Based on the European Car of the Year award-winning Opel Omega and Vauxhall Carlton twins, it was the fastest regular production sedan in the world, and that caused major controversy in the socioeconomic class-conscious United Kingdom.
180-mph supercars like the Ferrari Testarossa had already been around for years, but when a pedestrian brand like Vauxhall endeavored to sell a sedan that could be purchased by non-aristocrats, it rocked the establishment.
Still, the Lotus Carltomega was a tour-de-force, offering 377 hp — 2 hp more than the also Lotus-engineered, 4-cam, 32-valve, 5.7-liter LT5 V-8 from the C4 Corvette ZR-1. The Carlton/Omega sent that outrageous power (and 419 lb-ft of torque!) from its 3.6-liter twin-turbo, DOHC 24-valve straight-six to the rear wheels via the same ZF 6-speed manual used in that King of the Hill Corvette. It was the only 6-speed manual in the world that could cope with the Lotus’ power.
The Lotus Type 104 sedan was more than just a straight-line rocket, with huge Ronal wheels, AP Racing brakes, and fully revised suspension. Period road tests demonstrated it would leave its contemporary competition (the E34 BMW M5 and W124 Mercedes 500E) for dead, both in acceleration and top speed.
Revelations goes into the history of why this Lotus was made — thanks to Bob Eaton’s desire to make GM Europe cool using newly purchased Lotus’ engineering — and how engineers at Opel’s Rüsselsheim factory tried to stand in its way.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the Lotus Carlton’s history was the ironic PR fallout when Autocar Magazine’s editor-in-chief asked Vauxhall to consider limiting its top speed — as the Germans had just voluntarily agreed to a 250 km/h (155-mph) limit. The British Parliament even got involved, with hearings condemning the Lotus’ performance, suggesting that because it was a “cheap car,” it could be purchased by those incapable of driving it safely. Or, worse, people who would use it to commit crimes.
The other great irony, Alanis (lol), is that this happened 5 years later, when a stolen Carlton with the now-infamous license plate “40 RA” was used in a crime spree — but was too fast for the police to catch.
Of course we’d be remiss in not mentioning Carlton Banks — the lovable character in the Will Smith’s cotemporary-to-the-Carlton early-1990s TV hit “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” whose energetic dance to Tom Jones’ “Not Unusual” created a meme from which the talented dancer/actor Alfonso Ribeiro still cannot escape.
If you know Jason Cammisa, then you’ve already guessed that he spent hours learning the Carlton, so that he could perform it in the most pants-splitting way possible.
But only after having brutalized a windy back road with the Carlton’s enormous power. While in the factory Cheater Mode engine programming. Of course.
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Hagerty Video Transcript
Now for my next number I’d like to return to the classics Welcome to the 1990s decade of Blockbuster Video the Sony Discman you got mail don’t you really want to know the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the only four-door sedan to ever be badged of lotus the Carlton was the Dodge Charger Hellcat red eye wide body of its day so irresponsibly
Reprehensively fast that the government asked its own maker to condemn it if you’re an American child of the 1990s you’ll hear the name Carlton and think of the character from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which is Ironic Alanis because the Fresh Prince was an examination of socioeconomic status Will
Smith working class sent to his upper class Auntie and Uncle in Bel Air As Americans we identified with and rooted for working class Will Smith and made fun of preppy Carlton but the opposite tends to happen in the UK where one does not mock revered members of society that’s kind of encouraged to
Look down on the working class so when General Motors gave the peasants as much speed as the rich people had already been enjoying in their Ferraris I really rocked their wings criminals will be driving these extraordinarily fast machines they cried and they were right Okay cut it first things first for y’all Americans opal was the brand name under which General Motors sold cars in Europe in the United Kingdom Oppo was called Vauxhall in 1987 Opel came out with an all-new rear-wheel drive sedan called the Omega in the UK it was badged Vox Hall Carlton
And it was large by 1980s European car standards meaning it’s the same size as today’s Honda Civic the Omega Carlton twins immediately won the 1987 European car of the year award and were met with much Acclaim especially for their Stellar aerodynamic properties with a drag coefficient as
Low as 0.28 they could attain high speeds without a lot of fuel or power and the Carlton Omega didn’t have a lot of power the base gas engine made just 80 horsepower but that was enough for over 110 miles an hour and even though the biggest engine only made 156
Horsepower well that was good for a buck 35 which was serious speed in the late 1980s but it wasn’t enough see the man in charge of General Motors was a car guy and he didn’t like that GM Europe had a reputation for making boring uninspiring cars that used outdated Tech
Like for example the 20 year old straight six that made only 156 horsepower out of three liters Opel was working on a 24 valve head for it but that wasn’t enough for Bob or for Mike Kimberly the boss of lotus the company that GM had just purchased
