For me, it all started with a pre-launch headline in the Daily Mail, suggesting the Lotus Carlton shouldn't be allowed, and a subsequent campaign to have it banned - ah, you've gotta love'em. Still, it wasn't only the Mail chattering; it seemed the Association of Chief Police Officers agreed, arguing that it was ‘an outrageous invitation to speed.’
Far from invoking derision in my part-formed, mid-teen mind, this kind of talk created curiosity, which morphed into unbridled wonder. It became legendary when the Lotus Carlton arrived with Vauxhall having duly ignored all the controversy and left the top speed unchecked at nearly 180mph.
I dribbled over the Autocar road test, where none other than Richard Noble tried to achieve this. Clearly then, it was so fast it needed a land speed record holder to drive it, but he only managed 163.6mph at Bruntingthorpe before running out of road. The rest of the performance figures were, well, astonishing.
Remember, this is not like today, when you can take your pick from an Audi RS6, a Mercedes-AMG E 63 or a BMW M5, all of which are equally stupefying. A saloon with 377bhp and 419lf ft of torque was genuinely mind-boggling back then, and the Lotus’s closest spiritual rival was an E34 M5. Yet with merely 315bhp, it was instantly relegated to the Championship.
Of the Premier League rivals, only the new Lamborghini Diablo could accelerate quicker; but that couldn’t take you, your missus, your trio of munchkins and their luggage on holiday to Bogna though, could it. Mr. L. Carlton could.
These are the simple facts: 0-60 in 5.1sec. Fast, sure, but because the Carlton’s sloppy clutch and traction limitations meant its 0-30mph was pretty average, this time didn’t really reveal its true majesty. No, you had to look at the 0-100mph time to discover where its true power lay: 11.1sec.
Boom. That was faster than a Ferrari Testarossa and a Porsche 928 GT, and what of real-world flexibility? Well, it would hoon from 30-70mph in 3.8sec. Let's throw some context in now and point out that’s 0.4sec quicker than a 911 Turbo of similar vintage could manage, and a tenth quicker than a Lamborghini Countach.
So here was a simple Vauxhall, with four doors and a big boot, that could genuinely slay supercars. I hope now you can see the magnificence of the beast, and why it is so special? I should also mention that it took nigh on ten years for a saloon car to appear with even more power and speed – the wonderful 394bhp E39 BMW M5, itself another of the all-time greats.
My next door neighbour in the early 90s was a police driving instructor at the Met’s Hendon driver training centre; he let slip plod had a Lotus Cartlon on loan. This was an era when the police needed to deploy cars such as the Porsche 968 and Ford Escort RS Cosworth, because they needed something to keep pace with Johnny Plonker who’d just nicked your own 968 or Cossie, thinking it would be a cracking wheeze to V-max it past your front door. So the Lotus was in for evaluation as a potential addition to the fleet – the ultimate weapon, you might say.