﹒Incredible history file ﹒177MPH 90s Super Saloon ﹒377BHP - Twin Turbo 6-Cylinder Engine ﹒Recent Suspension and Brake Overhaul ﹒Full Stainless Steel Exhaust
The Lotus Carlton is, in a word, legendary. A true icon, it was a total departure for the Lotus name which had hitherto been associated with svelte, lightweight cars. The Carlton was unashamedly a big bruiser of a thing, and Lotus’ treatment of it was to essentially give the super-saloon a boatload of power and then smirk at the ensuing tabloid headlines. Taking the Carlton GSi’s 3.0-litre straight-six as a base, the motor was enlarged to a muscular 3.6-litres and endowed with twin turbos, giving it a colossal peak output of 377bhp. In 1990, that number was utterly insane in an executive saloon car – to provide a little context, the then-current Ferrari 348 offered 316bhp.
The parts-sharing of the wider General Motors corporation proved hugely helpful in development; Lotus bolted in the 6-speed manual gearbox from a Chevrolet Corvette and the LSD from a Holden Commodore, along with the self-levelling suspension and Servotronic steering from the Opel Senator. A chunky bodykit and girth-some 17” Ronal wheels completed the aesthetic makeover, along with a sumptuously trimmed leather interior. The result was a comfy saloon that could waft like a limo, handle like a champ, and hit 177mph. The tabloids hated it. Parliament debated the decency of its very existence. Everyone else was utterly astonished.
The current owner bought the car from Scotland four years ago. With low owners (just three, including him) and low mileage (40,000), it’s a supremely original and honest example; build no.75, it was the first Lotus Carlton to be supplied to a Scottish owner – that original owner was the one who put on the majority of the car’s miles, always fastidiously maintaining it and keeping it in exceptional condition. The second owner used it very little, keeping it in dry storage and adding only minimal miles, all of which is supported by the paperwork and MOT history. And when it passed to the current owner, a passionate Vauxhall collector, in 2016, he found himself with a superbly original example of his dream car… although, of course, enthusiasts will always find areas for improvement. He immediately set about making sure the car was absolutely the best possible example of a Lotus Carlton that it could be, both mechanically and aesthetically, taking a no-expense-spared approach. The aim was to ensure that it drove as if it were factory-fresh and just as Hethel’s engineers intended, as well as working hard to present it as one of the best examples of a Carlton in existence. This passionate undertaking is evident in the quality of the car today.
So why sell? Well, the nature of a passionate collector is that there are always other cars on the wish-list. After four years with the Lotus, it’s time to level-up to an Aston Martin, so the garage space is required. As many a collector will attest, you can’t keep ’em all…
The amount of documentation accompanying this car is frankly astonishing. It’s not unusual for owners of rare and desirable classics to have a substantial folder of paperwork, but this is the first time we’ve seen a seller unleash a whole cardboard box full! Among the treats within are a complete stamped service history and a full MOT history, and there’s plenty of rare and desirable curios to enjoy too – such as the original bill of sale, and the documentation to show that the first owner traded in a Sierra RS Cosworth for the Carlton. The presence of the hardback book on the Lotus Carlton by Ian Adcock is something that aficionados will know is very sought-after (these rare books can change hands for many hundreds of pounds), and the current owner has acquired from Lotus a beautifully presented Certificate of Provenance. The original dealer brochures are included – signed, interestingly, by the dealer who sold the car – and all of the original service books and manuals are present including the ludicrously massive ring binder of official service literature.
In the current owner’s tenure, the Carlton has been looked after by marque specialist Agamemnon (Joe Ellis) in Daventry, with every piece of work painstakingly detailed in the documentation. And most entertainingly of all, there’s a print-out of the Hansard transcripts when the very existence of the Lotus Carlton was debated in Parliament – ‘a reckless invitation to speed’ is how they phrased it…
The first thing that strikes you about this car’s interior is that it smells absolutely correct – not ‘new car smell’, but exactly the aroma that you’d want a leather-trimmed machine from the early-1990s to exude.
