(first posted 5/20/2013. In 2018, this generation Century was finally replaced by the third generation)
In Brougham Love is not exactly a common sentiment, and of that which remains today, a fair bit of it seems to be concentrated in one corner of the Internet: this site. Some here actually like the idea of owning one. Others appreciate them from a distance as a sort of cultural relic, rolling reminders of a long-gone era. But that era isn’t as gone as I thought, at least not everywhere. It lives on in an affluent, high-tech island chain in the Far East. Allow me to present the Toyota Century, the Ultimate Brougham Time Machine.
On the surface, the Century could be straight out of the 1970s. It starts with the big size and classical proportions. It continues in the chrome door handles, mirrors, and wheel-well trims. Heck–you’ve even got little C-pillar badges and delicate chrome surrounds for the side-marker lights. Are we sure this thing is still being built today?
It sure is. But on the other hand, it’s unfair to call the Century a Brougham. I recently had the opportunity to poke around one at Toyota’s Mega Web showroom/museum in Tokyo, and unlike the monsters Detroit was cranking out forty years ago, the Century is actually quite an impressive piece of engineering. It’s powered by a state-of-the-art 5.0-litre V12 that’s exclusive to this car–it appears in no other Toyota product. This engine, as per Japan’s ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with legislators, puts out (cough, ahem) 276 hp, but the folks I spoke to at Mega Web suggested there are more than a few extra horses hiding under that long hood.
The Century’s neo-classical carcass is made of unit body construction, and suspended by airbag-augmented double wishbones at each corner. The resulting product tips the scales at 4,400 lbs–about the same as a Chrysler Cordoba. Chassis rigidity is probably more like an Imperial–after it’s been to the crusher and compressed into an ingot.
Yes, appearances can be deceiving. While American Broughams were all about surface-level prestige, with little substance underneath, what we have here is the opposite. In Japan, the Century is considered a less flashy alternative to a BMW 7-Series or Mercedes S-class–it’s meant to broadcast your success in the most modest, traditional fashion possible. In the words of the brochure: ‘The Century is acquired through persistent work, the kind that is done in a plain but formal suit’. The Richard Bransons and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are politely asked to shop elsewhere.
But enough about the Century’s cultural context. Toyota’s Mega Web showroom is all about getting up close and personal with every car in the Toyota lineup, high-profile or not. So let’s swing open the door and get inside.
On second thought, wait. Let’s stop and admire that door. When was the last time you saw pull-up interior door handles on a new car? Or a horizontal bank of power-window switches, framed in resplendent wood and chrome?
Admittedly, those door- and window-lockout buttons look awfully familiar, being shared with much cheaper cars such as the Camry. But reach your elbow out, and give that sinfully cushy armrest a try. It’s like a teeny-tiny waterbed.
Now, have a look inside before you pull the door closed. Hang on–are those seats upholstered in cloth? They sure are. Apparently, to the Century’s customers, leather is considered quite undignified, with its conspicuous croaking noises as you move in your seat. You can order cowhide as an option, but cloth is the most popular fitment in these cars.
Now, pull home the driver’s door. ‘Whumpfff!’ Closing it gives the same warm, fuzzy, bank-vault feeling of a W126 S-Class. And yes, that’s a column shifter. The only available transmission is a six-speed automatic, operated in classic fashion.
The dinky nav screen looks vintage in a less flattering sense, as does the slab-like dashboard and thin-rimmed steering wheel. But for those who appreciate the nostalgia of such things, these features are delicious, if a bit rubbery and plasticky in execution. The interior was last updated in 1997–and even now, in 2013, we’re likely still in the first half of its life cycle: the first-generation Century was built with minimal changes from 1967 to 1996. If you’ve ever wanted a comeback to the phrase, ‘they don’t build ’em like they used to’, here’s your car.
Having kanji on a Japanese car’s controls might seem like a no-brainer, but looking at the other cars in the Mega Web showroom, I noticed that most JDM Toyotas–even models sold only in Japan–use English or international symbols for the secondary controls. Not the Century. Traditionalism is the language spoken here.
And while I’d say these buttony climate and radio faceplates are looking a bit small and illogical nowadays, who can argue with a ‘Logic Control Deck’? Clearly, it’s just me.
But these are all trivial points, as the target audience isn’t likely to be up front using those buttons anyway. For them, the back seat of the Century is where it’s at. And the traditionalism shows through here as well.
For shade, white doilies are typically fitted instead of dark window tints (the latter could appear too youthful or brash). And while the S-Class and 7-Series feature La-Z-Boy style footrests in back, these would be too visible an indulgence in this car. Instead, the Century features a discreet fold-down panel in the front passenger’s seat. With it down, riders can recline and rest their stocking feet–no shoes, please–on the front cushion.
Don’t misunderstand, though–the Century’s rear cabin is hardly lacking in luxury. There’s heaps of leg-, shoulder-, and headroom, and massage and heat functions are built into the bench seat. You don’t even have to suffer the indignity of closing your own doors. Instead, you gently swing them inwards, and then electrics silently seal them shut for you. You get sliding chrome ashtrays in the doors, too. So sit back, put your feet up, light up a cigar, and pretend it’s 1975.
