After buying Lotus in 1986, General Motors put it to work creating a BMW M5 rival. The Carlton/Omega’s 3-litre straight-six was bored out to 3.6-litres, with two turbos bolted on. Inside a bespoke gear casing were the internals of a Chevy Corvette ZR-1 gearbox. The suspension was beefed up, the brakes replaced and a leather interior fitted. A hefty bodykit hinted at the car’s 176mph potential.
VAUXHALL LOTUS CARLTON
Top speed 176mph
Gearbox Six-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Rot can be well hidden. Rear wheelarches are key spots, so feel from in front of the rear wheel and remove the boot trim to inspect from inside. The sills are prone to corrosion but hard to check – budget on £300 or so for replacements. Chassis rails may have had some welding, and door bottoms can suffer. The bodykit is tough, but look for cracks and chips. Make sure no badges are missing. All these cars should be Imperial Green.
The engine and transmission are pretty tough, with some examples approaching 200,000 miles. Regular servicing is essential though. Any rattles are a cause for concern, and be wary of tuning chips and signs of headgasket failure. The engines generate a lot of heat, so make sure there are no signs of overheating and that the auxiliary cooling pump works after a good run. The slightly clunky gearbox may rattle at idle. The clutch is a weakness – if it’s very heavy, the actuating arm could be on the point of failing. The propshaft and rear differential rarely give trouble.
The steering rarely causes trouble other than usual wear, but make sure it’s tight and precise. The brakes are seriously beefed up, with AP calipers. The steel pistons can corrode, so stainless steel items are a sensible upgrade. Brake pads are no problem to find, but discs can be tricky and they warp easily. The correct rear shock absorbers contain an air self-levelling system, though some opt for Bilstein upgrades. Sixth gear works out at an astonishingly tall 44mph/1000rpm.
Make sure the central locking and electric windows work. Seat bolsters can wear but a trimmer should be able to revive things.
Some secondhand items are available.
We reckon you’d be hard pushed to find a bigger classic bargain. Rarity should be pushing values up now, with only 320 Carltons and 680 Euro-spec Omegas built. Perhaps the bullish bodykit is considered a bit much by some, but it’s certainly not all about show. The supercar performance is very real, yet it is also hugely practical. The club is a huge source of info.