Today, British automaker Lotus really only makes sports cars like the Elise and planned Evija electric hyper-car. True, the Evora GT is more practical and comfortable enough to drive cross-country. But Lotus doesn’t offer a sporty sedan like the Porsche Panamera or BMW M5. However, at one point, it did. Like Porsche, Lotus was struggling in the 80s and 90s and had to partner with other automakers to stay afloat. In Porsche’s case, such a partnership created the Audi RS2 Avant. And for Lotus, the result was the Lotus Carlton sedan. A sedan so fast, the cops couldn’t catch it.
The Lotus Carlton history and specs
As Petrolicious explains, the original Vauxhall Carlton was a fairly innocuous British sedan, sold as the Opel Omega in mainland Europe. Although DriveTribe reports some versions had more power, the Carlton was never able to keep up with the BMW M5 or Audi S4. However, in the 80s and early 90s, GM, which owned Vauxhall/Opel, wanted to compete with the German brands. And luckily, Road & Track explains, at the time, GM also owned Lotus. Together, the companies developed the Lotus Carlton, aka the Lotus Omega.
In place of the standard engine, the Lotus Carlton got an inter-cooled 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder, R&T reports. The engine put out 377 hp and 419 lb-ft and featured the 6-speed manual from a Corvette ZR-1, Car reports, and a limited-slip differential. Incidentally, Lotus also helped develop the ZR-1, too.
In addition, Lotus re-tuned the Carlton’s suspension, Petrolicious reports. The sedan also received AP Racing disc brakes front and rear, wider tires, rear spoiler, hood vents, and flared wheel arches. However, the main attraction was definitely the speed.
Could the Lotus Carlton really keep up with the BMW M5?
The Lotus Carlton was actually faster than the cops. With a top speed of 177 mph, Jalopnik, and Hagerty report, the Carlton was roughly twice as fast as the UK’s police cars. And for several years, it was the fastest sedan in the world. Bring a Trailer reports that said top speed may actually be too low, and that some testers reached 190 mph. Disclaimer: we absolutely do not recommend or condone trying this for yourself.
Although its 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds is respectable, Autocar reports the Carlton’s true strength was in 0-100 and 30-70. The latter is especially useful for measuring real-world passing performance. The Lotus sedan could do 30-70 in 3.8 seconds. Which, for comparison, was 0.1 seconds faster than a Lamborghini Countach, and 0.4 seconds faster than the contemporary 911 Turbo.
And apart from a heavy clutch, Car reports, the Lotus Carlton is still a comfortable, daily-drivable sedan. It has leather seats, wood trim, electric mirrors, and even at highway speeds, the interior is pretty quiet. In addition, Autocar reports the chassis and steering, combined with the LSD, mean the Carlton can definitely handle itself in the corners.
Pricing and availability
Unfortunately, the Lotus Carlton’s speed also worked against it. The car was so fast, Jalopnik reports, that for a time, the UK Parliament considered banning it entirely. But, while the ban never came, the sedan was also extremely expensive. In 1990, during a European recession, the Carlton cost the equivalent of about $60,000. In today’s money, that’s just over $135,000.
As a result, the Lotus sedan was only made from 1990-1992, with some cars labeled as 1993 models. While 1,100 were planned to be made, Petrolicious reports only about 950 were actually built. And because of their rarity and performance, these cars are highly sought-after.
In February 2020, a 1993 model sold for the equivalent of $55,000 during the Race Retro Car Auction. And BaT reports that’s only slightly more than average. In 2018, one particularly well-kept example sold for almost $97,000 at the Silverstone Classic Sale.
E34 and E39 BMW M5s are noticeably more affordable. And the E39’s 4.9-liter V8 does put out 394 hp. But then, an M5 isn’t a Lotus sedan, is it?
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