The Toyota Century: a salute to Japan’s Rolls-Royce

It’s not a secret that Japan keeps its best cars within its own border, but here’s something a little left-field.

For a very long time The Century was the most expensive car in Toyota’s line-up and served as an alternative limousine to some of the most luxurious cars on the planet.

It enjoyed an incredibly long production run of 49 years (would’ve been nice for them to have stopped at half a century really, wouldn’t it?) with the last example rolling off the almost exclusively hand-built line just last year. The Century got its name from what would’ve been the hundredth birthday of the founder of Toyota Industries, Sakichi Toyoda.

While the rest of the world got the Lexus LS, the Japanese had the Century (image: Steven Tyler PJs/Flickr CC)

Its styling bastardises lines from all over the world: its grill is unashamedly Merc-like, its rear quarter shows hints of Rolls Royce and there’s a whole lot of Cadillac in the proportions too.

But it’s the attention to detail, and the experience that this car offers its passengers that really needs to be explained.

Inside, occupants are pampered via a reclining rear bench of flawless leather hides or often the quieter option of wool cloth, with decorative blinds rather than window tints separating them from the outside world.

Should the rear passenger want extra leg room with his or her seat reclined then a panel in the seat in front can be swapped out, clearing enough space to lay almost completely flat, providing nobody was in the front.

Toyota Century car
The Century takes prominent design cues from many other marques (image: Steven Tyler PJs/Flickr under CC)

All adjustments are electric and later cars could be specced with an intercom system so that driver and passenger could communicate without so much as raising their voices. Automatic climate control was available as an option from as far back as 1971.

Getting in and out of the Century gracefully was of great importance, and a flat floor and extra-large door panels certainly helped. The door handles themselves are electrically operated as a mechanical handle was deemed too loud. Similarly, the doors themselves would soft close in the same way that you find with a top spec Mercedes or BMW of today.

The interior of a second generation Toyota Century is not quickly forgotten

First generation cars debuted with a 3 litre V8, one that was developed in conjunction with Yamaha and featured a hemispherical combustion chamber that – like Chrysler’s Hemi – positioned its spark plugs at the top of the head.

The engine grew in displacement and technologies over the next few years, first being plumped to 3.4 litres and then to a full 4 litres and 190hp with 238lb/ft of torque. But it’s the engine that graced the second-generation Century that really calls for attention.


The 5.0 litre Toyota 1GZ-FE V12 under the bonnet of all second-generation Centurys was produced solely for this car and remains the only production automotive V12 engine to come from Japan. Outside of the country’s gentlemen’s agreement this silky smooth lump is supposed to output around 310hp and 355 ft/lbs of torque.

It was a twin-turbocharged example of one of these engines that made its way into Top Secret’s ludicrous 900hp+ Toyota Supra.

I’ve got no way of confirming it but I’d be willing to bet my savings that these cars must hold Toyota’s legendary reliability, too.

Let’s sign off with this keenly-priced, low mileage example currently for sale in the U.K.

Feature image: Steven Tyler PJs/Flickr under CC

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