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Wednesday 23rd January 2008

PH Heroes: Lotus Carlton

Mercedes, BMW and Audi may be the kings of the super saloon these days, but in the nineties a Vauxhall ruled the autobahn


The police wanted to ban it, road safety campaigners despised it, and it had Daily Mail readers spluttering into their Earl Grey. Seriously, what is there not to like about the Lotus Carlton? A 377bhp sledgehammer created by a company that made its name building light cars with modest power, wrapped in the body of a car more commonly seen at taxi ranks not race tracks, and with a top speed to match a Ferrari Testarossa.


These days we may be used to the likes of Mercedes and BMW rolling out 500bhp+ uber-saloons, but in 1990 a Vauxhall Carlton that could reach 179mph created a national scandal.The Association of Chief  Police Officers reportedly labelled the Lotus Carlton ‘an outrageous invitation to speed’, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said it was a ‘high speed safety hazard’, and tabloid newspapers demanded the car be banned. Even today 179mph seems unbelievably fast for a saloon but in the early nineties if a supercar hit 200mph it was worth talking about. The Germans had limited their cars to 155mph and must have been livid when GM merrily blew them off the autobahns with its modified mini cab.

Everyone was talking about the Lotus Carlton and it didn’t take long for the car to secure legendary status, while in the meantime Vauxhall was trying to focus attention on anything other than the car’s astonishing top speed. The legend began in the eighties when GM acquired Lotus and, hoping to up its image a bit, set about making a super saloon that would carry the Hethel badge.


The basis was the Carlton GSi 3000 and Lotus re-engineered the 3.0-litre powerplant to 3.6-litres, before adding twin Garrett T25 turbochargers to give 377bhp.The six speed shift was lifted from the Corvette ZR-1 and transferred the power to the rear wheels. AP disc brakes with ventilated callipers were fitted and the car was finished in Imperial Green, a colour so dark it looked black in most lights. The car was fitted with a chunky bodykit and a huge rear spoiler, with Lotus badges on the front wings. Then there was the price - £48,000 – which even today is a lot of money, although in the nineties the only cars that could match the Carlton’s speed were bona fide supercars. 0-60mph was achieved in 5.1 seconds and peak torque was a crushing 419 lb/ft.

To start with the car looked fantastic. Although it didn’t appear that far removed from a GSi, the Lotus Carlton managed to pull off the feat of being utterly desirable. Seeing one today is still an arresting site. The 17” wheels may be small by today’s standards, but the whole car looks so right; sinister and purposeful with enough stealth that only those in the know would give it a second look. Inside, it has big multi-adjustable leather seats, a wheel that is ever-so-slightly too big and the dashboard from a standard Vauxhall Carlton.


The immaculate 19,000 mile example from the Vauxhall Heritage centre I am about to drive looks intimidating, and my nerves are not helped by the fact the rain is lashing down. After fiddling with the old school immobiliser the Carlton roars into life, the engine giving its first warning of the immense power within. Apart from the heavy clutch the Carlton’s huge torque wafts you along and makes it easier to drive around town than you might expect.

Some people stare at the Carlton, others ignore it, but you can’t help feeling you are in something very, very special. Pulling on to the motorway I decide this would be as good a time as any to open the taps. 40 to 70mph goes in the blink of an eye, the surge so severe I don’t have time to look at the rev counter to see how much power would be left in third. A lot I suspect, and the whole experience is made even more intense by the fact the car feels so raw, the driver inherently connected to the experience. Palms sweating slightly I slow down to more of a crawl, with a certain smugness that the dark, K-reg Vauxhall I am piloting could undoubtedly obliterate almost anything on the road with one press of my right foot.


The car feels totally planted on the motorway and it was undoubtedly developed with high-speed cruising in mind, but I thought I would see how it faired on twisty back roads. The Lotus Carlton doesn’t have the kind of driver aids we take for granted today and the combination of rear-drive and 377bhp meant I wasn’t looking to explore the limits of adhesion. That said the car was not as scary as anticipated and flowed beautifully through a series of sweeping bends. With the huge amount of torque on offer it is an effective tool, powering between the turns and turning in neatly, with a huge amount of grip on offer.