Oh, and speaking of the ’70s–did you think those delightfully ornate, model-specific Japanese badges went extinct during that decade? I did. But they’re still alive and well here on the Century. Its resplendent gold lyre-bird shield isn’t my favourite–it isn’t a patch on the dragon-gravy-boat Celica emblem, for instance–but it’s nice to know these things are still kicking around.
Speaking of kicking around, check out this rear kick plate. How lovely is that detailing? As for the sticker: It’s asking you (politely) not to mess with the delicate automatic trunk-shutting mechanism by slamming the lid.
And there it is: the weird and wonderful Toyota Century. Being simultaneously a technological marvel, cultural curio, and delicious slice of twentieth-century nostalgia, the Century is something of a enigma. Brougham Love is more often rooted in fantasy than reality, with the cars offering a sort of connection to a bygone age, nevermind how crap they might be in the metal. But the Century, stoically, keeps that fantasy alive in the 21st century.
Oh, and did you want to take home a Century brochure? They’ve thought of that too.
Looks like a Fairmont.
The anti-Panther. I want one.
In the words of the brochure: ‘The Century is acquired through persistent work, the kind that is done in a plain but formal suit’. The Richard Bransons and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are politely asked to shop elsewhere.
Looks like the kind of conservative engineering-driven top-quality S-class sedan Mercedes used to build. I’d never call it a “Brougham”.
Wikipedia’s Century article has some fun details: “The exterior door handles open the doors electrically since the sound of the door being opened mechanically is perceived as being “too obtrusive”. The doors do not need to be closed directly, instead the door only needs to contact the latch, causing the door to pull itself completely closed electrically.”
It’s great to have CCs from Japan!
Column shift, excess wood, digital dash, chrome rockers. This is a Japanese Grand Marquis, albeit a bespoke, really well built one with a unique engine, but it is very Brougham and that’s not a bad thing.
Fair enough. I’m hardly an expert on what is and is not a brougham!
To have any inkling what this car is, who it is for and what is about, one would have to have at least a small appreciation of Japanese language and culture. Without it, you’ll never get it.
Speaking of the “logic control deck”, is this now the last new car in the world with a factory installed cassette player? The Lexus SC430 (also from Toyota) was the last new car in the US with a factory cassette deck but I don’t know about ROW markets.
Except for the buttons in Japanese, that “Logic Control Deck” is almost identical to the sound system on a 1992 Camry. Which, if you think about it, is a lot like the Town Car, whose level of equipment was pretty much frozen in the 1990’s.
This is the Japanese version of the high quality traditional halo car that Lincoln or Cadillac could build, if they wanted to. I am sure that the Century is not sold in mass market quantities, and I am also sure that Toyota doesn’t expect to, and that the car meets their marketing goals nonetheless. Are you listening, Lincoln and Cadillac?
I had a 2006 Audi A3 with a cassette deck/CD/AM/FM standard. Never used the cassette deck.
If we have any Ford execs reading this, get on the phone NOW and cut a deal to import these with Town Car (or Continental) badging to sell at Lincoln dealers. This is important!
If they could get folks to pay a princely sum for them. And what do these sell for in Japan? Probably well over $100k.
In a number of ways, this is really the successor to the old Grosser Mercedes 600, also built in very small numbers, to an impeccable level of fit and finish.
I continue to consider it a tragedy that nobody in the U.S. auto industry could make something like this. It would certainly not be a volume product. However, a ultra-premium car should, by definition, be exclusive. Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard were in this market before WWII – I would bet that their senior cars were in this range, when adjusted for inflation and living standards. Unfortunately, we must get our super-premium cars from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, and Tesla. And Hyundai (?!?)
Tesla’s not part of the US auto industry?
Brain fade. Mighty foreigh in Indianapolis, anyway. 🙂
I think the missing link is in the tagline “the Century is acquired through steady work … done in a formal suit”
The salaryman culture is alive and well in Japan, as is the stereotypically Asian penchant for understatement. The US is nothing like that at all. We want flash and glitz, and don’t really care if the door sounds like a tin can when it closes. The purpose of a premium-brand car isn’t to enjoy its superior quality and engineering, but to enjoy knowing that everyone who sees you knows you can afford one (nevermind that people these days know you’re probably leasing it)
I have no doubt that Cadillac or Lincoln could build something like the Century if they chose to, but they couldn’t sell it in their home markets.
You seem a bit confused. Apples are being compared to oranges in your reply. First of all, the term “Grosser” belongs to the 770 and 770K That Mercedes manufactures in the late 1930’s.
Second, the only thing comparable to a 600 is another 600. Make no mistake. In addition, the only other name a 600 goes by is “Grand 600” or “The Grand Mercedes”.
In no way is a Century a successor to a 600 or a 770K Grosser. The Century isn’t being completely dismissed in any way, as the Century is a marvel in automotive manufacture all its own.
There were a little over 2,500 600’s made between 1963 and 1981. 90% of them still exist in various states all around the world. Those numbers aren’t small. In the automotive aspect, the word “rare” is misused quite a bit, and is often used to try to raise the interest of the reader and/or buyer. Often times, the car being advertised isn’t rare at all. The rule of thumb for a car to be rare is plus or minus 500 units that were originally made and/or that remain of any amount produced over 500 units.
