06 January 2015

WHEEL OF FAME: Lotus Carlton

A controversial saloon that could even show up a few supercars.

THE 1980s was an era when greed was good. At that time, many car manufacturers had tuned up and made performance versions of their bread and butter motors. The Volkswagen Golf GTi and Ford Sierra RS Cosworth were prime examples.

By the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s, Vauxhall had made a performance version of their car - which arguably has to be the most extreme example. That car of course was the legendary Lotus Carlton - or the Lotus Omega to our friends outside the UK.

Lotus was acquired by Vauxhall’s parent company General Motors back in 1986. GM gave them a Vauxhall Carlton to play with. As they wanted to see what the boys from East Anglia were capable of getting out of their bread and butter saloon, and show what they were made of.

The 3.0 straight-six engine was bored out to 3.6.

Lotus were let loose by GM and simply went crazy with their project on the Carlton. The car they were given was the top of the range 3000 GSi model. The 3.0 litre 24 valve, straight-six engine was bored out to 3.6 litres. Furthermore, Lotus also added two turbo chargers.

What resulted was a very powerful car that had lots of grunt. The Lotus Carlton’s twin turbo 3.6 litre straight six produced 377bhp with 419 lb ft of torque. The car was fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox sourced from the Corvette ZR1 and a limited slip differential. Lotus also modified the suspension, steering and chassis setup.

On the exterior: flared wheel arches, deep bodykit, air vents, neat rear spoiler, wider track, distinctive five spoke alloys with fat tyres, and the Lotus badges on the wings. All Lotus Carltons had rather sumptuous black leather interiors. All were made and only available in one colour too. All of which were black with a subtle gradient of emerald green.

Cosmetic tweaks were tastefully done that completed the transformation. It made the Lotus Carlton look menacing, purposeful, but also making it discreet to some extent. It had a bad ass attitude. It looked and meant business.

From how powerful this Carlton was, it won't come to a surprise that it is a quick car. It was outrageously quick! It can get to 60mph from stand still in a more than respectable 4.9 seconds, and it could achieve a top speed of 177mph. Still to this day, it's a very fast car!

All Lotus Carltons came with business-like interiors.

Launched in 1990, the Lotus Carlton was greeted with anticipation. Eagerly awaited by the motoring press and the general public alike. Some road resters at the time were also anxious on trying out the high performance Carlton, because they knew too well how quick and powerful the car is.

"This a four door family saloon that goes over 175mph. Can you believe that?" said by Comedian, Jasper Carrott about the Lotus Carlton. "A family saloon! Who's the family? Mr and Mrs Fattipaldis?"

Whilst the Lotus Carlton impressed and captivated many with its performance and top speed. It caused an uproar with Road safety campaigners. Who blasted Vauxhall for being 'irresponsible' on creating such a car, that could go 100mph over the national speed limit.

Police forces in the UK hated it because the Carlton could outrun pretty much any other car. It has been known that criminal gangs had one and used it as a getaway vehicle. Cynics suggested they were upset because Vauxhall supplied them with top of the range 3.0 litre 24-Valve Senators. They could only do 150mph flat out, so it's easy to see why.

Around that time, BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar all agreed to have their super saloons limited to a top speed of 155mph. The fact that Vauxhall and Opel's saloon was capable of doing another 20mph caused more of a stir. It was as fast as a Porsche 911 Turbo and the Ferrari Testarossa. For some time, the Lotus Carlton held the record in being the world's fastest four door saloon.

GM's super saloon was only intended to be a low volume production car. Originally, they planned on making and selling 1,100 Lotus Carltons/Omegas. With each car was sold for £48,000. That might sound a lot of money for a Vauxhall, but put into consideration the performance you got for your pound. Nothing came close. Then you had a car that had four doors, a decent sized boot and could seat five with space and comfort. The Lotus Carlton really was something of a bargain.

"This a four door family saloon that goes over 175mph. A family saloon! Who's the family? Mr and Mrs Fattipaldis?" - Jasper Carrott

Into the 1990s, Britain was into a recession, and the fact that the car became too high profile. Insurance premiums went through the roof at that time as well for most folk who wanted a performance car, nevermind a Hot Hatch. So that would have frightened potential buyers away from the Lotus Carlton. As a result, production was halted earlier than planned by the end of 1992. GM had only made and sold 950 examples - with 320 Carltons and 630 Omegas.

Even though the Lotus Carlton was a controversial car. It's also hard to believe that it's 25 years ago when this car first came onto the roads and tore up the tarmac. A quarter of a century later, it's a car that still commands and deserves respect. Today, the Lotus Carlton is a rare and very sought after classic.

Sure there's been plenty of super saloons that followed on in later years. The BMW M5, Maserati Quattroporte, Bentley Arnage, and even Vauxhall's own VXR8. But none has caused such an uproar and such an impact quite like the Lotus Carlton. Which is why it goes down in history as one of the greatest super saloons. 

Happy 25th Birthday to the Lotus Carlton!

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