Remembering The Lotus Carlton: The Original Motorway Stormer

Back in 1990, there wasn’t such a thing as a super-powerful saloon. At least, there wasn’t until Lotus developed a high-performance version of the Vauxhall Carlton. The Lotus Carlton, as it became known, was the fastest production saloon in the world at the time.

These days, the car is a rare sight on the streets of Britain and in Europe, where it’s also known as the Lotus Omega. Today, there are plenty of high-performance saloons that one can buy. But I’d like us to pay homage to the car that kick-started the trend: the Lotus Carlton!



At the time, Vauxhall (and Opel in Europe) wanted to develop a high-performance saloon. With Lotus’ expert engineering input, they used a Carlton GSi as their base vehicle.

The car had a 3.0-litre 24v engine as standard, and Lotus bored it out to 3.6 litres. They also bolted on a couple of Garrett T25 turbochargers to the power plant. The turbos provided 0.7 bar of boost from 1,500 RPM upwards.

Lotus had experimented with using larger turbochargers from the beginning. The problem was there was too much turbo “lag” and so smaller turbos got used instead.

The tuning firm also upgraded the ignition system. They recycled the original distributor and repurposed it for the intercooler system.

Today’s alternatives

Today, one can pick up an even better saloon car from Imperial Car Supermarket and other dealers. There are plenty of alternatives on the market, such as the:

  • Audi RS 4 – 4.2-litre V8 FSI engine. 414 brake horsepower, 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds;
  • Jaguar XFR – 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine. 503 brake horsepower, 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds.

Of course, today’s super-fast saloons have advanced vehicle technology as standard. But, at the time, the Lotus Carlton was the best high-performance saloon available.

Lotus Carlton reliability

There was one fundamental problem with boring out the cylinders and bolting on turbochargers. The engine wasn’t that reliable with the modifications! To overcome that challenge, Lotus upgraded many key internal components of the engine.

For example, the crankshaft got replaced with a bespoke design made from billet steel.

The engine got bolted to a six-speed manual gearbox used on the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1. That, in turn, got connected to a rear limited-slip differential. The part in question was also used on the Holden Commodore in Australia.

Other upgrades included modified multi-link suspension and four-piston AP brake calipers at the front.

Power output

When the Lotus Carlton went into production, the car produced an impressive 377 bhp! At the time, that made it the world’s fastest production saloon vehicle!

It could get you to 60 mph from a standing start in only 5.2 seconds. It had a top speed of around 180 mph. Despite pressure on the car’s manufacturer, the top speed didn’t get limited to 155 mph.

Today, around 85 examples are still on the road in the UK according to


At the time, Vauxhall was under fire to stop the Lotus Carlton from getting produced. Why? The car was a target for thieves! Ram-raid crimes skyrocketed when the Lotus Carlton got introduced.

In fact, the car was a common feature in news reports on various retail store thefts throughout the UK. Despite those facts, the Lotus will always get remembered as “that super-fast saloon” car!

Photo credit : Flickr

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