It seems like you’re the one that’s confused. In Germany (I’m originally from Austria), the 600 is universally called “Der grosse Mercedes”. Do a wikipedia search on their German site and here’s what comes up: “Mercedes-Benz W 100, der “große Mercedes” (1964–1981)” I’ve never heard it called “Grand” ever, in the US. What country are you from?
I see you’re a but pompous when it comes to the 600’s status. Anyone who says that one car can’t be compared to another is pompous in my book. ANY two cars can be compared. If you’re not able to do that, than you’re not living in the real world.
I said “In a number of ways, the Century is a successor to the 600”, and I stand by that. It is a highly exclusive sedan, one that is instantly recognizable, unlike the S-Class 600s and such. That conveys it a degree of status roughly comparable to the 600, even if it isn’t quite as exclusive as the 600 was. It’s a matter of degrees. As I said “in a number of ways”, not all ways.
yeah neidermeyer, i heard “grosser” too in reference to the 600s — indeed, many times. but this don’t try person takes on the most exquisitely annoying tone that almost makes it worth reading his post.
In US newspaper advertisements in the late 1960s, Mercedes referred to its largest, flagship model as the 600 Grand Mercedes. I don’t know if that model was the same as the Grosser, but that is what they called it in the lineup of models they listed, from the base to the highest. Those ads were in business newspapers and listed their complete lineup along with the prices of each model. At that time, Mercedes was trying to establish itself as a viable alternative to American luxury cars.
I agree with Paul: the W100 is commonly known as the “Grosser”. Jeremy Clarkson has one, and that’s how he calls it. Not that he’s the be-all and end-all on automotive terminology, but if he’s using that term in a popular TV show, you can bet it’s because people are using that term fairly colloquially. No question that the pre-war 770 was also called a Grosser, but they’re kinda thin on the ground…
The Century and the W100 have a more than a few similarities: hand-made, extremely high status symbols, unibody construction, bespoke engine driving the rear wheels, air suspension, several wheelbase options, very advanced technology aimed at comfort (“power everything”).
Compare with Phantom VI, for instance: body-on-frame, V8 from “normal” RR saloon, more traditional comfort with less power toys.
Yes, I’m cherry-picking a wee bit. And yes, Century production is ore like 1000-2000 per year — in SWB form. But the LWB Century and the W100 are very much kin.
This is a joke? The 600 is universally the “Grosser” – with the 770s considered its forebears (also Grosser.)
If base knowledge alone hasn’t furnished you with this fact – a simple google search will.
So the Century is something akin to the pre-Depression-era top shelf luxury cars then?
Awesome car, although I doubt Toyota would ever bring one to the U.S. They should though, I think it is a lot classier than the Camry based Lexuses.
It is limited production and exclusively for Japan. It will never be sold out of the motherland. Only the highest of the highest echelons of Japanese ever even get to ride in one.
What aspirations! A Toyota!
I’ve seen the here in NZ imported second hand from Japan, mostly the original model but a few of the current generation have appered on trade me from time to time.
Its like a brand new 70’s Japanese car on a grand scale, back when Japanese cars aped American car styling, not the other way around. I’m surprised there is no padded roof option. The previous generation still had whitewalls and fender tip turn signal indicators. The dash is pretty ugly though, and the column shifter looks like something out of old 3 on the tree truck. Still its and interesting artifact, like a living do-do bird that still lurks on an uninhabited island.
I was suprised by the column shifter as all of the other Toyota Century pictures I have seen on the net have a floor shift.
Gimme! Although, maybe swap the 12 for an Avalon Hybrid setup.
Avalon yer kidding thats Toyota biggest failure since the Cavalier absolute crap Nobody buys them and they were quietly withdrawn from the market here.
They’re sold here in North America, perhaps they only withdrew it from, ahem, smaller markets.
Smaller market I’ll grant you but No sales for years is what drove the Avalon out of the South Pacific, Toyota has over the years gone to extraordinary lengths to sell its cars in New Zealand, We have great driving roads and a massive road toll per head of population and Toyota were very miffed that their best selling Corona came in for so much criticism for the way it drove, The allowed former race driver Chris Amon to redesign the suspension and steering for them so the car went around corners. Amon bench marked the best handling car available and set out emulate it, while the Amon Toyota was revelation amongst japanese cars it is nowhere near as good as the PUG 405 it was modelled on, thats a company that cares about its product so seeing them build a real luxury car that more tries to be a japanese RR than a common cadillac is no surprise really.
I would add that the Avalon that we got here in NZ and Australia was the first generation, but sold here while the US had already moved onto the next generation…… so esentially they were trying to sell a ’94 car in the early 2000’s. Needless to say the press and the punters were all too aware of the swindle, and kept away in droves.
Nonetheless, it did pave the way for Toyota to split the V6 from the Camry in the market, a move that was completed with the arrival of the Aurion in the mid 2000’s. A bit of smart planning in my opinion.
The Avalon was designed primarily to be a Buick killer. It was not ideally suited to most other countries, NZ included.
Your market is very different from that of the US. Between the Aussie Fords and Holdens, and the massive Japanese used import trade, combined with a lot of narrow roads outside of urban areas and few motorways, and you have the makings for a very different market.
