A Lotus variant of a Vauxhall/Opel car, produced between 1990 and 1994. Called the Lotus Omega in its European guise. It is extremely fast — particularly for a car of its size — and has a considerable cult following.

The original Carlton is an executive saloon/estate car that was produced by Vauxhall, a subsidiary of General Motors. GM acquired Lotus in 1986 and gave them a brief to produce a compound-charged (supercharged and turbocharged) version of the Carlton that could do 0-60mph in under six seconds.

The starting point was the Carlton GSi 3000, itself nothing to be sneezed at: with a three-litre engine developing over 200bhp it had a 0-60 time of 7.6 seconds, and a top speed of around 150mph. Once off the production line at Rüsselheim in Germany, the standard vehicle was shipped to Lotus at Hethel in Norfolk. There, the twin-cam, 24-valve straight six powerplant was re-engineered: the stroke was lengthened - bringing the displacement up to 3.6 litres - and twin Garrett T25 turbochargers were added. This gave 377BHP at 5200RPM, and 419lb/ft of torque at 4200RPM. The gearbox, differential and chassis were all modified or replaced to handle the increased power. The gearbox was a six-speed ZF, as used in the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1. This was apparently chosen solely because it was the only mass-produced gearbox available at the time that could handle the huge amounts of torque produced by the C36XE engine.

The styling differences from the standard Carlton were minimal; a couple of small air intakes were added to the bonnet, the car gained a rear spoiler and wider rear wheel arches. All of the cars were resprayed in British Racing Green -- a shade so dark it appears as black in anything but direct sunlight.

The end product was Lotus type 104, which was until fairly recently the fastest (in terms of top speed) production saloon/sedan ever made. This 1.6-tonne monster can accelerate to 60mph from a standstill in 5.2 seconds. Asked about the top speed Vauxhall made no specific claim—and avoided mentioning it in publicity due to public controversy—but were known to reluctantly quote an independent test at the Nardo Ring in Southern Italy, which clocked the car at 176mph, before quickly changing the subject. Several motoring magazines of the time attempted to verify this, but it turned out none of the disused runways in the United Kingdom were long enough for the 104 to reach top speed, and clearly no journalist would go on record claiming to have driven at such speeds on a motorway.

Although many saloons have since been made that could beat the Lotus Carlton's top speed, the car's record remained for a long time because its competitors would have to be modified from their production spec to beat it (all are electronically limited to 155mph). At the time of manufacture only the Ferrari F40 and Lamborghini Diablo could better the LC in all-round performance:

                         Max Power  Max Torque  0-60mph  0-100mph

Ferrari F40              478bhp     426lb/ft    3.5s     7.8s
Lamborghini Diablo VT    492bhp     428lb/ft    4.0s     8.8s
Lotus Carlton            377bhp     419lb/ft    5.2s     10.6s

Despite the significant bhp deficiency, the Lotus Carlton's prodigious reserves of torque mean it still gives the two supercars a run for their money in a sprint. A test by Evo magazine in 2002, which in a mildly comic inclusion pitted the LC against the Audi RS6, Jaguar S-Type R and BMW M5, saw it impressively acquit itself against the newer offerings:

To say that the Lotus Carlton wreaked havoc among its shiny new playmates is being almost laughably kind to their bruised egos. The fact that it came within a whisker of relegating the most powerful production saloon on the planet to last place is little short of astonishing.

The car's ridiculously tall top gear allows it to laze along at 70mph with the engine ticking over at 1600 revs, or cruise at 140mph with the tach barely nudging 3000; dropping to fifth gear would probably allow a sufficiently brave driver to top 180mph before hitting the rev limiter. A brochure published for Vauxhall's 100th anniversary in 2004 states the LC's top speed as 186mph.

Although 1100 of these cars were planned, the recession at the time meant few could afford the £48,000 asking price (over £75,000, or $122,000 in real money) so only 950 were built; the last one rolled off the line in December 1992. Used examples of the car in good condition with a full service history still command an asking price of £25,000 and up. This and the ability to leave most sub-£50k cars standing is pretty impressive for a 15-year-old executive barge.

Update: the Lotus Carlton can now be driven (and tuned up to over 600bhp) in Gran Turismo 4 for the Playstation 2 and Forza 2/3 for the Xbox 360. Nice.


  • (Author unknown) "Living With The Lotus Carlton"; <www.lotus-carlton.fsnet.co.uk>
  • Hughes, Mark; "Lotus Carlton"; <http://www.cerbera.co.uk> via Google cache: <>
  • (Author unknown) "Vauxhall Carlton"; <http://www.parkers.co.uk/choosing/car_reviews/main_review.asp?model_id=420>

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