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The Toyota Century is a large four-door limousine produced mainly for the Japanese market, serving as Toyota's flagship car. Production of the Century began in 1967 and the model received only minor changes until a redesign in 1997. The Century derived its name from the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries. The Century was available with only a V8 engine, the third Japanese built sedan post-war, at its introduction in 1967 until a major redesign in 1997, and is now only available with a Japanese built V12, an engine unique to the Century. Although the Century is a premium, full size luxury sedan, it is not available at Japanese Lexus dealerships; it can only be purchased at Toyota Store locations.
The exterior styling of the Century has, with some modifications, remained unchanged since its introduction, primarily due to its perceived social status as the "preferred vehicle denoting conservative success". Its appearance is iconic in Asian countries, usually painted black. The closest Japanese competitor is the Nissan President, with a similar reputation, although during the 1960s and '70s, the high market positioning was also shared with the Mitsubishi Debonair.
First generation (1967–1997)
The original Century was based on the 1964 Crown Eight, which featured the 2.6 L V8 Toyota 3V engine, and appeared almost two years after the October 1965 introduction of the Nissan President with a 4.0 L V8. The 1967 Century was equipped with an upgraded version of the Crown Eight engine, the 3.0 L 3V. 1973 saw the introduction of the 3.4 L 4V-U, and the engine was once again changed to the 4.0 L 5V-EU in 1982, with the installation of fuel injection. Note that the 3V, 4V-U, and 5V-EU do not refer to the number of valves in the engine but simply denote model names in the Toyota V engine range.
The first generation Century remained largely untouched during its impressively long 30-year production run, apart from minor cosmetic changes and engine upgrades. The Century was produced in limited numbers and was built in a "nearly hand-made" fashion. It is often used by the imperial family, the Prime Minister of Japan, senior government leaders, and high level executive businessmen. The Century is comparable in purpose to the Austin Princess/Daimler DS420, ZIS/ZIL, Chinese Red Flag, and Rolls-Royce limousines. The Toyota Century is equipped with the wing-mirrors actually mounted on the wings (fenders), characteristic of grand, older cars.
During Japan's Bubble Economy, sales of the Century doubled (from 1,027 in 1985 to 2,117 in 1989). But even the Century wasn't enough for these heady days of luxury, and in October 1989 the Century Limousine appeared. This was 650 mm (26 in) longer for an overall length of 5,770 mm (227.2 in), on a 3,510 mm (138.2 in) wheelbase. The Limousine also received a standard vinyl roof and an opera window in the centre pillar, where the stretch was placed. It also uses 150 mm wider rear doors, for a more balanced design and ease of entry. An annual production of 60 was planned. As of September 1990 there was also an L-type stretched version of the Century — length is 5,270 mm (207.5 in) with a wheelbase of 3,010 mm (118.5 in); this model uses the same larger rear doors as were fitted to the Century Limousine. A Toyota Century with a GT45 gas turbine and electric motor was shown as the Century gas turbine hybrid concept vehicle at the 1975 Tokyo Motor Show.
First generation changes
1973: Electromagnetic locks were changed, the tail lights were changed as well as the inclusion of front disc brakes.
1975: Standard manual transmission no longer offered.
1987: On D-type, Transmission shifter moved from the column to the floor. Front bucket seats instead of bench seats.
VG20: 3.0 L 3V V8, 1967–1973
VG21: 3.4 L 4V-U V8, 1973
VG30: 3.4 L 4V-U V8, 1973–1977
VG40: 4.0 L 5V-EU V8, 1982–1997
VG45: 4.0 L 5V-EU V8 (L-type) 1990-1997
The Century received a complete redesign in 1997, although the new model was visually very similar to the old. This current model is powered by a 280 PS (206 kW; 276 hp) 5.0 L 1GZ-FE V12, initially with a 5-speed automatic, and then a 6-speed "intelligent" transmission. It also features air suspension. The Century remains the first and only Japanese front-engine, rear-wheel drive production car equipped with a V12.