Pch101, I’m not so sure that it’s quite just down to being a different market, we’ve had other very similar cars that have done quite well over here, including Nissan Maxima and Honda Accord V6, to name just two. But when you look at the older styled Avalon of the time vs it’s contemporaries, in concert with the competition from the Australian equivalents I just think it didn’t have a chance. Incidentally we also have a few around that are used imports ex Japan too, but they weren’t particularly popular either.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Avalon was a bad car (I wouldn’t know as I haven’t driven one) but it certainly looked it’s age….
The fact that there was no need for a Kiwi Buick killer is just one of the differences.
A lot of cars sold in the US are unique to North America and are designed primarily around American tastes. Even if they carried the same names as cars abroad, the cars themselves are sometimes different.
We had generations of people who were raised on large, floaty cars with perhaps some power and often questionable handling. There is a modest place for the Avalon in a market such as this one, while I would expect such a car to flop in Europe, for example.
We also don’t have a market for used Japanese imports, which helps to keep a lid on your used car prices and provides you with a lot of variety that we don’t have.
The Avalon bombed big-time in Australia. I’ve only seen three privately-owned ones. Toyota had to get rid of it at fire-sale prices to taxi fleets. And the cabbies didn’t like it either.
Not so sure about the Aurion, Styles. You do see them around, but it’s really only a Camry V6 with a funny name. There’s no sense of it being upmarket; it’s just different. And only a case-hardened Toyota nut could tell the difference between a Camry and an Aurion without reading the badges.
Me? I think they ought to bring back the Cressida, or it’s current equivalent. Toyota really hasn’t had a respectable range-topper here since they took the Cressida away. 🙁
They eventually flogged off the Avalon to fleets in Aussie. You used to more of them as taxis than as private cars. Down here they were Toyota’s Edsel. Really.
Hey Bryce, my point was only that I’d prefer a few extra MPGs in my fantasy world where I buy one of these.
Sticker on the Toyoda Century: ¥11,445,000 according to Wiki.
$0.0097 per Yen as of Mon, 20 May, 2013 which means this is a $111,000 car.
I bought two, but they mostly just sit in the machine shed because I like driving my F-150 better when it’s not on jack stands like it is right now… (c:
That seems about right for what it is and the quality level. To me the closest European analogue was the high-end VW Phaeton, not the S class or the Roller. To get to an American analogue you have to go back to the 1956-57 Continental Mark II, although I will entertain an argument in favor of the 1966 Caddy Fleetwood Brougham.
My main beef with American Broughams has been, if you must be posh, back it up with ambitious engineering & quality build. This is conceptually Duesenberg, what Caddy & Lincoln should be offering.
The Century’s roofline reminds me of RR’s Silver Spirit, while its front looks MB W140. This very aristocratic car seems fit for the Emperor, not just top keiretsu salarymen.
The current Emperor actually has his own version, the Century Royal.
Fun article–can we get hi-res photos?
Hi David, I’ll upload them to the Cohort when I get the chance. The DSLR originals were way too massive, and being no photographer, I cut them way down for use here.
To get is car, some understanding of Japanese culture is needed. The Crown Century is THE car for the top echelons of Japanese society. When you arrive in a Crown Century, it tells all asunder that the man in the back (and it will 100% for sure be a man) is REALLY important and not some petite bourgeois. Imported luxury cars are for gangsters and people with car loans. This would include the likes of deputy-ministers (the real power in Japan, btw) or CEO’s of established companies such as Tokyo-Electron. Indeed my boss at TEL had one.
I would imagine Toyota is rather careful to whom they sell these cars and the certainly limits production of them.
About what do these sell for in USD$ over these? More than$100K?
Hmm… they cost $100,000. Not that exclusive.
My MB S65 AMG cost… a bit more than Ye Ole Toyota.
Looks like an ’88 Camry on ‘roids (inside and outside).
It sounds as if it’s more of a cultural statement than it is a car. Not quite a status symbol in the American sense, either, because you can’t just buy your way into it.+
Money is not the issue in these cars; social status is. Only certain people in certain levels of Japan stratified-right-up-to-the-emperor society can be seen in one. Period. Full Stop. You are not going to see a pop star doing burn-outs in one since even Japanese pop stars behave as expected.
Japan is an extremely complex place. Some of the tastes surprised me.
That is pretty much the feeling I got about Japan. I have never been to Japan (my diabetes basically prevents me from being able to sit that long on a plane) but enough business dealings with them over the years and textbook reference has led me to that conclusion. Also explains why kamikaze happened in WWII. No American in their right mind would have done something like that.
A midlevel executive in Japan that happened to have money would not have purchased a Century or been seen in one because it probably would have had negative consequences on their image and reputation. They would then be considered a maverick, stepping out, and disrespecting those that came before.
I get the feeling that titles and social position mean more to the Japanese where in the US, whomever holds the buck has the power.
Probably explains why in so many product categories, it is almost impossible to find foreign influence. Pride is a deep seated belief. Regardless of whether foreign brands are superior or inferior, national pride forces Japanese companies to built the necessary product that will displace the foreign brand.
Looking at that article is telling. Virtually nothing has significant market from outside of Japan-based companies except beverages with Coca Cola having a large share, and certain personal care products like medicines where patents and development time make it extremely difficult for anyone to make comparable versions. Now that I think of it, American style baseball is about the only thing major that exists in Japan in virtually original form.