Lotus was more than just a car company Lotus was a consultant and aside from the obvious things like engineering the entire DeLorean Lotus had its grubby secretive little fingers in cars from almost every automaker around the globe including GM in fact when the Omega came out Lotus
Was in the process of creating the lt5 the quadcam 32 valve aluminum block monster slaying V8 for the King of the Hill Corvette ZR1 and Bob Eaton thought a stupidly fast sedan would be the right way to show the world that opal wasn’t boring why was he wrong but we’ll get
There in a second in 1988 the project started using opel’s Flagship Senator which was confusingly actually the same car as the carlto mega just with old man styling on it under the hood would be that Lotus developed Corvette ZR1 V8 but Bob Eaton wanted the sedan to debut alongside the ZR1 at the
1989 Geneva Auto Show which was only a couple of months away problem was a V8 wouldn’t fit between the V platform’s front frame rails without extensive structural modification and that meant engineering cost and re-homologation for crash tests but most importantly time which they didn’t have
So out went the lt5 and lotus’s Aetna V8 and the 5-liter V8 from GM’s Australian brand Holden instead the engineer is concentrated on the old straight six with and without the forthcoming 24 valve head with and without turbochargers and in 3.0 3.6 3.9 and 4 liter displacements but it didn’t work
The hot Senator a phrase that certainly no one has ever said before wouldn’t work because it would be too expensive it would sell in too few units and it would be confusing to customers because the senator as a lineup had no sporting chops to begin with
The cult to Omega despite being the same car did there were already the sporty Omega 3000 slash called in GSI models and a 24 valve area was coming so just six weeks before the sportiest Lotus at anything would make its debut at Geneva the whole project switched from the
Senator to the cult Omega with the goal of being the best and fastest accelerating sport sedan on the planet to do that Lotus took opal’s brand new 24 valve head and bolted it on to the old straight six now stroked out to 3.6 liters and then added not one but two
Turbochargers the result was 377 horsepower two more than the Corvette ZR1 King of the Hill V8 and this made 419 pound-feet of torque which was 50 more than the Corvettes and by the way 150 pound-feet of torque more than the next most powerful sedan the BMW 5 which this would leave for dead There was only one Transmission in the world that could handle that torque output and it was the zf6b developed for the Corvette ZR1 and Lotus wound up having to fight with GM to get it because Chevy had an exclusive and had no interest in helping Lotus opal had no
Interest in helping Lotus either in fact opal stood in lotus’s way almost every step along the way look this was completely overshadowing opal’s own 3 liter 24 valve variant and so likely out of jealousy opal flat out refused to build the Lotus variant on the regular call to Mega production line
Excuse me my beeper is going off that’s rather embarrassing gotta take this so the only way Lotus could actually make this car was the most outrageously expensive waste of Natural Resources to ever contradict the simplify and add lightness Mantra opal would produce a bog Standard 24 valve opal Omega 3000 or
Vauxhall carfen GSI and send it Factory fresh from lossesheim Germany to hethel England wearing placeholder bumpers and wheels then Lotus would attack it stripping the car half apart pulling the doors off interior out and then yanking the powertrain and shipping it back to Germany to be put in another car
Next up the gentle folk at Lotus walked up to their brand new car and took a plasma cutter to the wheel arches and hacked up the floor pan so it could fit the ZF six speed and attached the opal design fender flares and modified body panels and then had to re-rust proof the
Whole car and touch up all of the Imperial green paint was by the way the only color you can get see it’s green and then in went the big motor and AP Racing brakes and ronal 17-inch monoblock wheels and a limited slip diff from the Holden Commodore next up a
Fully reworked suspension including self-leveling at the back because Lotus was concerned that the semi-trailing arm rear suspension exhibited too much ooh camber change when fully loaded for safe continual operation at top speed if you’re a Lotus engineer this is the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night
Finally Lotus slapped on a Lotus Vin because opal refused to allow it to be called an opal or a Vauxhall the Lotus Omega or if it’s right hand drive the Lotus Carlton not to be confused with Carlton Banks who’s the fresh Prince’s cousin all that work at heffel took 130 man
Hours not counting building the engine so as you can imagine this was an expensive car in Germany it cost more than twice what a fully kitted Omega 3024 valve cost which itself was almost twice what a base Omega cost so four times the price but more than three
