lo­tus carl­ton

We turn the spot­light on one of the most iconic and de­sir­able cars ever to come from the GM sta­ble…

Performance Vauxhall - - CONTENTS - Words Jamie pho­tos Var­i­ous

It’s hard to mea­sure ‘cool­ness’ when it comes to cars, and in most cases it’s purely down to per­sonal opin­ion. One ex­cep­tion is the Lo­tus Carl­ton – a car so fan­tas­ti­cally cool that it makes even the most hard nosed of Blue Oval afi­ciona­dos stop for a gawp. Well over two decades since it was launched, this car continues to mock Ger­man op­po­si­tion, spit at speed lim­its and laugh in the face of those with a green dis­po­si­tion. The Lo­tus Carl­ton is a true hero – ev­ery­one loves it – pos­si­bly be­cause they’re scared of say­ing other­wise!

We’ve cov­ered the car a num­ber of times, but the truth is that the thirst for knowl­edge about these things never di­min­ishes – they’re one of the most beloved cars in the Vaux­hall canon, and the clos­est GM has ever come to giv­ing the likes of BMW, Mercedes and Audi a bloody good hid­ing.

300mm discs (front/rear), with AP four-pot calipers clamp­ing down on the fronts and two-pots at the rear. They then added com­pe­ti­tion group C pads, en­sur­ing that haul­ing a Lo­tus Carl­ton to a stop was never an is­sue.

Con­sid­er­ing its roots lie in the ‘80s, the Lo­tus Carl­ton’s body kit is a fairly re­strained af­fair. That’s a good thing, and though you’d never call it sub­tle, it cer­tainly hasn’t aged. The sub­dued Im­pe­rial Green colour they were all fin­ished in only helps this, and driv­ing one nowa­days doesn’t il­licit the honks and swarms of on­look­ers you might think – it’s a car that re­wards those in the know. The Ronal al­loys were con­sid­ered mas­sive at the time, but we’re used to see­ing 17s on ev­ery­thing from hatches to SUVs nowa­days. That said, you can’t fault their de­sign, and you’d be hard pressed to find a set that bet­ter suit the Lo­tus Carl­ton.

It’s all a bit sober and sombre in­side, with ev­ery­thing coated in Con­nolly leather, plus plenty of ex­posed wood and a load of Carl­ton GSi switchgear al­though cruise con­trol, the LCD dash and trip com­puter were omit­ted. It came in for some mild crit­i­cism from the press, with many strug­gling to see how the in­te­rior jus­ti­fied the £50,000 ask­ing price.


The car was thrust onto an un­sus­pect­ing pub­lic in 1990, the worst pos­si­ble time for a near£50,000 sa­loon from a non-pres­tige man­u­fac­turer to be launched. The ‘80s bub­ble had spec­tac­u­larly popped, and ex­cess wasn’t very cool any­more. That said, al­though the LC wouldn’t get you a Christ­mas card from your lo­cal Green MP, it would get you from 0 to 60mph in 5.1 sec­onds (al­though Au­to­car got this down to 4.5) and onto a 176mph, pos­i­tively laugh­ing in the face of the 155mph limit self-im­posed by Merc and BMW. The up­shot of all this was a me­dia back­lash against the car, with many people call­ing for it to be banned. The As­so­ci­a­tion of Chief Po­lice Of­fi­cers called it ‘an out­ra­geous in­vi­ta­tion to speed’, some­thing which only makes us love it more! That didn’t pre­vent slug­gish sales though, and GM even­tu­ally called time on the car in 1993, with just 950 of the in­tended 1100 pro­duc­tion run of Lo­tus Carl­tons and Lo­tus Omegas com­pleted.


De­spite this, the Lo­tus Carl­ton’s place in au­to­mo­tive his­tory was as­sured from day one. It main­tained the man­tle of ‘world’s fastest sa­loon car’ for an im­pos­si­bly long time, only sur­ren­der­ing it when bonkers Ger­man uber-sa­loons broke the 400bhp bar­rier in the early 2000s. It’s a gen­uine hero car, and ev­ery­one in the Vaux­hall scene, from those just get­ting into it with heav­ily fi­nanced VXRs, to old hands who re­mem­ber its launch, loves it. You might never be in the po­si­tion to own one yourself, but the Lo­tus Carl­ton doesn’t come with the same kind of neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions that are part and par­cel of ‘80s su­per car own­er­ship. Put sim­ply, no one would be­grudge let­ting a Lo­tus Carl­ton out of a side turn­ing.