You have a good insight on the culture, Craig. I found it really easy to get used to in all honesty. It was refreshing to work in such a positive environment all the time. Everybody was always in good spirits and gave lots of encouragement. We all said “Gambte!” several times a day and the Japanese really do their best. No slacking allowed. They wouldn’t even think of it, even today. I was lucky to have spend a few years in Japan, in a big company. Really a good experience.
It certainly looks like a nice car and I can respect that there’s a niche market for it.
I personally have no interest in one regardless.
That sounds right Canucklehead. Social standing is more self-regulating in this market than it would be in the US market. Even having the bucks for a Century, many Japanese buyers simply wouldn’t put their hand up because it would be an inappropriate overreach. It certainly helps maintain the prestige of these cars–and explains why there was originally no need for a separate Lexus brand in the JDM.
But things change, albeit slowly. Lexus was introduced to Japan in 2005, and these high-end Toyotas’ days may be numbered in the long term. Used Centurys crop up in the ‘VIP tuning’ scene and some here would surely cringe at the results.
What would happen if a car dealer in any other country had to tell a prospective client that they were not of sufficient social standing to purchase the top-of-the-line model? LAWSUIT!
It’s really formal, I looked at several pictures online and I coudn’t find one that wasn’t a serious color, usually black, sometimes dark blue and one very deep burgandy. No white or silver. Interesting car, the previous generation car still had power vent windows front and rear like a 1968 Fleetwood!
Beautiful. It’s good to see that not all new cars are hideously lame.
It always puzzles me how the Japanese can not make a good looking column shift lever. The big 3 have managed it, and even the few European cars that had a column shift were decent looking, but the Japanese always go for the goofy looking overly long lever with the really big handle.
I love that it still has a cassette deck!
Other than nit, I’d drive this Century! Give me cloth seats in a luxury car, I don’t want to burn my hide on fake or real hide here in Big D.
Steering wheel looks unattractive (and dated) as well.
Many thanks for this interesting article and pics!
Toyota dont try to sell these you have to apply to purchase and the very few used refugees sell for huge bux There are a couple of these in NZ but they very rarely seen.
Jeez Bryce, there’re quite a few around, not so much the newer V12, but the older V8 ones aren’t too uncommon at all.
As for huge bux, you can pick up a used one in Japan for around $10-20k depending on age and mileage, add shipping, compliance etc and you’d be talking $15-25k on the road, not really huge $$…..
It makes me wish Cadillac had done something like this with the 1977-1992 Fleetwood/Brougham, just kept updating it little by little and keeping it available for those that realy still wanted one.
Cadillac couldnt have done this if its life depended on it, (and it did) the American habit of reaching for the next shiny thing wouldnt let them, that trait is the only visible trickle down effect ever observed, well done thay man Sloane.
They might have wanted to, but I’m sure GM management of the era wouldn’t have let them!
Though I think they would’ve had to take it way upmarket to justify the cost.
It’s interesting that Toyota can do this for 600 sales a year. $111K really isn’t that much money for a V12 sedan these days. You’d think the absence of economies of scale would make it three to five times as expensive, looking at other high end limos. The Cadillac idea didn’t come to me, but watching Ford flail around in its efforts to retain some of the livery business has me thinking that they should have found a price where selling 15,000 Town Cars a year was viable. I suspect livery services would have been willing to pay 25% more than they were, once they took a hard look at the alternatives.
Thats real luxury its not expensive YOU simply cannot get one, new anyway its called exclusive. Toyota sell lots of other cars to make money on This is a real HALO car
+1 I’d actually love to see an American version of a car like this. Something that is stylistically traditional yet keeps up with current technology and has the same low volume/ultra-luxurious swagger. The recently departed Grand Marquis/Crown Victoria were probably the closest thing the US ever got to this, or maybe the many near-identical incarnations of the Studebaker Avanti over the years. I’m with you on the Cadillac D-Body… I can’t really get into the versions that were actually built (except the ’93-’96 LT1), but if a car that looked identical to a ’92 Brougham was still being hand-assembled somewhere with modern suspension and electronics hardware – plus an exclusively ridiculous LS engine – that would be completely badass.
There is definitely precedence elsewhere in the automotive world for stuff like this. Paul mentioned the Mercedes-Benz 600 up above, which was built until 1981 and served a very similar purpose… plenty of Soviet “head of state” vehicles as well. I believe Nissan also sells something similar to the Century, though maybe not as prestigious. Even on the lower end of the spectrum, Citroen kept the 2CV in production as a “specialty vehicle” (of sorts) until 1990 alongside the radically modern XM.
Such a car existed in American history before, at least with GM it was the Eldorado Broughams of 1957-58. They were outrageous cars of ultra low production but had comfort and convenience features that did not again appears on cars until decades later. Even though they were priced like house money, GM still lost money on them. Ford tried it with the Continentals. They were halo cars, well regarded, and quite collectable today, but as far as their influence on the rest of the car lines, well that is debatable. Some cars can be halo cars, but are really near-halo cars like the Corvette. The Corvette was never ever priced at the level that the EB and Continentals were, cars that were beyond the purview of all but the top 5% of society. The Corvette is a halo car, but one that the average man could hope to aspire to at some point in his life. Even if he was working for someone else.
