the “tank like” feel that used to be the S class hallmark.

            But even 90s LS’ remain tight and “premium” much longer than similar era Benzes. And Toyota’s, as with Japanese in general, idea of “premium” and “luxury”, is much closer tied to functional longevity, than to the “latest, greatest, newest” that has come to dominate the Western conception of same.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Toyota V12? the mind boggles!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      This one’s a V-8, but yeah. Five-liter V-12, four valves per cylinder. Remember when Toyota knew how to build engines?

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        yes, a 5 liter V12 with “276” horsepower.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Personally, I’d rather have a naturally-aspirated 5.0L V8 or V12 with 300hp over a modern lower displacement turbo with 300hp.

          • 0 avatar
            newenthusiast

            “Personally, I’d rather have a naturally-aspirated 5.0L V8 or V12 with 300hp over a modern lower displacement turbo with 300hp.

            ^ This.

            I mean, I’d rather have that in any car that can fit the engine over any turbo – even if it had to be transverse in some crazy set up in a mid size or compact car.

            But in THIS car specifically, a turbo engine is not befitting the characteristics I would think were expected of the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      rcx141

      Amazing they made a V12 and then just used it in one low volume car !

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        The UK and Aus. NZ. are hotbeds for Japanese imports and the above is a kind of unicorn.

        The engine has been taken down and documented in import magazines and its a work of art… well course it is… the country that made the 1UZ-FE pretty much made a 5.0 V12 version of the Lexus 4.0 V8.

        If you’re an engineering porn person like me then you love these kinds of things.

        Needs to be put into a proper sports car of some sort.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Except a V-6 Mustang makes more HP if I’m not mistaken.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “276 hp” (280 PS) was the result of a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the Japanese car manufacturers; to avoid the appearances of a “horsepower war” they all agreed to not *advertise* any car with more than 280 PS. How much power they actually made would require a dyno.

            just interesting that the last JDM car to adhere to that agreement would have the biggest engine.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I recall the “276 hp” Skyline GT-R being one of the quickest cars in the world during its run, which wasn’t all due to its advanced AWD system.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          I doubt an engine designed and built by Toyota, specifically for one car, for whom the market consists largely of named and known dignitaries in Toyota’s home market, would ever be anything but completely above and beyond.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Idle at 700 rpm. :-) Takes me back to the days of lazy small blocks in American sedans.

    Sigh…

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      The smooth idle at low rpm is a trait of cars with inline-6 engines, or multiples of six inline cylinders. They can have perfect primary and secondary balance, which isn’t the case for V8s.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    This is the equivalent of Ford still producing a Lincoln Mark VIII. Which if you look at the Mark VIII, it’s about as timeless as a Century.

    When you’re king sh1t of f*ck mountain like Toyota is of the automotive world, you can do whatever the f*ck you want.

    Long live the Century.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      I beg to differ. Mark VIII to me screams 90s. While maybe not timeless, I’ve always loved the 93-97 Town Car. Formal and traditional scale and shape, but with smoothed edges in a nod to contemporary times. They still look great.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        I think a combo of the two would have resulted in a more contemporary, traditional design such as the Century. To each their own. Sajeev just bought a Town Car and every picture I see of it, it makes me fall in love with the design. Your view is slowly becoming mine.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I agree, that particular vintage of Town Car was great looking, particularly the later models with the narrower headlights.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            The correct year to purchase is the ’96.

            95-97 had narrow headlamps.
            97 contained cheapening as they wound down the square body model.
            96 has many special editions available.
            96 does not have plastic intake manifold IIRC.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            96 Thunderbird/Cougar had the plastic intake so I’d assume Panthers did too.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            I stand corrected on that part then.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            How did they cheapen 97 TCs? Aside from the lack of editions.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Still a Panther, so still featuring an interior better suited to an Escort ZX2.

            Edit: I mean, just look at this quality. http://images.gtcarlot.com/customgallery/interior/66832571.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At Dal:

            I dont see whats wrong with it, from what I can tell that interiors in pretty good shape for being 20+ years old.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Acres of hard gray plastic everywhere, fake wood that looks like someone printed it out on their inkjet, cheap-looking and -feeling controls that in all likelihood were shared with that ZX2, the usual brittle Ford leather, and check out the bare metal column shifter stalk.

            Remember, this version was being marketed as a luxury car, not the police fleet special to which this interior was better suited.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            How could you tell a Town Car was cheapened? They were all cheap and nasty inside like every other American car from the 70s onward. Did they make them even worse?? The mind boggles.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            At Dal:

            Its not great, and I have no clue what makes a “fat Panther” any different from a normal one barring a few standard options.