Times the horsepower on a car that if you remember didn’t need a lot of horsepower to go fast in the first place so this thing had a top speed of 177 miles an hour making it by some margin the fastest regular production sedan in the world Actually it was certified at 182 miles an hour by the German government though that car might have been running the cheater programming that was on the cars that Lotus gave to the media allegedly you can activate that programming by turning on the headlights starting the engine and holding it at
2000 RPM for 30 seconds and the first time I floored it I can walk this thing is insanely fast and listen it’s not like the Carlton Omega was some sort of tuner special that took off at high speeds no this thing was as aerodynamically stable at Ferrari
Testarossa speeds as a regular Omega was parked and I bring up the Ferrari Testarossa not just because the Carlton can keep up with one but because no one in the world had a problem with 180 mile an hour Ferrari but everyone in the UK had a problem with 180 mile an hour
Vauxhall everyone including of course the police and the government but also Automotive journalists we’re supposed to love this stuff wow the association of chief police officers called it an outrageous invitation to speed before the car even entered production the editor of autocar magazine wrote a scathing op-ed recommending that
Vauxhall limit the Carlton’s top speed high top speeds whether they are used or not are an essential ingredient in uncompromised sports cars but Vox Hall carltons no this is marketing at work a dangerous example of ours is better than yours immaturity okay there’s a lot to unpack here but
The uncompromised sports car thing really strikes a bad note especially because our little hypocrite Bob had just crashed an uncompromised sports car with a Ferrari badge on it one year earlier short while later just two months after the first Carlton was delivered to its owner Bob Eaton’s attempted making GM
Europe cool wound up becoming the poster child for all that was wrong in British Society here’s an excerpt from the Parliament House of Commons transcript from some guy named Tony It is ludicrous that Motorcar manufacturers should be advertising calls that have maximum speeds of 140 150 170 miles an hour some of those products are cheap cars that may be purchased by those who are incapable of driving them safely To which the baron Carlisle of beru responded will the honorary gentleman join me in condemning is especially the heavy publicity given recently to a Vauxhall Carlton which is capable apparently of achieving 100 70 miles an hour it should not be available for sale to the public even at
The outrageous price of I think 45 000 pounds And there it is the problem wasn’t that the Lotus Carlton could do 180 miles an hour the problem wasn’t that the Lotus Carlton was inherently unsafe at 180 miles an hour the problem was that the Lotus Carlton was inexpensive outrageous price of 45 000. come on a Testarossa cost twice
That they were pissed that the middle class could afford it look the UK is a classist society and the people who bought Vox Halls well um they were kind of like the people who buy Dodge Chargers today Uh Yeah as um trashy Americans I love that for the price of a sport package on a Ferrari some redneck can buy an 807 horsepower Dodge Charger hell Dodge calls it the jailbreak because they know exactly who’s gonna buy it and what they’re gonna do with it I’m sorry that is totally awesome
Here’s what’s not awesome a bunch of sophisticots in wigs telling the general public that if you’re rich enough you can handle a 180 mile an hour Ferrari Testarossa but if you don’t have a sir in your name well you’re just going to take a fast car and use it to commit
Crimes I’m not making this up that was one of their actual arguments and here is the best part they were totally right three years later a Carlton was stolen by a gang of people who probably weren’t Aristocrats over the next couple of months they used it to Ram raid stores
And steal 20 000 pounds worth of cigarettes and booze and was nothing the cops could do about it because nothing could keep up with the Lotus Carlton certainly not the cop cars so these guys had no problem knocking over a store 30 yards from a police station there are all kinds of stories
About police helicopters not being able to keep up with these things but that’s ridiculous they couldn’t go all that far according to Lotus their 18 gallon fuel tanks would be empty after just 40 minutes at top speed which is probably for the better because the transmission and diff would start to overheat after
30 minutes so they’re not properly engineered shut up have a sense of humor Lotus only made 320 of the Carlton sedans 950 of these things in total this was just an Image Maker not a transportation device for the masses and think about the irony of that GM buys
Lotus so it can use lotus’s engineering might to help sportify the company’s image and it turns into a PR nightmare backfiring to the point that Vauxhall stops advertising the top speed of the fastest sedan in the world isn’t it ironic don’t you think yeah it is Alanis because that is the awesomest Fu
To a stuffy classist bunch of who on their very best day couldn’t understand the Carlton Thank you Okay Foreign foreign hello hey okay so this car is actually genuinely modern sport sedan fast what you’ve never experienced one well you should go over to hagerty’s Marketplace which is a website where we have classified ads and auctions and maybe one of these things will be for sale
Maybe this thing will be for sale in fact you’ll never know unless you go I can’t get that it’s gross