For a whole assortment of reasons, the Lotus Carlton is an iconic automobile. Its performance, most obviously, sending a country into apoplexy with its near-180mph potential, but also thanks to its assured dynamics and suave good looks. There hasn't been a Vauxhall before or since that has quite captured the imagination of enthusiasts like the Lotus Carlton.
That said, the Lotus had to be based on something - it wasn't just produced from thin air. And that's the car we (almost) have here: the Carlton GSI 3000. We say 'almost' because the Lotus was derived from the 24-valve GSI, and this is merely a 12-valve example; but when it comes to classics from mainstream manufacturers, as many will attest to, beggars cannot be choosers. The combination of their initial rarity (because the British buying public's obsessions with German execs is not a new phenomenon) with the inevitable decline that comes with age - then exacerbated by scrappage schemes - means the surviving numbers of the GSIs, SRIs, STs and XRs that were commonplace is now tiny.
The Carlton is the perfect example, with little more than a third of the cars registered in 2010 said to be on UK roads in 2020 according to HowManyLeft. Which means there are a grand total of... eight. Which, by current classic logic, must mean it's worth about £50,000. That's not the case, however, with this 66,000-mile GSI for sale at £6,995.
That's because, as they go, this is the least desirable 3000 made, with the less powerful engine and the automatic gearbox. The seller also points to a recent "light restoration" because of it being recovered, which is far from ideal and should obviously be investigated further. That said, a 12-valve and automatic Carlton GSI is better than none at all, and particularly so when the restoration has created one that looks as smart - all things being relative - as this one.
For something now more than 30 years old, the big Vaux scrubs up pretty well. The paint finish still looks good, seat bolsters remain intact and the digital dash still flashes with every pixel. Even the engine bay looks decent, burly straight-six clear for all to see. Of course there's only so much to be told from a laptop screen, yet there's cause for optimism in the pics.
Don't forget, either, that the GSI was quite the sports saloon back in the day. In July 1991, Motorsport magazine said of the 24v 3000: "We feel that nobody does a better job of the sporting six-cylinder saloon at this cost than Vauxhall, certainly not amongst the mass production ranks. Its combination of rear-drive handling finesse, excellent pace and routine service durability/economy is not matched, as yet." BMW and Jaguar were included in that list, notably. And while the earlier 12-valve won't have quite the potency of the 24v - reaching 60mph in 7.4 seconds and 145mph with Motorsport - the adept dynamics should be there to enjoy. It's a vehicle for appreciating how tastes have changed, too; apparently this was once a "brash", "flashy" and "garish" sports saloon, so goodness knows what those writers would make of 2020's cars...
Even with a less than perfect history, the Carlton appeals thanks to its rarity, condition and frumpy 80s sports saloon style. It won't be for all tastes - what is? - but there are plenty of classic Vauxhall fans out there. It's easy to imagine them enjoying this GSI3000 very much indeed, especially for £6,995. As they always say, try finding another one...
SPECIFICATION | VAUXHALL CARLTON GSI 3000 12V
Engine: 2,969cc, straight-six
Transmission: 5-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 177@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 177@4,200rpm
MPG: c. 25
Year registered: 1989
Recorded mileage: 66,368
Price new: £26,975 (1991, 24v)
Yours for: £6,995
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