Lotus Carlton: Spotted

When I was growing up (debatable if I could ever be called a grown up), the Vauxhall - sorry - Lotus Carlton languished in the £15,000 - £25,000 region. The price rise from then to now is what you might call inflation-busting. There's one that's covered only 4,500 miles for £125,000 elsewhere on the internet, and another for £150,000. Crazy money compared to what they were worth ten years ago. So, this original car with reasonably low mileage and plenty of history seems something of a steal at 'only' £75,000.

Many if not most PHers know the backstory: born of the power-crazed late 80's, developed and built by Lotus - who probably needed the money the contract brought in at the time - blasted in the national press for its 176 mph top speed and then, sadly, had its wings clipped by the early 90's by the recession and skyrocketing insurance premiums.

This example seems to have been used as it was intended because it's not some mollycoddled example that's never seen sunlight. Which is good because this car was built to be a useable super saloon. That's why it came with leather seats, had air conditioning and came with a large boot; perfect for travelling at maximum speed on the Autobahn with four burly business types and their briefcases.

But, being Lotus, they didn't stop at simply souping up a 3.0-litre Carlton GSI engine. No, they did a very thorough job of altering the suspension, fitting suitably meaty brakes to bring this barge to a halt as quickly as it accelerated, not to mention fitting a limited-slip diff to help get all that power to the ground. It also got a six-speed gearbox from ZF that had seen service in the Corvette ZR-1. In fact, it was such a good job that it received strong praise from the motoring press on its launch. Autocar even ran one for a year and did 20,000 miles in it.

Their report at the time mentioned that people had tried to steal it on three separate occasions, successfully doing so on the last attempt. They did get it back an hour later (if only all car theft stories ended that well) but were left with a £2300 repair bill for fixing the steering column and driver's door. Ouch. You have to remember, this is a bespoke car, so any damage to the fibreglass body kit and other body panels will be costly to repair.

Speaking of the body, just like any car of the period, check for rust. This can happen at the bottom of the doors, around either the front or rear windscreens, the boot floor, rear wheel arches and around the aerial. The mechanicals need to be in good order, too. This is practically a supercar after all, so it's not going to be as cheap to run as your ordinary Vauxhall. Listen for clunks for the rear suspension which could be worn trailing arm bushes, and make sure the self-levelling pump still works as well. It can take two minutes, but you should be able to hear it working if you turn the key to position two before starting. The electrics can be damaged by all the heat of the twin-turbo 3.6-litre engine, so make sure everything works on your test drive.

Do all that and you'll end up with an immensely capable classic car you don't have to suffer chronic pain every time you drive it. Plus, you'll have the childish thrill of being able to beat all but the most up-to-date performance saloons off the lights in what, to a punter, looks like an unassuming old Vauxhall. You'll have to be grown-up indeed not to see the appeal in that.

3615cc, six-cylinder, twin-turbo
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 380hp @ 5200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 419lb ft @ 4200rpm
MPG: Typically 19-22 mpg
CO2: Quite a lot
First registered: 1992
Recorded mileage: 73,000miles
Price new: £49,995
Yours for: £75,000

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Comments (107) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Daveyraveygravey 08 Jul 2018

    "Autobarn" ?

  • lord trumpton 08 Jul 2018

    Daveyraveygravey said:
    "Autobarn" ?
    It's that were all these 'barn find' classic autos come from isn't it?

  • s m 08 Jul 2018

    No mention of dash plastics?

  • skeeterm5 08 Jul 2018

    The dash plastics are fine, just of their time.

  • Wildcat45 08 Jul 2018

    Is it worth the money? You'd really have to be really into them for that sort of cash. Its much rather than a Cossie though.

    I last saw one in a carpark and went over to have a chat with the owner. On returning to our car my wife wanted to know why I was talking to a man with a chavved-up Vauxhall. I tried to explain.

    Its a shame Lotus don't do this treatment on a modern car, creating something rather special from a run of the mill base car like an Insignia or Mondeo. I guess it's down to who owns what. Was Lotus owned by GM in the days of the Carlton?

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