The Century was Toyota's most luxurious model at its inception in 1967, and maintained this status throughout the 20th century. Today, it is positioned above the Lexus line-up, and remains the most luxurious and prestigious model to wear the Toyota badge. The Century is distinguished by different paint options than the rest of the Toyota line-up. For model year 2006, G-BOOK was added to the list of standard features. The Century shares the role of flagship with the Toyota Crown Majesta with almost identical dimensions to the Century but with a more modern approach and appearance that appeals to younger buyers.
Like other cars in the top of the luxury class, the Century is designed with the rear passengers in mind. Hence, the rear seats recline and the front passenger seat has a fold-down center section so that a passenger in the back may stretch his feet forward. The rear seats are equipped with a massage system. 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.
The vehicles' interiors are usually ordered in wool cloth, rather than the leather seen in many luxury cars; leather is not as quiet as cloth when sat upon. The vehicle can be ordered in any color the purchaser desires, however, they are usually medium brown, burgundy or royal blue inside, with black exterior paint. White lace curtains are usually installed in the rear window, instead of tinted windows, which are perceived to attract unwarranted attention. The passengers usually like to be seen in a Century, despite Asian tendencies for modesty. The Century is priced at ¥11,445,000 (approximately US$100,000 as of 2009). In comparison, the base price for the full-size luxury 2008 Lexus LS 460 is approximately ¥10,000,000 (US$87,000),  with the LS 600h L at ¥15,000,000 (US$125,800).
Although the Century is not exported outside Japan in large numbers, it is used frequently by officials stationed in overseas Japanese offices and embassies.
In contrast to other luxurious cars (such as the Maybach or Rolls-Royce), the Century has not been positioned and marketed as a sign of wealth or excess. Marketing literature states roughly that, "the Century is acquired through persistent work, the kind that is done in a plain but formal suit."
Toyota Century Royal
The Toyota Century Royal is the official state car currently used by the Emperor of Japan. It is a specially prepared Toyota Century, a one-off US$500,000 (¥52,500,000) custom car. The car was produced at the request of the Japanese Imperial Household Agency, to be used by senior members of the Imperial House of Japan. This special version has wool cloth upholstery, internal granite entry steps and Japanese rice paper headlining for the passenger compartment, as well as undisclosed security measures. The front passenger compartment is upholstered in leather.
Five vehicles were originally ordered, but due to the individual cost for each, only four were built. The suspension consists of double wishbones for both the front and rear wheels, supplemented by air bag support springs. The engine used is shared from the second generation Toyota Century 5.0 L-V12 with horsepower limited to 280 PS (206 kW; 276 bhp). This vehicle replaced the fleet of two 40 year old Nissan Prince Royal limousines that were beginning to show their age, when one broke down while in service. After the Prince Royals were no longer deemed appropriate by the Imperial Household Agency, the Emperor and Empress have been seen riding in an extended length conventional Century until the Century Royals were ready for service. The Century Royal is exclusive to the Imperial Household and was presented for service July 7, 2006. When the Emperor is riding inside, the Imperial Standard, known as the Imperial Seal of Japan is displayed at both the front and rear of the car in place of a license plate, and on the exterior of both rear passenger doors, displaying a 16 petal chrysanthemum, in golden colour, in reference to the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan.
The limousine stretches around 20 feet in length and 6.5 feet across, and is the same length as a Maybach 62 and both longer and heavier than a 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom. It is exempt from Japanese regulations concerning exterior dimensions and engine displacement. The emperor was previously driven in a Nissan Prince Royal (1967–2008), Cadillac Series 75 (1951–1970), Mercedes-Benz 770 W07 Series (1932–1968), Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (1921–1936), Daimler (1913–1927).
The Prime Minister of Japan travels in a conventional Toyota Century or Lexus LS 600hL, escorted by a police motorcade which comprises numerous Toyota Celsiors.