It's great to see Geely investing heavily in the consultancy side of Lotus. Its list of achievements - some of it secret - is notoriously long. And while a 2,000hp electric hypercar is a useful halo in 2021, making other, more normal cars better is the sort of achievement we can all get onboard with. Take for example the Vauxhall Carlton, a model that Lotus took from photocopier salesman chariot all the way to a Parliamentary debate on road-legal performance cars. Installing 382hp in a Vauxhall Carlton seemed like absolute madness in 1990. Because it was.
So much so, in fact, that it still seems fairly quick by the insane standards of today. A twin-turbocharged 3.6-litre straight-six with 415lb ft of torque is more than respectable, as is a 5.4 second 0-62mph time for a rear-wheel drive car. A 176mph top speed isn't exactly bad, either, and it ensured that the Carton was both quicker off the mark and faster flat out than a Ferrari 348. Yet, barring the arches and rear wing, it was, to the untrained eye, little more than a rebadged Vauxhall saloon.
Understandable, then, that the powers-that-be assumed it might be a high-speed death trap in the wrong hands. Of course, Lotus's genius was to make all that power and performance manageable for a mere mortal. This was a car with over 100hp more than the Esprit Turbo SE, yet made to seem wonderfully balanced and brilliantly communicative through the control surfaces, despite its run-of-the-mill underpinnings. Lotus had worked on every corner of the car, with bespoke damping and spring rates, and a stiffening suspension link at the rear. Even the bushes were unique.
The result was, naturally, one of the best handling cars on sale, and thanks to its fettling of the two massive Garrett T25 turbochargers mated to General Motors' block, the delivery of that 382hp was surprisingly manageable. A six-speed manual, sourced from the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 that Lotus also had a hand in developing, along with a Holden Commodore-sourced limited-slip differential, and bigger brakes, finished the job off. It was saloon driving nirvana. This was the nineties, though, so the interior wasn't clad in Alcantara and fitted with hip-hugging buckets, but rather finished with leathers and wood veneers and buttons. Lovely.
The Lotus Carlton, therefore, was no wolf in sheep's clothing. It was a wolf in a big-shoulder business suit. An expensive one, too, because despite its humble beginnings, the result sold for £48,000 in 1990, which is £111.5k in today's money. That means the car we have here, which has accumulated just 4,565 miles in 30 years, is actually up for only a few grand more than it was initially sold for. And while £119,995 is serious money for anything from 1991, there can be few examples with so few miles on the clock.
Certainly the car has seen extensive storage periods over its long life, but a 'full recommissioning' by Bell and Colvill in 2017 ought to have set right anything not quite shipshape - and the unmarked interior obviously points to infrequent use. The seller suggests it is an amazing addition to any collection, and that's undoubtedly true. But let's hope the person waiting for a genuine time warp Lotus Carlton is also the one keen to judiciously add numbers to its odometer. This is one modern classic that deserves it.
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