            ‘Tis why I didnt mind grabbing a lower end model myself, if I’m going to get a Panther why not get one with a few HD bits and a less crappy steering ratio?

            As long as its quiet, electrics work, and nothings falling apart I’m fine with most interiors. Hard plastic doesnt melt like the soft junk.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      While the Mark VIII is probably a good CAR, it’s also a 1990s UFO.

      While the 1988.5 Mark VII LSC may have been an overweight, underbuilt rehash of a dubious Mustang 5.0, it was also one of the best looking cars ever, and the first legitimate attempt from Lincoln at a real luxury sport coupe besides. American to the core (if building a Mercedes 560 SEC clone is American), it nevertheless epitomized the Eastern yin and yang, because everything was countered by something else. The refinement from the airspring-over-fat-antiroll bar suspension was countered by the jittery live rear axle. The power from the V8 was countered by tall MPG-focused gearing. The sexy blue perforated leather power sport seats were countered by plastic door trim that fell off and instruments that should have stayed in the Mustang. The automatic climate control with the cool vacuum-fluorescent display was countered by an alternator that fried its brain, causing the heat to come on full blast at random intervals. The modern safety feature of antilock brakes was countered by the fact the front rotors warped the first time you tested the ABS function. The sexiness of the swoopy rear pillars was countered by their generation of an enormous and literally fatal blind spot.

      I don’t care. I want one…updated with a modern V8 with more power, a modern transmission with more gears, brakes equal to the task of stopping the thing, a nice exhaust upgrade from the likes of Bursch or Borla, and most importantly, blind spot monitors.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      This is the equivalent of Ford still building an evolution of the Continental Mark II, or perhaps if Mercedes-Benz built a worthy successor to the 600 Pullman; particularly if Ford or Mercedes-Benz ever were as good as Toyota at making cars.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    As an interesting bit of trivia, for Daimlers’ 100th anniversary (the British company, not MB) they made 100 each of the 6 cylinder and V12 cars badged as Century with a number of special trim features.

    Except for the Japanese market, where it was called the Centenary, because of the existence of the Toyota Century.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Why are the air conditioner controls/identifier in English?

    ‘Micro Processed Automatic Air Conditioner’.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Jesus wept. Eight grand?

    DAMN.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Still like the LS better. Century is just too old-school for me. Although I wish Lexus had at some point been crazy enough to make the UZ into a V12.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      The old school conservative factor is the best part! Plus, the quality is a step (or few) above the LS.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        These were hand built from what I recall.

        I cannot imagine the amount of attention to detail and pride that workers put into these cars.

        If we wonder why there was a widespread late-’80s belief that Japan was going to rule the world, look no further than this car.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I should say that I would love to have wool upholstery in my LS instead of the (very good) leather.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      My biggest personal knock on the LS400 and LS430 is that the styling is anonymous and vaguely German. But the Century is proudly and blatantly Japanese. It is bursting with national pride and character. I like that a lot.

      That’s one of my favorite thing about the old Equus as well. It’s most certainly an Asian executive car.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        The original LS channeled lots of generic German styling cues too, though. But in 1989, it sold on price. Twenty years later, it had gotten expensive, and it was still generic looking.

        My biggest knock on the LS is performance – it always needed more motor, even with a V-8.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I liked the LS400. It was sort of like the W126, but had some Japaneseness of its own in the styling.

        The LS430 just seemed like a straight-up W140 knockoff. Great car, ugly styling.

        By making the subpar W220, Mercedes forced Lexus to think a bit more independently. Whatever you think of LS460 vs. LS430 in general, the LS460 clearly has the more original styling.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Sigh. Pour one out for 20th century Japan.

  • avatar
    Menloguy

    The bank of switches on the wood panel are for the rear seat heater with low and hi adjustments, driver’s side triangular vent, driver’s side window, auto up-down, and window lockout.

    The switch cluster on the armrest controls the front passenger side triangular vent, window, door lock, and rear passenger triangular vents and windows.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Where’s the “Climb Mount Niitaka” switch?

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      What’s the ceiling one do?

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        It calls Tiger Tanaka. Immediate.

      • 0 avatar
        Menloguy

        The switches on the left of the ceiling switch cluster are labeled as a “refreshing seat” and the sine wave icons to the left of the switch indicate to me that it is for a massaging/vibrating rear seat back rest with high/low pulsations. The switches on the right side of the cluster are for the front and rear dome lights.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          “The switches on the left of the ceiling switch cluster are labeled as a “refreshing seat” and the sine wave icons to the left of the switch indicate to me that it is for a massaging/vibrating rear seat back rest with high/low pulsations.”

