RAC Cars News


The Secret History Of The Lotus Carlton

By raccars Published

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The Lotus Carlton is a relatively low profile icon of automotive history. A brutal, Lotus engineered super saloon from the usually staid Vauxhall, there was nothing else like it at the time and it retained the title of fastest four door production car in the world for a number of years, a forerunner to the current premium German output. Despite the restrained exterior, just a whisper of the name, 'Lotus Carlton,' provokes gasps of awe among a certain crowd.

It's hard to imagine how the Luton firm, at the time busy churning out the likes of the insipid Belmont, came up with the idea of sending a Carlton executive saloon to Hethel and letting the Lotus engineers have their way with it. There, the standard Opel 3.0 litre straight six engine was swollen to 3.6 and boosted with the addition of a pair of Garrett T25 turbos. A beefy intercooler system and a number of other engine, braking, steering and suspension upgrades, plus a six speed ZF manual gearbox, as used in the Corvette, resulted in 377bhp and 0-60mph in 5.1 seconds - all in the guise of an executive saloon.

Well, almost - Lotus added a reasonably restrained bodykit and some subtle badging, but the Vauxhall roundel retained its customary spot on the bonnet. To the untrained eye, however, there's little to differentiate this 180mph beast from its Vauxhall counterpart.

Nonetheless, once behind the wheel there was no mistaking the pedigree of the Lotus version. So much so that news of its performance caused some outcry among the moral majority, who felt that a vehicle with such a capacity for menace was not a suitable mode of transport for a group of four passengers. At the time, the only other cars to match its abilities on the road were sports cars and so the press called for the super saloon to be fitted with an electronic limiter. General Motors Europe briefly considered the proposal and then, thankfully, summarily rejected it.

And rightly so... upon general release, the critics swallowed their words and waxed lyrical about the Lotus Carlton's smooth power delivery, unexpectedly elegant handling and intuitive steering, all of which seemed out of place in such a large, comfortable, solid car. It was an excellent combination of super sports car, executive saloon and hot hatch.

After a short career that included becoming a favourite target of joyriders and ramraiders, production ceased at 950 units in total, 320 of which were in the UK. Its rarity and virtues mean it is now a much sought after modern classic and cult favourite among petrolheads.

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