A crime spree in 1993 had West Midlands Police stumped. Newsagents and Off licences had been robbed by thieves stealing alcohol and cigarettes before escaping at speed in a dark coloured car. The Police hadn’t been able to do anything. At the peak of the activity, an off licence opposite a Police station was robbed. The reason the robbers were so bold was due to the getaway car…
“They’re obviously getting very cocky to carry out a raid right in front of a police station but they know they can get away once back inside the car”
PC David Oliver
In 1993 a few months prior, a car was stolen from a residential drive in Worcester. This turned out to be the getaway car in question, registration “40RA” a Vauxhall Carlton. This was a very special Vauxhall Carlton – A Lotus Carlton in fact, the fastest saloon car of its day. This car would be used to carry out a series of robberies across the West midlands over several months.
“We simply haven’t been able to get near the thing and it looks unlikely that we ever will. Our urban panda cars can only go at 90mph, but we also have a policy of not getting involved in chases. If we did that, the thieves could kill themselves or someone else”
PC David Oliver
The criminals were never caught and the Police openly admitted that the only chance they had was to find where the car was hidden during the day. Even the Police helicopter struggled to keep up with the Lotus on the M6.
General Motors turns to Lotus
The Lotus Carlton came about when General Motors decided it wanted to get involved in the performance Saloon segment. Mercedes had the 500E and BMW the E34 M5 and General Motors wanted its own car in this segment. Without a tuning company like BMW’s M division or Mercedes’ AMG, it turned to another company it owned, Lotus.
General Motors decided that the Vauxhall Carlton 3000 GSI (Opel Omega if you’re reading in Europe) would form the basis of the new car and Lotus set to work. The 3000 GSI already included a 3 litre engine and rear wheel drive so it was deemed a good platform to compete against the Mercedes and BMW.
The unassuming Vauxhall Carlton was transformed, with a bigger, twin turbo version of the Vauxhall GSI engine, bonnet intakes, front and rear spoilers, AP vented brakes, limited slip differential, re calibrated suspension and wider arches. The car was capable of 177mph and 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and 0-100 in 11.5 seconds. The 3.6L straight six 24-valve 382bhp engine was paired to a Corvette ZR-1 6 speed gearbox to handle the 419lb ft of torque.
All the cars were finished in Imperial Green with Lotus badging all round. The Lotus Carlton was an official Lotus product with “Type 104” designation. When production had finished, 950 cars had been built, just shy of the 1000 unit target.
Lotus Carlton – Modern classic
The Lotus Carlton was considerably quicker (outright and in acceleration) than the BMW E34 M5, Mercedes 500E and BMW Alpina B10. BMW and Mercedes limited their most powerful cars to 155mph, but the Vauxhall would easily pull another 20mph over these rivals.
While the Lotus Carlton held the title of fastest standard saloon car in the world for over 10 years it was not all about straight-line performance. Lotus had created an exploitable and capable chassis. A strange quirk was that the fuel level affected the handling because the petrol tank was above the rear axle.
Today the car is a rare modern classic that holds onto its value well – in spite of its criminal connections.
Road trip, car show or track day Ed is sure to be there taking photos and notes to blog about. Ed has a particular fascination with the volatile history of the British sports car industry which is where the idea for the site came from!