The world's fastest saloon

This report was taken from Autocar & Motor magazine published on 18 July 1990

The 180mph Lotus Carlton supersaloon, on sale from September, is undergoing stringent testing to make the world's fastest saloon car also the world's best.

This Britain's fastest car, the Vauxhall Lotus Carlton, sitting on the quay at Calais (pictures not shown). It has just completed a lightning trip to southernmost Europe, taken in Italy's eight mile test bowl at Nardo as part of an extensive 18-month development program. The aim is to place it among the very best sporting cars in the world.

With a top speed of at least 176mph, according to Vauxhall Chairman, Paul Tosch, and possibly scraping 180mph, the Carlton has already secured a place in the record books.

It will almost certainly be the fastest saloon car in the world - BMW's M% is restricted to 155mph. And in the British Isles it is set to be the fastest car ever built. The Aston Martin Vantage - no longer produced - comes closest with its 170mph top speed. The Carlton will also cost half the price of any out-and-out sports car of comparable performance.

Lotus will build around 800 of the supersaloons at its old DeLorean engineering centre. The cars will be badged as Vauxhall Lotus Carltons in Britain and Opel Lotus Omegas abroad. In the UK, it will cost around £45,000 from Vauxhall main dealers - around the same price as the BMW M5.

Vauxhall announced the deep-chested Carlton back in March 1989 at the Geneva show. It's been under constant development at Lotus ever since, testing at the company's Millbrook proving ground near Bedford as well as on the continent.

The changes to the original show car are subtle and its powerplant remains untouched. The 3638cc straight six, with 4-valve heads and twin turbochargers, produces its maximum 360bhp at 5800rpm. More importantly, its staggering 376lb ft of torque is produced at 3800rpm. It's rumoured that even at idle, the mighty Lotus Carlton produces more torque than Vauxhall's 24-valve Carlton at full revs.

Lotus has experimented with four-wheel-drive prototypes, but they have now been abandoned. So the production Carlton will, like the Geneva show car, drive through the rear 17ins 265/40ZR shod wheels only.

Other features retained from the Geneva car include the six-speed manual transmission and the massive 12.5ins ventilated discs with three-channel anti-lock brakes.

But the vast automatically adjustable rear wing has been dropped. Wind tunnel work has shown the wing to be perfectly effective in the one fixed position. The original Carlton's aerodynamics are proving a massive boost to high speed stability during the Nardo tests.

The most obvious modifications are in the nose - the air intakes are now bigger, the tiny foglamps and wire mesh grilles fitted to the show car have been dropped. There is extra cooling, too, on the bonnet lid with a second hot air exit joining the original single vent above the turbochargers. The result makes the car, which Lotus have dubbed 'Beauty', look still more aggressive.

To put 'Beauty' through its paces, Lotus is following a similar programme to the Elan's. The Elan was repeatedly driven to Rome and back; on its return, its drivers were charged with putting any necessary reliability and durability modifications through the system.

The Carlton has visited Nardo at least six times since the start of the year - and it's been driven all the way there. This car , pre-production car number two (of nine), was caught on the dockside at Calais on the leg home. As the Carlton is the first car that Lotus has built for a client for some time, reliability is crucial, Vauxhall has said it plans to further Lotus-modified models in its line-up, but the Carlton will be seen as a test of Lotus' ability.

The build programme is expected to take around two to two and a half years, with the first customer taking delivery in September. Vauxhall says that serious enquiries do not cover the entire production run, but it has over 200 customers already signed up.

There is talk of driver tuition being included in the price. The performance and accessibility of the car is certain to raise the eyebrows of safety and motoring organisations.  Vauxhall has repeatedly said it will not fit a BMW style 155mph speed limiter to the car. If it sticks to that, Britain's fastest car is bound d to open up a can of worms. It could mean that Britain's fastest car will keep that title for ever.

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