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