The cars we loved.
1991 Lotus Carlton
The Lotus Carlton was an upgraded version of the Vauxhall GSi sports sedan (or saloon as they say in Europe). The car was marketed with the single purpose to be the fastest production sedan in the world, a kind of four door Corvette for Europe. With a top speed of 176 mph, very few cars could keep up with it. The Corvette comparison was not an empty one, as the Carlton used the six-speed ZF transmission from that car, otherwise Lotus engineering was what propelled the Carlton to supercar status during its short run from 1990 to 1992.
During that time there were practically no changes made to the car. Options were few and it came in only one shade of British Racing green called “Imperial Green”, a color that looked black in most light. Lotus enlarged the standard GSi 6 cylinder engine to 3.6 liters and added twin turbochargers to create a 377 hp monster that could accelerate (0-60 in 5.2 seconds) and stop on a dime with racing calipers all around. At more than 3,600 lb. it was no lightweight, but the engines broad power curve combined with virtually no turbo lag, made weight a non issue. The Lotus-developed multi-link rear axle and twin-tube damper suspension offered a comfortable ride while delivering sports car handling. This type of performance in a sedan was almost unheard of outside of Italy or Germany as the Carlton quickly established itself as one of the world’s fastest cars, easily outpacing BMW’s M5 and Mercedes Benz’s 500E. In fact only the mighty Lamborghini Diablo could the best the Carlton in all categories (except practicality).
Inside all the expected luxuries derived from leather seats, premium stereo and power everything made the Carlton not much different than loaded Vauxhall or Holden. The Lotus was not as refined as some of it’s competitors, but created a sensation in the motoring press. Unfortunately, the bad economy combined with the buying public’s unwillingness to put down £48,000 ($50K+ USD in 91 dollars) for what essentially looked liked a Vauxhall or Opel Omega meant that less than 1000 were sold. You can’t blame them, other than the flaired finders , larger wheels and ground effects, the Carlton looked much like a Gsi with a kit. From a distance it even looked like Ford’s Australian Falcon GT. Due to low production numbers, the Carlton is a much sought after modern classic. They were never sold in the US, but can be imported here as a display vehicle.
Today the concept of a four door super car is no longer rare or even expensive (Pontiac G8/Vauxhall VXR8/Holden Commodore), but in the early Nineties, Lotus shook up the market with it’s trail blazing Carlton, forging the path for other lesser priced performance sedans. Rumors have persisted of a new Carlton in the wake of its spiritual successor the Vauxhall VXR8. In today’s highly competitive market, it would have lots of company and would need to raise the bar once again.