The code names HT51S, E-28, W-124, CDW27 and SD-1 surely no longer remain obscure enough to demonstrate proof of your car design knowledge. Add, please, G20, G30 G40, G50 to the list. Toyota’s third Century, G60, arrives soon.
Elsewhere here I have discussed the possibility of technical updates of classic designs where the styling remains much the same even as the engineering gets revised on an evolutionary basis. The Porsche 911, the New Beetle and New Mini approximate to this ideal. Cars like the LR Defender didn’t change enough to count and nor did the long-lived original Mini or Renault 4. For an exemplar of gradual, engineering-led evolution, we must turn to the Toyota Century, now only getting to its third incarnation since 1967.
A full thirty years passed before Toyota felt it had to replace the car. Remember the Mercedes W-114 appeared in 1968 and four generations of that have appeared in the same time frame: W-123, W-126 and W-210). The second generation Century of 1997 looked like this (below), very slightly hinting at the 1979 S-Class’s proportions (only).
It has very much the same styling theme as the Mk1 car, but is longer, smoother and visually lower. The A-pillar to wing is like a text-book model.
Of the three generations perhaps the second one seems most aligned to the vehicles of the time in which it appeared (relatively speaking). The rear aspect might suggest the SZ-series Rolls-Royces dating from 1980. The front takes the original themes from 1967 and smooths them off. If you think the car resembles some other American cars of the 1980s, it turns out to be a challenge to find one exactly matching the Century.
What it resembles is one’s idea of a 1980s American car with a 90s veneer but which has been detailed by Lexus. No such thing exists. The Century Mk2 constitutes the epitome of its own Platonic manifestation. Those epitomes of their own Platonic manifestations turn out to be hard to follow up.
Thus the new car, with its plain flanks and enlarged passenger compartment, looks now a little like a R-R Phantom.
It turns out that the Phantom has the more dynamic form of the pair (this is relative, as I say) with its radically falling roofline, aggressively angled C-pillar and huge wheels. Clearly the Anglo-German car is the one which asks more loudly to be taken out on a Sunday morning for a thrashing on a Berkshire back lane.
A comparison of the new and previous Century reveals more:
The new car is not shorter but it is taller making it look as if the 1997 car is the sleeker of the two (and it is). The frontal aspect is a development of the Mk 1 with another touch of Phantom around the lamps.
If we ease ourselves gracefully into the interior, we find in the 2018 car a place where you’d think American car design had evolved very slowly and steadily from some time around 1985 rather than followed its actual path towards international homogeneity. We realise here (again) that proper execution constitutes a large element of aesthetic satisfaction.
The dashboard delightfully avoids all the tropes of modern luxury interiors and only Rolls-Royce comes close in its strident conservatism. The Toyota though uses more plastic and resembles what I call high quality public transport. Rude though criticism is, the 2018 car uses a little too much fine wood in comparison with the maximum Toyota-Camry feel of the 1997 car.
The 1997 car clearly matches high quality with austerity to symbolise the careful use of cash: hard-wearing things cost less in the long run. In the G60 both the use of the nobler materials and the more stately proportions suggest, albeit subtly, that the ruling classes of Japan possess a shade more willingness to show off now than in ’97. They have been corrupted by the sybaritic look and finish of the Phantom, no doubt.
Commentators have been puzzled by the wool fabric in the Toyota but not many realise that high-quality textiles far surpass hide in comfort and warmth. For a car like this, overt robustness takes second place to luxury. No fear: the wool won’t wear out as the Martindale value is very high (to avoid any potential embarrassment should someone ever ask).
The new iteration of Century still remains unique among luxury cars in its combination of practicality and refinement. If you could imagine this principle applied to the Volvo 240 or W-123 you could imagine a car one could sell indefinitely. Or if Bristol had managed to update their engineering and build it to the standard of the Century they’d still be in business I expect.
I understand Japan has stringent vehicle inspections: do these cars also get scrapped after 5 years like Accords and Starlets?
Two more questions: why is this car not sold in Europe? And isn’t it interesting that it is not a Lexus? A third point is one for Ford and GM to think about: they don’t make a series production car suited to presidential use or indeed a simgle car half as fine as this. Neither do the French. Germany’s top-cats seem disposable in comparison. Even if Toyota lose money on every Century they sell, the value to the credibility of the marque is incalculable. Ford and GM might want to up their game. PSA should do so too. A DS5 is not good enough for Le President.