Four years after the Vauxhall Carlton made its debut, the fearsome Lotus Carlton derivative smoked onto the scene. To the untutored eye, this looked pretty much like any other four-door Carlton saloon. But keener observers noted air intakes on the bonnet, a rear spoiler and wide wheel arches . . . plus discreet Lotus badging. Lotus Carltons came in Imperial Green only, a dark colour that looked almost black in most lights.
The innovative Lotus engineering outfit based at the former Hethel airfield outside Norwich certainly knew how to produce flying machines. Vauxhall’s standard 24-valve 3 litre straight six engine was unceremoniously bored out to 3.6 litres. Twin Garrett T24 turbochargers were added, giving an impressive 382 bhp. A six-speed manual ZF gearbox was borrowed from the Chevy Corvette to feed all that power to the rear wheels. Ventilated disc brakes with racing calipers, a Bosch anti-lock system and tweaked suspension with self-levelling dampers ensured that this potent performer wouldn’t get out of hand.
Parent General Motors marketed the Lotus Carlton in the UK and on the Continent, where it was known as the Lotus Omega. The original plan called for an exclusive run of just 1,100 cars, with UK models costing nearly £50,000. But recession bit hard in the early 1990s and even that modest target proved impossible to hit. Fewer than a thousand were actually built, and two-thirds of those were Omegas distributed in Europe by Opel (to at least seven countries).
This means that few drivers have ever experienced the staggering performance that Lotus squeezed out of the world’s fastest-ever production saloon car — and those who want to experience it today will find the task nearly impossible. Lotus Carlton/Omegas rarely come up for sale, and when they do the price reflects their rarity (and desirability).
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1990 (until 1992)
3,615 cc Straight Six Twin Turbo
Top speed of 176 mph (283 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Very few contemporary cars could outrun the Lotus Carlton (or Type 104, as Lotus designated this extraordinary machine) — for it had all-round performance figures that outgunned most V12 supercars, though it did reluctantly have to give way to the Lamborghini Diablo.