The Toyota Century is a rare beast indeed. A car so exclusive that it was aimed solely at emperors and royalty, with leaders and the elite able to purchase one by invitation only.
Only 200 have left Japan since 1967, of which just five are in the UK. With 94 Ferrari F40s in the UK, this makes the Toyota 1,880% rarer than the Italian supercar.
The Century was launched in 1967 and named to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sakichi Toyoda, the founding father of the company. Designed to be sold only to those for whom being seen in a foreign car would be inappropriate, the Century was designed to appeal only to the upper echelons of Japanese society and, as a result, it was designed with a rare singleness of purpose.
To ensure the car was smooth and silent, a V8 engine was chosen, initially 3000cc, which was enlarged to 4000cc in 1982. The 4-litre model only had a power output of 190bhp but the point of this powerplant was not to achieve outright speed, rather silence and smoothness, both of which it provided in an unhurried fashion. To soak up any excess noise in the cabin, a deep-pile velour was used in place of leather. Not only does the velour deaden sound, it keeps a more even temperature and also reduces stickiness in the humid Japanese summers.
Discretion was key for passengers, and while darkened windows are seen as vulgar in polite Japanese society, delicate lace curtains, operated electrically, were not, and they were the perfect shield against prying eyes. Behind these curtains, awaited a realm of luxury in truly Japanese style.
Rear-seat passengers had control of their own seats, which not only reclined, but massaged tired backs. A separate climate control system (first introduced in the late 1970s) was offered for front and rear passengers and, to ensure an even spread of air, the vents for the climate control oscillated when in use. Executives on the go were able to enjoy meetings on the move and, with a tape recorder and microphone built into the rear armrest, the recorded meeting could be handed over to a waiting typist at the destination. If tired, a hatch could be opened in the front passenger seat that formed a single bed for the rear occupant in which to relax, while the driver whisked them onwards.
The Century received an update in 1997, and although the styling and levels of gadgetry remained largely the same, a 5-litre V12 replaced the aged V8. With this, even more refinement was added, along with some overdue power which climbed to around 270bhp. Doors now closed themselves electrically, and leather became a more standard fitment, yet overall, the experience remained the same. Unhurried, unobtrusive and unobtainable.
That said, with a lovely example of a 1993 Century just having sold at auction for under £4000, the Century is now well within reach of the common man in the UK, and should one ever come up for sale, it represents one of the rarest modern classics that could be owned in the UK… but only really for those “who know.”
Do you own one of the five or have you seen one at a show? Let us know your thoughts on these mythical beasts in the comments below.