Andy’s first car was a Suzuki Swift “Xtreme”. It was silver with yellow stickers down the side proclaiming the car’s “Xtreme”ness. It was a good little car, but even before he got it home from the dealer he was thinking about what his next car would be. Fast-forward five-odd years and Andy couldn’t be driving a more different car! Ironically, it came from the same car dealership but that is where the similarities end.
Andy’s Century is a 1987 model, which makes it a first-generation model – not that that actually means anything as this model remained in production from 1967 to 1997 virtually unchanged. The engines did change though, and this particular car benefits from the later V5 VG40 engine, a 4.0 litre V8. As Andy fires up the V8 I was expecting a burbled growl but no, this car is not that obnoxious – it breathes a conservative, distant grumble before settling to the most tasteful, quiet idle. This is the ultimate Japanese “VIP” car.
“VIP” is a term coined in Japan to describe very upmarket JDM luxury cars, usually modified. We’re talking Toyota Century but also Lexus GS430, Nissan President, Infiniti Q45 etc. These cars are traditionally linked to the Yakuza, however in reality Yakuza prefer Mercedes-Benz. VIP tends to mean dark tint, huge wheels, slammed to the ground with subtle but expensive body modifications. Junction Produce is the epitomy of VIP style – to see more of this kind of stuff check out the links at the bottom of this post.
Back to the Century though. When it came out in 1967 it only really had one direct competitor – the Nissan President. The Century was based on the Crown, and the President based on the Cedric. Both have always chiefly been used as chauffeur cars for government and corporate officials, however the Royal Family’s choice of transport has always been a special limousine version of the Nissan President – up until recently that is! Now the Emperor chooses a special Toyota Century Royale.
It took 30 years for the Century to undergo a redesign, which is a testament to the brilliance of the original. Somewhat respectfully, when the new model did come out in 1997 it was almost identical to the untrained eye to the previous model. Only slightly modernised, the big changes were under the skin. Much more sophisticated, it now features a 5.0 litre V12 engine.
Andy is keen to point out the mentalist features of his car, and rightly so! It’s not every day you see a car with eight electric windows, massaging & heated seats throughout, stereo remote control for the rear and electronically adjustable suspension… let alone from 1987. Let me repeat that. 1987. The drive is incredibly smooth and quiet – there is no mistaking this car is a big bertha (almost 2 tonne) but with good torque it picks up nicely and does not need to be strained. Thankfully, the steering is not too light and it not nearly as wallowy as you might expect. Not that the diplomat in the back would ever care, but it’s nice to see Toyota has put a lot of thought into this car for the chauffeur’s sake. Just seeing this car feels like an event, but being inside you feel truly privileged. Looking out over reflections of trees wash over the long bonnet – chrome fender mirrors proudly jutting out from the sides like distant beacons – there is no mistaking this car is something special.
From the outside, this thing is imposing. It attracts looks from all walks of life from children shouting “limo!” to valets who quite literally surrounded the car and wanted to check out every inch of it. Meanwhile, a “real” limousine waited behind us, the passenger opening her own door to get out.
The Century was never marketed in the same pretentious way as the S-Class or Rolls Royce Phantom, for example. It is not a statement of wealth or excess, but rather a symbol of persistent work. The Century is a car that honours tradition and one that does everything with refinement and understated class. It is a gracious reminder of Japan’s continuing prosperity.