Lotus Carlton. Right, what's that, then?
The Lotus Carlton (or Lotus Omega) is every sleeper fan's dream- what happens when you take a normal, everyday family saloon, in this case a Vauxhall Carlton, a relatively mundane mid-range saloon offered by the GM subsidiary. For unknown reasons, in 1989, Vauxhall handed over the job of making a fast Carlton to the legendary Lotus, a company best known for their racing prowess (with cars such as the seminal Lotus 49 and the Elan 26R) and their sensational road cars, such as the Esprit, Europa and Elan, all of which had cemented Lotus' reputation as an incredible sports car manufacturer. So naturally, when Lotus were given control of making the Carlton a sports saloon, they took the chance and ran with it, making the Lotus Carlton a proper Lotus- and an automotive legend in doing so.
Sounds decent-what did they change?
Well, to start with, Colin Chapman's team upgraded the original Carlton engine, from its standard 3.0 litre six-cylinder unit used in the GSi. This engine was a pretty capable block but it didn't quite cut the mustard with the Lotus boys, who decided that what the engine needed was some tuning and enlarging. The original engine was increased in size, reaching a capacity of 3.6 litres, but no way were Lotus going to stop there. Two Garrett T25 turbochargers were then bolted to the now rather sizeable engine block, increasing the power output to a staggering 371 bhp, enough to bring it up to par with most supercars of its era. A new, more advanced intercooler was introduced to stop the engine overheating when under the immense stress of such a huge power increase, along with a limited-slip differential pinched from the Australian Holden Commodore V8. To go with the new, frankly insane performance, the car gained beefed-up styling too, with a rear spoiler, bonnet vents, Lotus badges and a bodykit all being added to the motor.
Crikey. What could it do then?
Seeing as the new engine now packed a mighty punch of almost 400 bhp, it's no surprise then that the newly-named Lotus Carlton also dealt a gleeful blow to its more purpose-built, exotic rivals. The Carlton could knock easily on the doors of both the Honda NSX (which packed 270 bhp), the Porsche 911 (256 bhp) and could even give the Ferrari Testarossa (probably the most famous supercar of the era) a good run for its money. 0-60 times in the Carlton were blistering, reaching it in 5.2 seconds, again on par with the Honda NSX of the time. Even today, you'll find that the Carlton can still humiliate most sports cars and modern performance saloons should you ever find yourself locked in a race with one.
What a nutter! Was it popular?
Yes-for all the wrong reasons though! When the Carlton was released, it generated such a shockwave throughout the motoring world (never before had a normal saloon car been able to thrash the likes of Ferraris and Porsches) that the controversy whipped up even crossed over into the mainstream. In the UK in particular, the media firestorm was ignited by none other than the good old Daily Mail, who ran a headline before the launch of the car, trying to start up a campaign to get it banned, saying that a family saloon this powerful was dangerous and unsafe. But apart from bringing middle-class families faster than they'd ever been before, the Carlton gained a nasty new reputation after it was released-with its insane performance and brilliant handling, it quickly became the dahling of robbers far and wide across the UK, culminating in a police chase in early 1994, in which a Lotus Carlton (registration 40RA) was stolen and used in a spate of robberies across the Midlands. Later police reports would describe that "We simply haven't been able to get near the thing and it looks unlikely that we ever will.' As you can then imagine, a quite vocal campaign to ban the car arose and gained traction, but by then it was too late, as Lotus had taken the car off the production line after a limited run of only 1,000 cars.
But you can't argue that Lotus and Vauxhall left behind a car that has rightly secured its arguably infamous place in history, and left behind a lot of spluttering police panda cars in it's turbocharged wake. A true automotive legend.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed! Cheers, and I'll see you soon!