I test drove some 90s JDM cars for nostalgia and now I really want a Century V12 (maybe you should too).

ssun30

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Ever since I moved to US I've been looking to buy a 90s JDM car. Ever since my first visit to Japan in 1999, I've always wanted to own the best cars of the Bubble and post-Bubble era from Japan because back then they were just so much ahead of their times. Just imagine the shock to see someone talk to a magical TV, and the TV announcer tells them which way to go and shows the directions on that TV. That's what voice GPS navigation looked like to a Chinese who could barely afford a color TV and cassette player. There aren't many good JDM importers in the Northeast area and I got the best one near me in NH. Over two months I was able to get my hands on three of my favourite cars of that era: the R32 Skyline GT-R, the Mark II Tourer V JZX90 and the Century V12.

Let me start with what most of you might be interested in: the GT-R. In fact the first car I ever drove was a R32 Skyline sedan with the base RB20E engine. This was before China banned RHD "foreign garbage" cars. So for me it's both familiar and exotic at the same time. We car lovers all have a tendency to view those legacy performance cars with rose-tinted glass, thinking they are driving machines with monstrous performance. The R32 GT-R is not. When we say some car is "raw" today (like the IS500), we underestimate what a true "raw" car is.

The steering is very heavy, because almost the entire engine (almost 270kg/600lbs too) hangs in front of the front axle (later generations solved this issue with much better weight balance). 90s brakes without ABS have very little stopping power, so I think driving it in rain and winter is out of the question. The clutch is very heavy and gear engagement requires a lot of skill to do properly. Driving it smoothly is almost impossible. And the engine, that legendary RB26DETT with 4-digit horsepower potential: it is very laggy, has no torque, and requires constant attention to not drop out of the power band. It's the exact opposite of a modern turbocharged engine with easily accessible torque like B58. And the sound? There isn't any. Remember Japan has one of the most stringent noise regulations so all JDM cars have very muted exhaust. And it has two large turbos harvesting all the exhaust gas to drive the compressor. Many of us forget turbocharged engines are supposed to be quiet, and almost all modern performance cars require fake engine noise generators to make mildly pleasing sounds. Without those they all sound like vacuum cleaner.

In conclusion: if you want to buy a 90s GT-R expecting it to be a good performance car, you would be very disappointed. In fact, you would be better off with a V6 Camry: it has more responsive steering, much stronger braking, and much better overtaking power. Modern technology is so good that even common cars perform much better in the hands of common driver. You have to be very skilled to make an old performance car work and not hurt yourself.

That being said. The R32 is the best looking GT-R among all generations. It feels lean and athletic and has that brutally simple late-80s aesthetic.
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The tachometer goes to 10k rpm with red line at 7500. You really want to keep it above 5000rpm to get any meaningful power. It's not like the 2JZ with strong mid-range torque.
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Let's not compare the engine to a B58 (or even the 2JZ, 2JZ rules!). You'd be lucky to outrun someone with a B48 or 2GR.
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ssun30

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And onto the Mark II. This is my favourite car of that time. One thing that feels immediately obvious is Toyota reliability. This JZX90 is same model year and has more mileage than the GT-R and the owner probably abused it much more (heavily modified vs. mostly stock). But almost everything on it works: AC blows cold air immediately after start up, all electric parts run flawlessly, interior is as good as new. The only flaw is the broken hood strut. And this is what you take for granted on a 25-year-old Toyota. By comparison the GT-R has a broken AC, broken hazard lights, trim pieces falling off, no seat adjustment.

Driving impression is very poor as this is heavily modified. I couldn't judge the 1JZ-GTE as a result. If this was stock I would just pay cash and drive it away the same day. Unfortunately, stock JZXs are even harder to find than stock GT-Rs.

JZX90 Mark II is the best looking of all Mark II family. It looks like a XV20 ES300/Windom and nobody can tell you have 300+hp. The Chaser is too aggressive, while the Cresta looks too similar to the Crown "old man car". The X90 generation as a whole is the best looking, but I do prefer the X100/X110 series with VVT-i update to get better fuel economy and slightly more power.
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Every button and switch in the interior works, typical Toyota.
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ssun30

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But the car that left me wanting it the most is the V12 Century. This is the first Japanese car over JPY 10 Million when it launched in 1997. I think we are all familiar with the extreme craftsmanship that goes into the Century. But you really have to get into one to feel it. When people say it's a Japanese Rolls-Royce they mean it. It's not Mercedes S-Class or Lexus LS level of craftsmanship, it's Rolls-Royce level period.

The experience starts immediately after you pull on the door handle. This early model does not have soft open/close doors (it was introduced in the 2007 facelift), but it's carefully engineered so that you don't feel the mechanism of the door latch: it opens like a door with electronic latch that I first thought the latch was broken. The door closes with an extremely satisfying sound. It feels more solid and insulated than most modern flagship luxury cars (except maybe the 5LS and W233 S-Class).

After you get into the driver's seat you are greeted with a bunch of buttons with unreadable characters on them: unlike other Toyotas with bin parts shared with international models, the buttons and switches on the Century are bespoke with Japanese labelling. Luckily I read Japanese so it's not a problem for me. There are so many buttons to give the driver/chauffeur full control over all functions of the car. It's important for him/her to make sure the seats are in the best position, AC to the best temperature, audio to the best volume for the VIP in the back.

