Pulling out all of the stops

This report was taken from Autocar & Motor Magazine 5th August 1992

Snick...... the one-shot electric window on the Lotus Carlton retracts into the door and the driver angles his custom painted green and yellow helmet through the gap. "All the temperatures seem fine... let's do it".

It's a beautiful sunny Tuesday morning, we're at the Santa Pod dragstrip in Bedfordshire, and the boys from Lotus have brought their awesome Lotus Carlton along to kick off the Autocar & Motor 0-100-0 challenge for 1992.

They're competing in the standard production class. The car has been driven from Norfolk, has a quarter of a tank of fuel and is about as off-the-shelf as a Lotus Carlton can  be.

Well, nearly. H474 TCL is actually a Lotus Omega, or a left-hand-drive German Lotus Carlton. Number 38 off the production line, it's been doing the rounds as a testing hack at Hethel for some time, although frequent trips to the Nurburgring and the Nardo test track in southern Italy account for some 30,000 miles racked up on the odometer.

It's a car with which Lotus's principal development engineer, Kevin Burrows, is very familiar. Apart from using it on a day to day basis, he has driven it four up at 175mph around Nardo's banking for a continuous 7.5 miles - "how many cars can do that?"

Not many, I'm sure, but that's not why we're at Santa Pod to find out. By any standards, the big Carlton's chances of being the fastest standard production car from zero to 100mph and back are good. Some number crunching on the computer back at Lotus HQ suggests the Lotus Carlton might achieve a time of about 15.9 secs. Should prediction become fact, the Carlton would then tie with the current champ - Nick Mason's Ferrari F40, driven by Mike Wilds. What a gong that would be for a 'mere' Vauxhall.

And who's going to argue with a specification that includes 377bhp at 5200rpm and a tyre-vapourising 419lbft of torque at 4200rpm? All that grunt comes from a 3615cc 24-valve twin-turbo straight six, the power being diverted to mother earth through a six-speed ZF gearbox and a limited slip differential.

Perhaps more significant are the Carlton's simply huge brakes - 13ins diameter ventilated discs with four pot calipers up front (that's bigger than the wheels on a Mini) and 11.8ins at the back. There's even an anti-lock system to rely on, too. It's just as well, because the Lotus Carlton tips the scales at 1655kg. Even so, that mighty powerplant still allows a power-to-weight ratio of 228bhp per tonne.

Driver for the day is 37 year old Rudy Thomann, senior development engineer and, like Burrows, from Lotus's Vehicle Development and Proving Department. No stranger to fast driving, the Parisian (also known in Lotus circles as the Flying Frog) has driven all sorts of racing cars from Formula Ford single seaters through Group C to the US's World Challenge Series for semi-stock sports cars in Lotus's own racing Esprit Turbo. Not surprisingly, he has also milked the fastest acceleration times ever achieved from a road going Esprit Turbo SE.

Correvit timing gear on board and operative, I'm obviously riding alongside a pro. The Lotus Carlton has never been an easy car to get off the line, and today the sun has softened the rubber-laden strip into a smulch sticky enough to remove your loafers. This is going to be interesting.

Thomann revs the big six to 6000rpm and then lets the needle fall to 3800rpm, at which point he holds it steady. Then it's a neat sidestep with the left foot, the rear end squats down and we're already past 50mph by the time I catch a glimpse of the readout. The phenomenal acceleration of a Lotus Carlton is a strange thing to experience because of the apparent lack of drama. There is only the blur of the LCD readout, as 10mph increments are repeatedly squashed, to at your alarming rate of progress. The magic 100mph is almost upon us and at 97mph I give Thomann the 'anchors on' signal.

For the next 5.8secs I'm the dummy in the Volvo crash commercial, thrown forward into the seatbelt, the anti-lock brakes doing their stuff with aplomb. We've only covered a tiny bit more than a quarter of a mile when we come to a stop, four square. The results have already spooled out and Thomann is eager for the SP. Sixty in 5.81secs, 100 in 11.94secs and from there back to zero in 5.86secs. In total that makes 17.80secs - not bad for the first attempt. But there's certainly room for improvement, and Thomann knows it. Even so, the Lotus has amply demonstrated its greatest strength. Just 5.86secs were needed to brake from 100mph to rest - that's nearly a second better than any of the other standard production cars have managed and little short of remarkable for a car of the Carlton's weight.

Leaning against the Armco, Burrows, who is tactician for the day, looks disappointed but has the answer. "Too much wheelspin; try dropping it about three three." We do so, and the results are significantly better: 0-60mph is nailed in 5.6secs, 100mph in 11.85secs and back to rest in 5.15secs, giving a total of 17secs dead. Thomann has got the hang of the revs off the line by now, and yet the task would be so much easier with a more precisely graduated rev counter. The frustration mounts.

A punishing 18 runs later, we still can't match that superb time, 17.8secs becoming a monotonously common result. "Leave the air conditioning on" is the next bit of advice from Burrows. Apparently this keeps the twin cooling fans blowing, which in turn lends a hand to the chargecooler without sapping power under full acceleration.

It works, and we achieve our second best time of the day (17.4secs), leaving the Lotus with an average of 17.2secs for the 0-100-0 Challenge. It's a marvellous result for a car of  the Carlton's size and weight and secures second place behind the F40 (15.9secs) , but well ahead of Chris Owen's RS200 (18.9secs).

Copyright© and all rights registered to Autocar & Motor™ Magazine

Home Road Test Reports