Per­haps sur­pris­ingly the Lo­tus Carl­ton can still be bought for a rea­son­able enough sum nowa­days. OK we’re talk­ing five fig­ures, but at the time of writ­ing there were four cars on a cer­tain well-known on­line auc­tion site, rang­ing in price from £15,000 to £40,000.

Al­though there are some is­sues to be aware of, the Lo­tus Carl­ton is a very well-screwed to­gether ma­chine. We’ve out­lined some of the key ar­eas to be aware of over the page…

“Per­haps sur­pris­ingly the Lo­tus Carl­ton can still be bought for a rea­son­able sum

nowa­days .”


Al­though rarer nowa­days, repli­cas were quite com­mon a few years ago, so be very sure you’re buy­ing a pukka car, not a well fin­ished trib­ute. A gen­uine car will have a plaque on the slam panel stat­ing the build num­ber and Type 104 des­ig­na­tion, with a match­ing one un­der the car­pet by the driver’s side or, if you’re look­ing at a LHD Omega, on the pas­sen­ger seat. Lo­tus also fit­ted a cast alu­minium plaque to the glove box, plus green splodges on var­i­ous pieces of body­work. Check for the four­digit en­gine code on the block, and make sure it cor­re­sponds with the one in the log­book. With the ex­cep­tion of the first 33 cars, the VIN num­ber should be­gin SCC and not W0L.


Though the Corvette gear­box and Holden diff are hard as nails, the clutch isn’t quite so tough. It can wear of course, but there’s also the is­sue of the ac­tu­a­tor mech­a­nism snap­ping, dam­ag­ing the bell hous­ing in the process. The Au­to­bahn­storm­ers can sup­ply re-en­gi­neered parts for £250, though it’s best to buy a car that’s had the work al­ready done.


Just be­cause it’s a Lo­tus doesn’t mean it’s im­mune from the rot that did for so many reg­u­lar Carl­tons, quite the op­po­site in fact. That kit can hold wa­ter, in­creas­ing the chances of se­ri­ous cor­ro­sion. Pay par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to the rear arches – these were cut and re-welded to fit the 9.5in wheels, and can rust from here. If pos­si­ble, re­move part of the boot car­pet­ing to check the in­ner arch and the spare wheel well. The trail­ing edges of the doors and the front and rear chas­sis rails have also been known to go, again thanks to the body kit’s abil­ity to re­tain wa­ter. Re­place­ment pan­els are hard to source, so once again the Au­toahn­storm­ers should be your first port of call. They also have a con­tact for kit moulds and a list of trusted body shops.

“Be very sure you’re buy­ing a pukka car,

and not a well fin­ished trib­ute!”


Lo­tus sim­ply re-trimmed the GSi’s in­te­rior in loads of Con­nolly leather, so though it might well be tired by now, a re-trim should see it look­ing great again. Much trick­ier is sourc­ing miss­ing or bro­ken trim, so buy the very best ex­am­ple you can! Mo­tors and fix­ings are shared with 3.0 Carl­tons and Sen­a­tors, so these aren’t too hard to track down.


There’s a rea­son that tuned Lo­tus Carl­tons are so rare, and that’s be­cause they re­ally don’t take too kindly to it! Sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als have tried, of­ten with messy and ex­pen­sive re­sults. That said, a num­ber of ded­i­cated (and bor­der­line in­sane) Scan­di­na­vians have coaxed larger power from the C36GET by com­mis­sion­ing cus­tom cams, swap­ping the T25 tur­bos, in­creas­ing the fu­elling and junk­ing the OE man­age­ment for a stand­alone sys­tem. The re­sult­ing power fig­ures have been around the 500bhp mark, so well worth do­ing if your pock­ets are as deep as you are brave/men­tal!

The C36GET is a monster of an en­gine both in terms of out­put and its sheer size

When Vaux­hall do a ‘spe­cial’ it re­ally is spe­cial!

It was a brave man who parted with nearly £50K in 1990 for one of these

In­te­rior was crit­i­cised at launch for be­ing too sim­i­lar to the Carl­ton GSi, but we love it!

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