The Cadillac Fleetwood 75 was much like the Mercedes 600, partially hand built low volume and meant to be driven by a driver. Cadillac did well with the car up through the early 1980s when changing social mores within the US business community caused all but the most protected executives to either drive themselves to work or were driven in more plebian cars and often riding in the front seat. Plus, limos in the US started to take a different turn going from secretive palaces for the ultra rich fun cars hence why we have prom stretches and other grotesque creations.
I am not sure how such a halo car would change much of anything in the US. I suppose it would be considered something of a show of force for a company that wanted to flex its muscles, but most buyers wouldn’t care. Japanese home market buyers are still very brand loyal and with the stratified society, such a car still has a place. But not in the US. It would almost be considered antisocial. And might even cause some political backlash, at least at GM and Chrysler who are still shaking off the reputation of being secretly run from the White House.
That’s a little different… this and the M-B 600 weren’t just halo cars in the traditional sense. Part of what defined them was their extremely long run with few, if any, updates to the exterior styling. The Continental, Eldorado Brougham, etc. were all extremely exclusive/expensive – but also short lived – vehicles. I’d love to see something like that again, too… but you’re probably right – either kind of car likely wouldn’t go over too well in the current climate.
Even better imagine if they were still made with a real Cadillac OHV V8, like an updated and injected 6.0 litre.
I love it. Heck, I’m a fan of the regular Crown used for taxi duty over there. We visited one of those huge showrooms as well when we visited Tokyo, it’s a must-see for anyone that gets the opportunity.
The Japanese Zil that doesn’t break.
Yes, these are the rides for top government ministers and big corporation executives. Money isn’t enough. So I wonder how did Bill Murray get to ride in one in “Lost in Translation?”
Love the OEM cassette deck and the 70s style instrument panel. Kind of like a Japanese version of a Rolls Royce – not state of the art, styling-wise, and not intended to be.
You beat me by a few minutes, while I was typing, in pointing out that the car appeared in “Lost in Translation.”
“Car casting” being often done by non-enthusiasts, my guess is that the producers asked their Japanese production crew to find a distinctly Japanese high-end car, and they happened to succeed in renting a Century, without thinking about how it would be used normally. Or, Bill Murray’s character was supposed to be such high-end Hollywood royalty that his handlers would find the absolutely top of the line for him.
Passionate and with more intensity! TURN LOOK INTO CAMERA, LIKE AN OLD FRIEND!! SANTORI-U TIME!!!
I can get a used one here as Silver cris pointed out in a place you cant find on the map of course Bill Murray could get hold of one in Japan.
Interesting piece! It’s cool they still make cars like this in the world.
At the end of “Lost in Translation,” Bill Murray’s character gets into this car for his ride from the hotel to the airport. I could never figure out the identity of the car before, and assumed that it was some sort of Crown, but after reading this article and re-watching the final scene, it clearly was a Century. (There is a “CENTURY” badge visible on the trunk lid at one point.)
Thank you for the glimpse into Japanese car culture! As others have said, it is a pity that GM and Ford did not maintain a similar traditionally sized and styled car from the lineage of the Fleetwood Brougham or the Town Car, as a top of the line model. Of all of the countries in the world, the US should have that sort of car.
What was left of the traditional American passenger car got lost to the SUV craze. GM dropped their RWD cars to crank out Suburbans and the Lincoln Town Car lived until recently but became more of a purview of fleet operators while consumer buyers that wanted Lincoln “presence” bought a Navigator. Likewise at Cadillac, after the Fleetwood left, people nostalgic for a huge Cadillac that screamed pimp bought Escalades.
It looks like a mildly refreshed Cressida and updated it with Rolls Royce Silver Spur styling cues.
Aside from being conservatively styled, Japanese business cultured is old fashioned, in the sense that there is a psychological hierarchy of “deserving” that favors the older crowd. Deference to superiors on all matters both personal and in challenge situations is still prevalent, especially at large older legacy companies. A car like this would not be “appropriate” for anyone that wasn’t 50+ and in an executive position, regardless of the buyers means. An ambitious midlevel executive might actually garner scorn if he would purchase such a car and have it visible, especially if a higher executive feels that they broke the unwritten “social decorum.” Sort of like getting your candy before your time. In the United States, we are a culture of satisfaction at any level that we can get it. Cars are beginning to reflect that as US automakers continue to try to broaden their customer base as well as the mentality of “whomever has the first $ gets it.” The US in a way operates under a flea market mentality of whatever you can bargain or get away with goes. I am sure a lot has evolved over time, but that seems to be the impression that I have received in my, admittedly limited, dealings with Japanese business.
Someone like John DeLorean would never have been tolerated at Toyota.
Pretty much sums it up. I worked in a large Japanese electronics company for over three years and boy-o-boysan did I learn a thing or two about Japanese corporate culture. First, you have to be 100% behind your company all the time. Second, no bad vibes were allowed, period. It’s the social normal in Japan. Being negative affects the group, so you keep it to yourself. Finally, you follow company rules and procedures TO THE LETTER (or kana in this case). If you do this, and can survive the insane hours, you’ll learn the incredible strength and determination the Japanese have. These are REALLY SMART people. Most Japanese I met were very well read, read a couple of newspapers a day and read a lot of non-fiction. Very interesting people to converse with because they have knowledge on so many topics.
