Every major country has its own state car: the United States with Lincoln or Cadillac; the British with Bentley and Rolls-Royce; the former Soviet Union and Russia: ZiS/ZiL and the Aurus Senat; and Germany with the Mercedes-Benz S600. And in this respect, Japan also has a very special representative vehicle: the Toyota Century.
With its discreetly elegant exterior, the Toyota Century has served as a mobile office for Japanese ministers and as a state car for the Japanese imperial family, thanks to its unique bodywork. The Century's important position is also ensured by its status as Japan's first mass-produced V12, which catapulted the second generation to the top of the prestige league in 1997.
Gallery: Toyota Century (since 1967)
Comfort is the benchmark set by the Century, so the V12 was content with a maximum output of 276 bhp. In Japan, luxury driving pleasure is synonymous with quiet travel. So silence and tranquillity from the outside world were the order of the day as soon as the doors of the fully soundproofed Toyota Century were closed.
Even when the V12 was pushing vehemently forward, only a whisper could be heard. This is one of the reasons why Emperor Akihito is said to have enjoyed studying the daily press when travelling in the Century.
Production began in 1967 and for 30 years only minor changes were made to the model. It was not until 1997 that it was thoroughly revised. The name Century was chosen because the year of its market launch coincided with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota Industries.
The first Toyota Century
Today, the Century is produced in small quantities, practically by hand. It is used by Japan's prime minister, ministers, senior officials and leading businessmen. The Imperial Household uses (presumably armoured) vehicles called Toyota Century Royal, of which a total of four have been produced.
Originally, the Century was equipped with mirrors mounted on the front wings, as the cars were required to have such mirrors visible through the windscreen. Later, it could also be delivered with 'normal' side mirrors, which are standard from the 2018 model year.
The Century has no sporty ambitions whatsoever, but is designed for comfort and a smooth ride in every respect. The only exception is Akio Toyoda's Century GRMN.
Despite some minor improvements, the Century's exterior has remained virtually unchanged from 1967 to 2018 because it is considered a 'symbol of conservative success'. Imagine if Mercedes-Benz had produced the 600 for that long?
El actual Toyota Century
Toyota Century (desde 2018)
The car is usually painted black, in keeping with the Japanese sense of luxury, and the seats are mainly upholstered in wool. The rear window and rear side windows have electrically operated lace curtains.
The saloon, which was advertised as the car that earns a lifetime of hard work in simple but correct attire, is the only Toyota not to wear the usual three oval logo, but instead comes with a stylised golden chicken as a symbol of the Japanese imperial family. There is also a 'C' logo on the C-pillar.
The first Century was based on the 1964 Crown Eight, which had a 2.6-litre V8 engine. A revised version of this engine with 3.0-litre displacement was fitted in 1967. In 1973, the 3.4-litre V8 was introduced, followed by a change to the 4.0-litre V8 in 1982. There was also a long version of the Century, the Century L, with a wheelbase of 3.01 metres and a length of 5.27 metres.
The first generation Century remained virtually unchanged for 30 years. In 1982, the car underwent a detailed body overhaul, although the styling of the original vehicle was retained. In addition to minor cosmetic changes, improvements were also made to the engine.
Toyota Century (1997)
In 1997, the Century was completely redesigned, although the new model looked very similar to its predecessor. It now featured a 5.0-litre V12 engine with an output of 276 bhp (206 kW). Originally, the car had a four-speed automatic transmission; later, it was fitted with a 'smart' six-speed automatic transmission. It was also fitted with air suspension. The Century is the only Japanese production car with a V12 engine.
Toyota unveiled the third generation at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 2017, measuring 5.33 metres in length and 3.09 metres in wheelbase. Unlike its predecessor, the current Century is no longer powered by a V12, but instead uses a 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine combined with an electric powertrain. Toyota puts the power output of the system at 425 bhp (317 kW). The saloon has only been on sale in Japan since June 2018, and the current price is 20,080,000 yen, the equivalent of £107,600.
Unique Century convertible for the coronation of the current Japanese emperor
A special version, called the Toyota Century Royal, was built for the Japanese imperial family for the use of its most important members, similar to the Bentley State Limousine of the British royal family.
The Century Royal had wool upholstery, granite running boards and Japanese rice paper interior trim. Originally five were ordered, but only four were built due to their high cost. The model replaced the 30-year-old Nissan Prince Royal Pullman saloons. The Century Royal can only be used by the Imperial family.
In September 2023, Toyota unveiled the Century SUV, a high-body model that aims to be as exclusive as the saloon, priced in Japan at £135,000.