This car is packed with so many features that are entirely new in 1997: touchscreen GPS navigation with voice command, mobile TV and telephone, CD-changer, 2-zone auto climate control with air purifier, active suspension with adjustable ride height, massage seats (take note Lexus LX). The rear seats are where you should be in, in particular the left-rear seat. It has I can't count how many ways of adjustment, massage, seat heating, duplicated control for AC and audio AND navigation system, so the boss can change his destination without interfering with the chauffeur's driving. The seats have the best padding and support on any car I've been in. But this particular sample has non-ventillated leather surface so you will be sweating a lot on a hot day. But true Century owners get the wool seats instead.

The 1GZ-FE V12 engine is the smoothest and quietest ICE I've ever experienced. The only time you will ever know it's running is at start-up. While it only has ~310-320PS of (true) power, almost 90% of the torque is available from 1200rpm. The acceleration is more like a BEV than an ICEV: the torque curve is completely flat and only falls off after 4000rpm, but probably at that point the chauffeur is more concerned about his job rather than top-end power. Steering is effortless and brakes are not sharp but sufficient. The overall ride quality is unmatched for its time and compares favorably to the best modern luxury flagships. The Lexus LS400 feels like a Camry after riding in this car for 5 minutes.

The bad part: even in a Toyota, high tech tends to fail after 25 years. Unlike today's very conservative Century, the 1997 Century had a lot of unproven technology. The height-adjustable suspension doesn't work. The rear audio control screen doesn't work. Of course, the GPS navigation doesn't have map data for USA. And the speakers are beginning to show their age. It still surprises me how many of the powered parts work considering the huge amount of buttons and switches in this car.

It doesn't look large from the outside. But it's very well packaged, being a traditional 3-box sedan.
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Digital LCD instrument cluster is hardly new for Toyota at this point. They've been using it since 1982. But in the 2000s they reverted back to analog gauges to save cost.
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Best luxury car powertrain by Toyota ever. If you aren't satisfied with its power you can always add two turbos and get close to 1000PS. The car is engineered to handle that.
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ssun30

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I would genuinely buy a century. The LS needs to just be the century.
My biggest complaint about the Century is that I have to hire a chauffeur to enjoy it. While it's surprisingly cheap for how much car you get, the true cost is the chauffeur's salary. The LS is for driving it yourself. Toyota made this very clear.

BTW at US$18k you only pay $1500 per cylinder. It's probably the best deal you can get. There aren't many good condition 4-cylinder cars under $6k. Of course you can always buy a cheap Aston Martin V12 or Maserati V8 but good luck driving them home from the dealeršŸ˜‚ Nowadays you have to pay almost $20k per cylinder in a Mercedes.
 

CRSKTN

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My biggest complaint about the Century is that I have to hire a chauffeur to enjoy it. While it's surprisingly cheap for how much car you get, the true cost is the chauffeur's salary. The LS is for driving it yourself. Toyota made this very clear.

BTW at US$18k you only pay $1500 per cylinder. It's probably the best deal you can get. There aren't many good condition 4-cylinder cars under $6k. Of course you can always buy a cheap Aston Martin V12 or Maserati V8 but good luck driving them home from the dealeršŸ˜‚ Nowadays you have to pay almost $20k per cylinder in a Mercedes.
How big is the V12?

Could you engine swap it into an LC500 you think?
 

ssun30

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How big is the V12?

Could you engine swap it into an LC500 you think?
It is very long (~5 cm longer than 2JZ). But the LC500's engine bay is definitely long enough. The main advantage of V12 is width (because it's 60-degrees instead of 90-degrees), so you don't have to worry about interference with suspension/steering. You can see how narrow it is in the engine bay.

If you only drive the LC very gently as a cruiser you may not even notice the difference in power. Despite having almost 150PS less the 1GZ has more usable torque than the 2UR below 3800rpm. It doesn't need to be revved at all.
 
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ssun30

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One more comment on the RB26: because the turbos have so much resistance, the engine revs very poorly. Even in neutral it takes almost 2s to rev from idle to 7500rpm. It's much much worse in gear, you have to step on the throttle really hard to rev match.

By comparison the 1LR revs from idle to 9500rpm in 0.6s, 2UR revs from idle to 7300rpm in 0.9s, B58 revs from idle to 6500rpm in ~1s.
 

CRSKTN

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It is very long (~5 cm longer than 2JZ). But the LC500's engine bay is definitely long enough. The main advantage of V12 is width (because it's 60-degrees instead of 90-degrees), so you don't have to worry about interference with suspension/steering. You can see how narrow it is in the engine bay.

If you only drive the LC very gently as a cruiser you may not even notice the difference in power. Despite having almost 150PS less the 1GZ has more usable torque than the 2UR below 3800rpm. It doesn't need to be revved at all.

From what I can tell there are a few options for turbocharging and modernizing it.

Donā€™t need to push it to the limit like Smoky Nagata did but I think a V12 LC would be quite a unique thing.

Do you think the Aisin WR10L65 can handle a decent amount of power beyond what the v8 produces?
 

ssun30

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From what I can tell there are a few options for turbocharging and modernizing it.

Donā€™t need to push it to the limit like Smoky Nagata did but I think a V12 LC would be quite a unique thing.

Do you think the Aisin WR10L65 can handle a decent amount of power beyond what the v8 produces?
It is rated at 608 N.m I think. ATs could usually handle 40% more than rated torque, so you can probably get 850N.m max on that transmission if you never track it.