Yes. Japanese society is very Confucian, with hierarchies, often based on age. It doesn’t matter if you can afford something nicer that would look out of place with your station. Mavericks generally aren’t as well received here as they are in the USA (where we celebrate the lone cowboy).
There’s an old saying that “the nail which sticks up will be hammered down” that hints at the social pressure to conform. The flip side of that is that sometimes this can stifle innovation and entrepeneurship. Masayoshi Son of Softbank is seen as a maverick in Japanese society, in fact, he’s more of a Silicon Valley type (and does spend a lot of time in the SF Bay Area).
Great writing! (Obviously) like you, I love stuff like this, and Japanese manufacturers in particular offer a fascinating array of oddball vehicles for domestic consumption. Check out the Mitsubishi Debonair, and the Toyota Origin, which is no longer in the lineup but is nevertheless a head-scratcher.
Wow, I thought I knew of about all obscure cars, JDM included, but I’d never seen the Toyota Origin. How strange, I kinda want one now…
It looks like a 1958 Toyopet Crown – a limited edition retro model.
When I was in Korea, the second generation Debonair was being built by Hyundai as a CKD. The Koreans never got the exclusivity of the car and pumped them out as fast as they could. When I got there in 1994, the Grandeur was the car to have for any up and coming Korean. They sold them in both four bangers and V-6s, they latter being the ultimate status symbol at the time.
Suffice to say, Koreans never got this car and loads of them got on the used market for peanuts. My buddy had one he’s paid like $1000 for and it was mint; the guy couldn’t sell it because it was old and a V-6, so heavy on gas. Koreans don’t want anything old, so my friend got a really nice car for that money. He didn’t care how much gas it used, even at the high prices in Korea.
Cheers Imperialist, and to others who left feedback, this being my first CC post. That Origin is indeed odd, had no idea it existed, filing it under ‘Unicorns’ as a CC find…
Looking forward to more! Maybe do your avatar trolley next? 🙂
Trolley? Please, it’s a tram!
I’m eyeing up a Century for my next project car. They’re not all together uncommon in NZ, and the older V8 model is fairly affordable ex Japan. With a baby on the way I figure that before too long the Celica XX will be impractical for family outings, but a Century will be sweet! Just got so sort out a bigger garage now, as there’s no way one would fit in my current one!
“Now, have a look inside before you pull the door closed. Hang on–are those seats upholstered in cloth? They sure are. Apparently, to the Century’s customers, leather is considered quite undignified, with its conspicuous croaking noises as you move in your seat. You can order cowhide as an option, but cloth is the most popular fitment in these cars.”
Interesting bit there. When I was a rep on the road one of my car restorer clients had a Rolls Royce that has used by the queen in her royal tour to NZ back in the day (1960’s maybe?, not sure). And that car had leather front seats but the rear seats were upholstered in wool.
That used to be the traditional limousine interior set up, the drivers compartment was in durable leather, and the passenger compartment was in a fine fabric.
Another reason for fabric is that a lot of older, traditional Japanese people don’t really like leather in car interiors because of its odour!
It had to happen.
Somebody found a Brougham I could love.
Unrequited love, though…for a hundred thou, I’m just gonna have to keep dreaming.
It’s a nice job, though. And the idea of a “small” V12…that trips my trigger…the only thing I like more than stark and simplified, is small, intricate and precision.
5.0L isn’t all that small for a V12. For years, Ferrari and Lamborghini V12s were less than 5.0L. Ferrari has gone as tiny as 1.5L V12s, but those were very long ago.
“And while I’d say these buttony climate and radio faceplates are looking a bit small and illogical nowadays…”
I’d say quite the contrary. Today’s sound systems, with their complicated touch screens, are often much more illogical, and not as easy – nor as safe – to use while driving. Buttons are easy to figure out by touch; not so for a screen.
I like it.
That is a sharp car. I stumbled upon these on the web elsewhere a few years ago and was amazed it was still in production. I wish someone made a 1/18-scale model of one of these with opening doors etc. I’d love a brochure too!
This makes a new LS look like a cheap roller skate.
I love the blue cloth interior – they should offer that in the high-series Prius instead of the “Softex” pleather.
I’m surprised they don’t substitute “piano black” or brushed aluminum for the orange woodgrain with the blue trim, though.
Do any of the privileged few who own these actually drive them or are they almost all chauffeur driven?
They are invariably chauffeur-driven. This is also why the doors do not have full auto-open/close (as do Japanese taxis) is that opening and closing the door is the job of the chauffeur. Opening and closing your own door is just not done.
I mentioned taxis: in Japan, the rear doors are operated by the driver via dash switches. When he pulls up, the passenger/curbside door opens automatically and is closed when the passengers have entered; the same happens after the driver has been paid at the end of the trip. Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi all make sedans specifically for taxi use, and all three roughly look like 3/4-scale versions of the Century.
My second trip to Japan, I really irritated a taxi driver by trying to shut the door. I couldn’t speak Japanese at the time, and my wife had to explain to me to stop touching the dang door.
