Question: What car is always big, usually black, and almost never seen outside of its nation of origin? If you don’t have answer, it’s because you don’t know much about the Toyota Century, a vehicle as culturally engrained in Japan as Chevrolet Corvette is in the U.S.
Dubbed Century in honor of Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda, who would have turned 100 in 1967, the year the car was introduced, the big sedan was designed from its inception to be a low-volume brand flagship.
The first generation Century came only with V8 power, with displacements ranging from 3.0- to 4.0 liters over the model’s 21-year lifespan. Interestingly, manual 3- and 4-speed transmissions were available for a brief period.
The current generation Century was introduced in 1997 and is powered exclusively by a 5.0-liter V12 engine—the only V12 engine produced by a Japanese car manufacturer. A 4-speed automatic transmission was the only shifter available through 2004, when a 6-speed automatic became standard.
Though similar in size, the Century is mechanically unrelated to the Lexus LS sedan, a vehicle commonly seen in the U.S.
Over the car’s nearly 50-year run, fewer than 50,000 Centurys have been built, with recent annual sales typically coming in around 150 units. While the Century isn’t exported outside of Japan, they can occasionally be seen in larger cities including New York, where they’ve been shipped for use by Japanese consulate staff.
In 2006, the Japanese Imperial Household requested and received four long-wheelbase Century Royal limousines, for a reported $500,000 each. The massive limited-edition Centurys were for the use of Emperor Akihito and his family and staff.
It’s worth noting that through 2010, Nissan built the President, a sedan of a pedigree similar to the Century. The last of the Presidents rode on an extended-wheelbase architecture that had once formed the underpinnings of the first Infiniti Q45.
Base Price: $125,000 (est)
Engine: 315-horsepower (est) 5.0-liter V12
Wheelbase: 119 inches
Length: 207 inches
Curb Weight: 4390 pounds