          You mean those wave icons don’t mean bacon?

          I thought this was an executive sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      shoshone

      To me it does not look like real wood but a grained plastic like used on more expensive Japanese televisions of the 70’s.

      That makes it even better in my opinion!

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        The shifter and steering wheel appear to be straight out of a 1990 Camry. That does not make it better in my opinion.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        wow. fake wood is cheap and bad, unless it’s in an obscure Japanese limo. then it’s good.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Everything is bad. Unless the Japanese do it. Then its wonderful.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            it’s just the whole forbidden fruit phenomenon. “I want it because I can’t have it.”

            it’s why Jalops will fall all over themselves claiming how they would love to have some 45 hp European sh!tbox which they’d get sick of driving after 10 minutes.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I agree with you on this one. Fake wood is a bad look on this type of car.

          Googling around it does appear the interior materials improved in later years.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Watch the video. The wood is real, and it’s among the best in any car.

          I laugh at the phenomenon of thinking one is missing out on anything they can’t have, but the Century holds greater appeal than merely being unobtainable. Its craftsmanship and singular vision makes it desirable, although not so desirable that I can imagine putting up with RHD and waiting for parts.

  • avatar
    FalcoDog

    That is a fantastic looking car.

    It even has a “sport” button on the center stack. That alone is worth $8k.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    Is it just me, or does the shifter seem oversized and clunky? A column shift would seem to better suit the character of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Indeed, the bench seats were lost in the mid-80s I believe, and they put that shifter there. It seems a trend in more niche Toyota vehicles to use an ill-suited shifter.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      It’s super 1980s Japanese-y so I love the clunky shifter.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      It is exactly the same shift handle as the 1992 Toyota Corolla. A column shifter wouldn’t leave any space for the combination switch, and would make the steering column too long.

      How about the steering wheel ? Looks like its straight out of a Coaster bus !

  • avatar
    Joss

    Blase looking, much more conscientious build of a Buick CENTURY… Mirroring the death of the Rover P5.

    That 12 probably for armoured plate against Yakuza.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    It’s everything you love about big 80s Detroit cars…with superior build quality. I approve.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    There is another currently on e-bay in Yamato Illusion Grey over Navy Grey. I’d buy it in a second if it came in Musashi Blue….

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/lj9tkja

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    I’m fascinated with the leg pass-through. Did they have one on the driver’s side too? Imagine a dignitary warming his feet on the driver’s back! No, wait! That reminds me too much of my ex-wife.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Gawd I love these! Look at the paint, like a friggin’ Steinway!

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Can never figure how the Japs got away with the fender-mounted mirrors.

    On a day like we’ve had in waterlogged Northwest Ohio for the past two, if it’s raining hard enough to give the wipers a good workout, you ain’t gonna have easy side vision, either!

    Just something I’ve wondered!

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    I imagine a lot of these were chauffeur driven, I’m kind of surprised there isn’t a division between the front and rear.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      These were all chauffeur-driven, which is why they got generic steering wheels and shifters. The chauffeur was expected to be unobtrusive and discreet, so there was no need for a partition.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I was a chauffeur for six months, and my back seat passengers were, on average, anything BUT ‘unobtrusive and discreet’ while I had to be, so a partition is needed.

  • avatar

    Take a few minutes to view the video linked in this article. Quite impressive story about how this car was built.

  • avatar
    cartunez

    I would love to have one of these Toyota should make about 5000 of them US market only they would all sell out guaranteed

  • avatar
    amca

    I watched the video. They must have been losing a fortune on those cars, selling them at Mercedes S prices and building them like Rolls Royces.

  • avatar
    kurkosdr

    Wow! That’s a really ugly front. The Japanese have no taste, and no sense of style and proportion. I ‘ve never seen a Japanese car that is genuinely appealing visually.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It’s not far from a 1980 Buick Regal or Chevrolet Malibu front end.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      Thank you for your astute commentary about an entire nation.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Bizarrely, they’ve taken the ladder framed chassis Crown, and welded on the front section from the much more humble 1977 Corona. Then they’ve used the old South American trick of replacing the round headlights with square ones to make it more modern looking.

      The styling of the 1977 Corona was “inspired” by Mercedes-Benz models of a few years earlier.

  • avatar

    I enjoyed the article Corey and learned lots. I hope you will write more in the future.

  • avatar
    analoggrotto

    I like this website so much more because of this article. :)

  • avatar
    phila_DLJ

    My second-favorite Toyota. The Crown Comfort, still a constant presence in Japanese traffic in all manner of liveries, is my first favorite. “If it ain’t broke” styling and unimpeachable reliability.


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