The seats are utterly superb – very supportive in the bolsters, while also being squishy enough to be supremely comfortable – and the Connolly leather is excellent throughout. All of the carpets are in super condition, as are the interior plastics which are all free from cracks or scuffs. Every switch and button is in place and in correct working order, and there’s no sign of lacquer peel on the wood trim. The original Grundig radio-cassette is present, along with its 6-CD changer in the boot, and the glovebox lid bears the correct plaque showing this to be car no.75. The seller tells us that the pump and pipework on the air-conditioning were all changed last year, but the condenser does weep slightly at present, meaning it requires a re-gas, and could do with a re-gas every few months or so until a new condenser is fitted.
Everything is dry and proper inside the boot, with excellent carpets and the original space-saver spare wheel which appears to be unused.
There are few cars which can match the visual drama of a Lotus Carlton. It’s incredible how much of a difference the Lotus styling tweaks made to what was arguably quite a humdrum saloon profile, but there’s a world of difference between a mainstream Vauxhall Carlton and a Lotus Carlton. This is principally down to the much wider and chunkier arches, giving it the appearance of a de-liveried DTM race car, along with the substantially redesigned bumpers, large bonnet vents and, perhaps most impressively of all, that model-specific paintwork. It may appear black from afar, but it’s actually Imperial Green – a super-dark metallic and pearlescent green that cleverly shape-shifts in different lights. Along with the functional aerodynamic aids (the boot spoiler really is huge) and green-tinted glass, it makes for an astoundingly impressive presence. And we can vouch for the fact that when this car drives down the street, plenty of onlookers can be seen scrabbling for their phones to grab a photo!
As you’d hope of a cherished and pampered example of a rare classic, the exterior presentation of this car is nothing short of outstanding. The perfectionist nature of the owner means that no stone has been left unturned in ensuring originality and quality, and the latest manifestation of this is proven by the recent large bills for a full ceramic-coating. Any surface corrosion, which is very common on these cars, has been eradicated from the rear door bottoms and surrounds for the windscreen and rear window, with the paint repairs being OEM-quality. The wheels have also recently been refurbished, and the overall effect is of a car that wants for nothing. The private plate, paying homage to the car’s build number, is included in the sale.
As is evidenced through the extensive history file, this car has always been correctly maintained with a keenness for perfection, and as such it’s presented today as an original-spec and matching-numbers Lotus Carlton in fabulous working order. During the last four years of ownership, the seller has spent tens of thousands of pounds with specialists making sure that everything with the Carlton is tip-top and just as it should be. This extensive work includes (but is by no means limited to) refurbishing the original AP brake callipers all round, new front control arms and bushes, refurbished shock absorbers, new discs and pads, blasted and powder-coated front subframe and rear trailing arms, new wheel bearings, a brand new front-to-back stainless steel exhaust system by BTB Exhausts, brake master cylinder rebuild, repainted plenums, new throttle cable, and new injectors. As such, the car now runs and drives just like new. The only blemish we could find was a little acid deposit around the bolt on the battery tray – other than that, it’s like looking at a shiny new car in a dealership in 1991.
Usually when one buys a classic car, one of the first jobs is to draw up a list of jobs to do in the short- medium- and long-term – but that simply wouldn’t be the case with this car. Everything that could conceivably need doing has been done, and to the highest achievable standard. It hasn’t been possible to buy a brand new Lotus Carlton since 1992, but this ’91 example here is realistically the closest a buyer today is able to get to doing just that. Everything about this car is as original as can possibly be, with a colossal history file backing up the wide-ranging and painstaking work that’s been carried out to get every element just-so. Whether the buyer chooses to put it in a static collection as part of a trapped-in-amber concours exhibit or press it into regular use on the road is, of course, entirely up to them – but rest assured that whichever direction is chosen, this car will excel. The aesthetics are a period-perfect snapshot of the early 1990s, the mechanicals are exactly as Lotus intended, and everything’s been refreshed to keep it just as eager and effervescent as it’s ever been. The very definition of a motoring icon.
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