The Lotus Carlton/Omega Buying Guide – the 176mph saloon that they tried to ban

Lotus Carlton

The Lotus Carlton saloon, known as the Lotus Omega in Europe, rewrote the performance car rulebook and still has the ability to thrill 30-years on.

One sure-fire way of determining whether a car is too good for the competition is to see how many organisations and groups try to have it banned or removed from the roads completely. While this sort of thing usually happens in racing, road cars can sometimes become the focus of lobbyists, as was the case with the Lotus Carlton.

Thanks to its 176mph top speed, some felt that this car was simply too fast for the times, a sentiment shared by a group of criminals in the West Midlands that used them as getaway cars. At a time when fast four-door saloons were the preserve of BMW and Mercedes, this Vauxhall derived supercar arrived on the scene and utterly demolished the opposition. Twinturbos made sure that ingear acceleration gave Ferrari owners sleepless nights and it was rarer than most supercars too.

With a limited production run of 950 units, 285 of which were UK spec RHD models, Carltons are rather hard to come by these days. Despite its undeniable performance credentials, the badge and hefty £48,000 price tag meant that many cars stood on dealers lots for quite some time before finding homes.

Even amongst todays imposing super saloons, the Lotus Carlton with its pearlescent Imperial Green paintwork and flared bodywork is still a headturner. Its dimensions, though, are very compact which makes it far easier to hustle down a back road or through traffic.

checking The Lotus carlton Engine and gearbox

The 3.6-litre engines are strong but there are a few problem areas to inspect. Rattling or whining from under the bonnet could indicate an imminent timing chain failure which is something you obviously do not want to occur.

Viscous radiator fans can fail without much notice so have them checked as the under-bonnet temperatures are high and a failed fan may lead to a blown head gasket. Auxiliary electric fans should only come on when the air conditioner is working or the water temperature is above 97 degrees Celsius/207 degrees Fahrenheit, so this is something that can be checked while viewing a vehicle. Be wary of remapped cars as this can lead to problems down the line with driveshafts and pistons.

The gearbox was sourced from a Corvette ZR-1 and is a reliable unit, although the clutch can be heavy to operate – unless it is about to fail.

A known problem area is the clutch pivot pin and bellhousing. If the clutch is overly light to depress, notchy or does not return to its normal position, then the pressure plate, friction plate and bellhousing may need replacing. Revised bellhousings were fitted as a running change, though the modification didn’t entirely sort out these issues.

Suspension and brakes on the Lotus carlton

Brake pads and discs are generally long-lasting items but parts can be pricey when they do eventually need replacing.

Exhaust systems can corrode over time so check that the rear and centre sections are in good condition.

Suspension systems are mostly unique to the Lotus Carlton and it is worth checking under the car for any obvious signs of corrosion or damaged rubber bushes. If there is a knocking from the front suspension it could indicate that the spring cup washer has corroded. In some cases the front springs themselves can also fracture due to corrosion. Knocking from the rear may mean that the trailing arm bushes have failed.

What to look for on Lotus Carlton Bodywork and interior

The body kit is made of fibreglass and was not always to a very high standard. The bodywork modifications were carried out by Lotus and areas where original panels have been drilled into may have affected the rust proofing.

The body itself can also show signs of rust in the usual problem areas such as the wheelarches, boot floor and windscreen surrounds.

With prices on the up make sure you are looking at a genuine Carlton by finding the plaque in the glovebox and making sure that it has a 180mph speedo. The dashboard is a typical slab of 90s plastic but it should have weathered the years well enough.

Lotus Carlton Interior

Model History of the lotus carlton

1990: Lotus Carlton starts production four years after original Omega is launched

1992: Production ends with 950 cars completed. 320 Carltons and 630 Omegas built

Which Lotus Carlton To Buy

While the early 90s economic climate and high sticker price of the Carlton may have limited its appeal when new, its rarity and historical importance are just the triggers to push values up in its current role as a modern classic.

Years of middling prices mean that some cars were not cared for as they should have beenso be on the lookout for tired examples and cars with suspect modifications.

Don’t be put off by higher than average mileages as long as all the maintenance and servicing has been adhered to. Values are definitely heading up and if you are set on one the decision is made easier by the fact that all cars were offered in just the one trim and colour option.

With just 285 RHD cars making their way to the UK, finding a good one can take a little while. A few LHD examples have made their way over here in the intervening yearsTake your time when searching for one though, as a Lotus Carlton in fine fettle is still a truly capable super saloon.

Lotus Carlton Specifications

3.6-litre Twin Turbo Inline-Six

Power: 377bhp

Top speed: 176mph

0-60mph: 5.1sec

Economy: 17.6mpg


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Words John Tallodi Photos Vauxhall

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