The brakes worked well too and, although a large amount of concentration is required, especially in conditions like these, it is a great way of getting from A to B. Having negotiated mud, standing water and poor surfaces, the Carlton and I were still in one piece so I figured I had pushed my luck enough and headed back to Vauxhall HQ in Luton. On the way back I thought about the Lotus Carlton’s impact on the world.


When it was launched it had to be one of the first cars to make people question the point of a supercar, considering you could now go just as fast with four doors and a boot. Big uber-saloons are commonplace now, and the German power war means that soon we will have a 572bhp Audi RS6 estate, with 600,700 and 800bhp saloons on the horizon. Did the Lotus Carlton play a part in all this by changing our definition of a performance car? I think it did. An unlikely pairing, the words ‘Lotus’ and ‘Carlton’, but when they came together they meant a very special car indeed.

PH Hero Rating: 9/10

Oli S
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Author Discussion

L100NYY

Original Poster:

29,046 posts

123 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
Still one of my all time favourite super saloons, one of these and a 500E would do me just fine thankyou.

lazy

19,347 posts

146 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
Yep - they are due respect.

Legendary.

fesuvious

4,231 posts

121 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
If anyone out there has a Lotus Carlton and fancies moving on to a Porsche then please get in touch.

996 1998 ready to exchange for a LC.

kambites

38,034 posts

101 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
yes I'd take one of these over any modern super saloon.

asian_boy_back

105 posts

80 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
Absolutely stunning motor. I think one of the best cars ever made that has been forgotten about in recent years!

Edited by asian_boy_back on Wednesday 23 January 09:09

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Yugguy

10,728 posts

115 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
Aye, I bet you can feel a hell of a lot more in that than in a car of today.

It's what all fast saloons should look like, discreet but obviously very capable.

bones33

382 posts

75 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
A total classic drove one years back and loved it.

sprinter885

11,072 posts

107 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
Lucky you for getting a drive. Always lusted after one after having the "ordinary" 3L GSi.

So many legendary stories about these e.g. some journo at the time reported that Vauxhall were making a "family saloon capable of 174 mph" and then asked "What sort of family ? -The Fittipaldis?"
A road test I read had the driver trying out the chassis/braking capability by turning into long bend with 100mph on the clock & then stamping (he said "& I mean pedal to the bulkhead type braking" ) on the brakes. The car pulled up in a straight line-no fuss, no drama.

I also know a guy with a Porsche who couldn't get to a Porsche Owners Club day at Siverstone & a pal asked if he thought the club would let him take his Lotus Carlton. The club agreed & apparently he blitzed every car there. Cost him a set of tyres mind you.

Awesome motor. thumbup

Edited by sprinter885 on Wednesday 23 January 09:20

jimmy_mac

25 posts

96 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
A true legend fully deserving of Hero status. Did they all come in Imperial Green? I think I remember seeing one advertised in the classifieds that claimed to be an LC in 'special order' Grey/Blue. Thought it might've been a scam... rolleyes

NotNormal

1,761 posts

94 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
They are an awesome car and I wanted one ever since they were launched even though I was just a wee nipper back then.

To actually own one now is such an experience and one I certainly wouldn't change bounce I've come to the conclusion there's 2 types of people out there, the ones that when they ask what you drive and your say a Lotus Carlton look at you blankley and start thinking of some little 2 seater jobbie and then there's the people that suck in and say "nice" with an approving nod as they are fully aware of what the car is all about.

Love the car, love the experience and long may the relationship continue cloud9

mackie1

7,219 posts

113 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
Awesome car. NotNormal on here possibly has the finest example I've seen. I think I've seen the one driven in the article on display at Motorbodies in Luton.



Edited by mackie1 on Wednesday 23 January 09:29

GKP

7,106 posts

121 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
I ran one for about 6 years as an everyday car. Splendid cars.