The taxi/livery model most popular in Japan (and a few other Asian lands such as Hong Kong and Singapore) is the Toyota Crown Comfort – which is very different than the civilian Crown sedans. It’s characterized by a formal upright rooftop for rear passenger headroom. That would be the only resemblance to the Century – because the interior is pretty Spartan – usually vinyl seats and rubber floor mats for durability and ease of cleaning.
In Japan (and Hong Kong) they are equipped to run on LPG.
The interior door handles are the “pull up” ones like the ones you used to find in 60’s high end GM car. Its interesting that it still has the mirrors way out on the fenders like 70’s Japanese cars used to have.
Given the 25 year rule for non-US spec car importation, there will be some nice Centuries available for fairly reasonable money. Like this one for instance (no affiliation). Eligible in a couple years.
And anyone fortunate enough to live in Canada can pick up what looks like a decent 1998 Century with the V-12 for less than 5 grand US. Parts are probably tough to come by for anything exclusive to the Century, though.
“Parts are probably tough to come by for anything exclusive to the Century, though.” – Toyodiy.com, they’ve got all the part listings, and knowing Toyota they’d be happy to get anything you want, for a price….
The wheels remind me of the 1990’s DeVille alloy wheels.
I noticed that too; thought it was just me.
I found a video of one being sold in an “Honest Ed’s” style Japanese used car ad…..kinda funny.
I thought he’d stalled it – very quiet inside.
Took another look at the video – there’s a Cadillac stretch limo in the background behind the Century.
Dang, the engine is really smooth and quiet.
Couple things about this car from a long time expat here in Tokyo.
– 95% of Centuries are sold to the government and other large Toyota affiliated companies – you rarely see one privately owned.
– Company loyalty still stands in Japan – if you are an executive of a Toyota affiliated banking, financial, ship building, etc., company, then your office ride will be a Century. If a Mitsubishi affiliated company, then a Mitsubishi Proudia (a version of the Infiniti M56) and if a Nissan affiliate a Fuga (also an Infiniti M56).
– They are over $100K and are mostly hand-assembled, and Toyota no doubt loses money on each one – but given its status as the flagship of the company, they continue to build it.
– Most are scraped rather than being sold second-hand – Japanese taxes and registration fees make it prohibitively expensive to own a car this big with this size engine – let alone fitting it into a typical Japanese parking spot.
Those points make it all the more awesome that this car sits, all doors unlocked, a few feet away from an FJ Cruiser and a Camry on the floor of Mega Web. Can’t recommend it highly enough for a gearhead (did I mention free admission?).
The History Collection isn’t so permissive about visitors climbing inside and poking around, but there’s some amazing vintage JDM goodness to admire there, and from various manufacturers. Hoping to post some of those shots eventually.
I was wondering….
Do they charge for brochures from the vending machines or are they free?
No, they charge… a couple bucks per brochure and it increases with the profile of the car.
Still, some get sold second hand. A check of a Japanese car exporter site turned up 8 Centuries for sale (mostly from the 1990s, with a couple newer models).
Older JDM cars, which become uneconomical to own due to the increased car inspection (shaken) fees and the garage bills required to get the car in compliance, are often exported.
New Zealand has been a major market for old JDM cars, which is why one might see an old Century or two show up in Kiwi hands.
Isn’t this the car where the front passenger seat back has a fold-away opening so the VIP in back can stretch his legs all the way through?
Many high end Asian market cars have this feature. In Korea, preferred top line car is the Hyundai Equus, the latest model of which is it’s own design, instead of a recycled Mitsubishi Proudia. The SSang-Yong Chairman is also in the running, also a new design in it’s own right and not a stretched and widened 80s MB E-Class like the original.
Likely the only production car today with chrome moldings around every window.
Introduced in 1967, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Toyota’s founder, hence the name.
Awesome article. Love all the gadgets. Most of the RHD JDM cars that make it to Vancouver have cloth interior and no sunroofs, but gadgets and digital dashboards galore.
The Toyota Century chicken logo is the same bird made famous by the ’70s Firebird Trans Am, but in a 3/4 view and a different pose.
The interior looks a little dated (early 2000’s), but I am sure it has a devoted following in Japan… This is the equivalent to the “Man in the Grey Flannel Suit” type car of the 50’s….climbing the “keiretsu” (i.e. Japanese corporate) ladder!!
Oh how the mighty are fallen, since this first appeared Ive seen a V8 Cetury for sale online lowered with blingy wheels,it wasnt completely riced yet, so still retained some dignity. This could be why Toyota is still so fussy about who they sell them to new, no peasants permitted.
Got to ride in one of these on my first trip to Tokyo back in 2000. Every bit as quiet and comfortable as you’d imagine, and yes, I did make use of the punch-out seat back. Have a picture of me with it somewhere.
Later on, there was one of these parked right next to the office of the parking garage I used in NYC. It was the company car of Toyota’s US finance chief, who was based in the city, and was probably over on an “experimental” permit. Odd thing to run into every day.
One’s turned up in my town and a friend has spotted where it’s parked. Outside and on the pavement by the road. Hope to get a closer look sometime soon.
Perfect match between neighbourhood and car!