Rare classic: 1997 Toyota Century – ‘the Japanese Rolls-Royce’

Rare classic: 1997 Toyota Century – ‘the Japanese Rolls-Royce’
Rare classic: 1997 Toyota Century – ‘the Japanese Rolls-Royce’

Back in the 1960s, Toyota released its answer to the British Rolls-Royce. The Century was a big beast, and sold – although not in the UK – for a steady 30 years without major restructuring. Then, in 1997, after three decades, the factory released a new Century. And this is one of the first of those second-generation cars, built in 1997. What can time travel tell us?

It’s clear that Toyota didn’t just build a big car, bung in some leather and call it a Roller-beater. For starters, this is the only front-engined, rear-wheel driven V12 to come out of Japan to this day. The engine was built especially for the car and is a triumph of thoughtful engineering – if there was a problem it was designed to run on six cylinders, for example.

And look at the spec sheet, bearing in mind this was 20 years ago: air suspension, six airbags, massage seating and electrically operated door handles are just some of the items on the long list.

Above all, though, this is a Toyota. That means not only is it made with magnificent attention to detail, but it’s also built to be highly effective without drawing untoward attention to itself. This is quite a sleeper, and even if it gets a second glance most people won’t know what they’re looking at.

That slightly reserved presence might appeal to some sections of the population who would like a Rolls-Royce but don’t want the attention or the connotations that might go with it.


Engine: 4,996cc, V12
Transmission: 4-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 276@5,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 355@4,000rpm
CO2: N/A
First registered: 1997
Mileage: 56,000 miles
Price new: 9,250,000 yen
Price now: £12,995

Inside, you’ll be sitting very comfortably in spacious serenity. The 5.0-litre V12 is almost soundless when cruising, reminding one that this car was mostly used to swish diplomats about the place. The cabin has sets of floor and ceiling lights which can be set to a colour of choice. The car has also been upgraded with top-line audio, parking sensors and rear camera.

This is certainly a luxury ride, and has the benefit of being a rare one – there really can’t be many Century models in the UK, although being Japanese at least they’ll be right-hand drive.

It should also be Toyota-reliable and you’d really have to hope so. Trying to source parts for a rare V12 that was never officially imported here could be just a bit too exciting. But for someone brave, this particular car was for sale for £11,500 (minus the numberplate). Is that good value? The Century is beyond such calculations. If you want it, that’s what it costs, but it must be said it doesn’t sound overpriced – a 1989 Silver Spirit II is £15,000 by comparison.

For that you’d get a unique car that exemplifies the finest of Japanese engineering and attention to detail. Look at a modern Lexus LS and then look at the Toyota Century – which makes the LS look like a Nissan Micra. This is quiet class.

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