FishFace

3,790 posts

88 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
NotNormal said:
They are an awesome car and I wanted one ever since they were launched even though I was just a wee nipper back then.

To actually own one now is such an experience and one I certainly wouldn't change bounce I've come to the conclusion there's 2 types of people out there, the ones that when they ask what you drive and your say a Lotus Carlton look at you blankley and start thinking of some little 2 seater jobbie and then there's the people that suck in and say "nice" with an approving nod as they are fully aware of what the car is all about.

Love the car, love the experience and long may the relationship continue cloud9
Yours looks a stunning example. I am envious.

sprinter885

11,072 posts

107 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
^^^^^ What he said. I used to see one around Doncaster about 16-17 years ago with Reg. J10TUS wonder where that is now??

As far as I know they were all Imperial green. I think I saw the Silver ? one in PH classifieds a while back. It seemed wrong to me too.

Edited by sprinter885 on Wednesday 23 January 09:40

D_T_W

2,108 posts

95 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
jimmy_mac said:
A true legend fully deserving of Hero status. Did they all come in Imperial Green? I think I remember seeing one advertised in the classifieds that claimed to be an LC in 'special order' Grey/Blue. Thought it might've been a scam... rolleyes
There was no other option from the factory, though (i'm happy to be corrected) i think 2 cars were resprayed a silver/blue for the TV program Sharman.

It's one of my all time favourite cars, and probably the only saloon i'd have over my M5. It was this car that made BMW sit up and create the 3.8 6 speed M5 to try and equal it. Trouble is i couldn't afford a decent one, and you need a bank vault to keep the damn thing in as they are so stealable. The one i drove was LHD, and i only drove it for a couple of miles, but it certainly put a grin on me face biggrin

It really is a true PH Hero i reckon, and one of those cars every petrolhead should have a go in

ASBO

24,374 posts

94 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
The car that spawned the super saloon. I salute you bow

NotNormal

1,761 posts

94 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
jimmy_mac said:
A true legend fully deserving of Hero status. Did they all come in Imperial Green? I think I remember seeing one advertised in the classifieds that claimed to be an LC in 'special order' Grey/Blue. Thought it might've been a scam... rolleyes
All the cars were sold as Imperial green. There were some development cars in silver and there is also a silver one doing the rounds in the classifieds section that was re-painted upon delivery as the MD's wife didn't like green banghead


mackie1 said:
Awesome car. NotNormal on here possibly has the finest example I've seen. I think I've seen the one driven in the article on display at Motorbodies in Luton.

Edited by mackie1 on Wednesday 23 January 09:29
The car that was in in Motorbodies showroom (or maybe it still is) was bought last year my the owner of Motorbodies so it is different from the Heritage center car as used for this article.

FishFace said:
Yours looks a stunning example. I am envious.
Cheers smile

minimatt1967

16,151 posts

86 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
One of my all time favourites, love it on some many levels
1.Powerful
2.Comfortable
3.Practical
4.and its mainly this it got right up the nose of the do gooders!!!!

...now where would i get the running gear to go in a carlton estate?

scubadude

1,352 posts

77 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
I remember this being first car I wanted to sit in as a kid going to the motorshow, one of the car rags of the time ran a front page of it jumping a mini-roundabout! All four wheels well clear of the ground in the days before computer image manipulation, bet Vauxhall cringed when they say that!

Strangely enough, years later I drive an ordinary Carlton, its big, comfy and surprisingly light making it deceptively nippy compared to the fatso cars of today.

Old-school grunt rules!

bob1179

13,636 posts

89 months

[news] 
Wednesday 23rd January 2008 quote quote all
I so want one of these it hurts!

Actually, a Lotus Carlton and an E28 BMW M5 please. cloud9

There is one near Windemere that I always drool over everytime I drive (actually stop, get out, have a good look around, day dream over) past it.

[WaynesWorldmode]

She will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine...

[/WaynesWorldmode]

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