Remind yourself of a more innocent time, when you’d attempt to outwit your friends at Top Trumps. V12 sinks all others. Weight? Go for the slinkiest. And for maximum speed, hope you’re holding something Italian in your hand. Fast-forward to the present day and none of this one-upmanship matters a jot, surely? Classic car owners don’t pass each other on Her Majesty’s highway with one sizing the other up, mentally calculating whether they can outgun them as they sidle on by – or do they? There’s no doubt that facts and figures are definitely in play when it comes to making our buying choices – hmm, a homologation special, you say. Highest power output for a naturally aspirated engine, I hear. 176mph. Well, today we’ve gone top-speed crazy, and gathered five brutes that’ll allow you rocket up to, and beyond, the 170mph marker. What’s more, we’ve released the shackles by bringing their owners to Dunsfold Park track – normal road rules no longer apply. It’s time to narrow those eyes, adopt the gunslinger stance and ready yourselves; cue Ennio Morricone score as Lotus Carlton, Corvette ZR-1, Maserati 3200GT, Aston Martin DB7 Vantage and TVR Cerbera go head-to-head to find out which of these classic young guns comes out firmly on top. Say hello to Mr Carlton, that’s Mr Lotus Carlton. Big, bad and brute-iful. And, if you believe the legend, also the slayer of offspring, harbinger of the apocalypse and worst of all, the last word in automotive excess... according to the Daily Mail.
While Americans would have been braying ‘yee-haw’ or Italians exclaiming ‘bravissimo’ in emotional falsetto at having created a technological tour-de-force, over here in Blighty the road safety brigade went into overdrive. Newspaper front pages decried the Anglo-germanic creation; questions were raised in Parliament. Among all this tut-tutting and pitchfork thrusting, in Germany – with its 155mph-limited super saloons – there was virtual silence.
Which is what I greet the Lotus with today. It arrived at the track just after me, filling both my rear-view mirror, and me, with awe. In the metal it’s a sight to behold. The Imperial Green paintwork – the only colour available – is impressively discreet, broken up only by the visual zing of a Lotus badge behind each front wheelarch. It’d be easy to walk by without giving a second glance, but allow the eyes to linger and the bodykit’s aggressive nature becomes clear with malevolent bonnet vents and wide track.
The cabin is distinctly high low-rent. That is, affordable saloon dressed up in leather for added Opel-ulence to take on the big boys. The engine fires with all the drama of its GSI 3000 base and not a hint of stiffened block, forged alloy Mahle pistons or forged steel crankshaft. Try to snatch a quick shift, though, and the gearlever tells you that you might need a few more Weetabix.
Get things rolling, engage right foot and there’s a distinct hardening of well, everything: noise, feel, thunderous forward momentum. For a 1690kg big boy, it shifts like nothing else this size of its era – 377bhp and 419lb ft of torque sees 0-60mph arrive
in just 5.1sec. Twin Garrett T25 turbochargers spooling wildly, it’s ludicrous and epic: 80mph passes in a flash, through to 100mph and onward to 135mph before I run out of tarmac. The large Group C-derived AP brakes – four-pot ventilated at the front, two-pot at the rear – stick organs firmly to my chest cavity just before I reach a neat little line of cones. The impressive bit is just how elegantly it achieves it all. No wonder owner Nigel Chrisman took out a second mortgage to secure this bad boy when it was new.
Does it handle? Is Lotus based in Norfolk? Chassis man Tony Shute used Macpherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension and automatic self-levelling dampers to imbue it with finely balanced manners. There’s huge grip available but here and now we’re all about straight-line grunt and that all important top end.
Today just £20k will bag you an example of a super-saloon that back in the early Nineties could harry most supercars. ‘It’d need a good chunk of work doing at that price,’ says James Waddington of the Autobahnstormers Car Club (autobahnstormers.org.uk). ‘Values are on the increase, but £30k plus will secure a nice car. The Lotus Carlton has a greater propensity to rust than the standard car, so check bodywork, especially under the body kit, wheelarches and boot under the carpet and spare wheel. The timing chain has a history of snapping, which will bend exhaust valves; while the gearbox bellhousing can crack, resulting in a clutch pedal on the floor and a mechanical blender of clutch parts rattling around.’
Buy well though and you too can enjoy a piece of Lotus history that, unlike when it was new, today goes firmly under the radar. As a Top Trump taster, it’s already set our bar incredibly high.
Outside-lane hoggers would have milliseconds to identify the Lotus-ised Carlton by its subtly revised front bumper before swerving for cover
With 377 Norfolk-bred horses, this is no glorified repmobile – witness the twin turbos and Lotus insignia Only a subtle wheel badge hints at the 177mph potential