The Vauxhall Carlton is for many a milestone classic as it gave birth to the Lotus Carlton. A four-door saloon capable of 177 mph and 0-60 in 5.0 secs and 0-100 mph in 10.6 secs. This storming motor captured the imagination of millions including the UK government which wanted it banned. Criminals also figured at the time, that it could easily outpace any motor driven by the police and successfully used one to commit <ram raids> around the Midlands in 1993. Lesser Carltons including the powerful 3.0 GSi 24v which itself was capable of 150mph with a 0-60 in 7.0 secs and 0-100 in 18.1 secs, had indeed given birth to one of motoring’s most famous/infamous children.
However, the standard Vauxhall Carlton as either a saloon or estate was a seriously good motor in its day. Offering good performance, comfort, and practicality.
My personal favourite is my own 1990 Vauxhall Carlton 3.0 GSi 24v. Cars with history fascinate me and my Carlton began life in 1989 as an Opel Omega 3.0 in Germany. After remaining unsold for six months it was sent across the Channel to Luton and transformed into a Vauxhall for the UK market including a switch from left-hand to right-hand drive. I bought the Carlton in 1996 and it has been in my ownership since that time. Between 2000 and 2017 it was garaged after I moved to Northern Ireland from London and, to be honest, I never thought I’d ever see it again. My nephew, however, had other ideas and gave the car a complete make-over between 2015 and 2017. The bodywork was totally cleaned, rust removed, and repainted together with a little work on the engine to get it going after a fifteen-year holiday doing nothing. In 2017 the car returned to me and to say I was shocked to see it would be an understatement.
Climbing back behind the wheel has been one of the most uplifting experiences I’ve ever had as has been driving this wonderful motor whenever I feel the need. Carltons have always been popular with racers because though they’re a bit on the big side they handle better than many rivals and get enough oomph from that big six-cylinder motor to still leave many others in the rearview mirror. That said, the Carlton is unlike cars of today, it’s a car you really do need to drive and pay attention while you’re doing it. Its clutch is heavy, and the gear lever travels further than most modern cars before it slots into place to engage the gear. A large windscreen provides a panoramic view of the road ahead while a deep-throated rumble from the big motor is the accompanying music to your journey. The engine is very tractable so the need to change down to overtake is rarely necessary. Driving slowly the big front tyres even with power steering feel heavy, but the faster you go the lighter the feel. Best of all you never lose the sense of what is happening beneath you whatever the road. In the wet, it is best to respect that this is a rear-wheel drive machine with more than 200 bhp powering the rear wheels making it easy to be caught out if you’re too aggressive with your right foot. Otherwise, there is never any drama and the Carlton will glide you to your destination without a hiccup.
The engine has taken an agonizing eighteen months to fully rebuild mainly because due to sourcing parts. The Carlton is up and running again now awaiting its MOT in May or sooner if there is ever a cancellation.
On the downside of Carlton ownership, you probably guessed, is difficulty obtaining spares. Sometimes I have felt as if the Carlton was never mass-produced and that I have a one-off concept car from the ’80s. Nowadays whenever I come across Carlton spares looking for a home I tend to buy them even if they’re not needed at the time. The only Carlton owners who do not seem to share these issues are those with a Lotus.
Apart from moaning over spares, I continue to find Carlton ownership rewarding, as I would hope do any of you who have one too.
How Many are Still in the UK
Vauxhall Carlton GL I Licensed 6
Vauxhall Carlton GL I SORN 75
Vauxhall Carlton GL I AUTO Licensed 10
Vauxhall Carlton GL I AUTO SORN 37
Vauxhall Carlton GLI Licensed 2
Vauxhall Carlton GLI SORN 15
Vauxhall Carlton GLI AUTO Licensed 3
Vauxhall Carlton GLI AUTO SORN 16
Vauxhall Carlton GSI 24V Licensed 16
Vauxhall Carlton GSI 24V SORN 73
Vauxhall Carlton GSI 24V Automatic Licensed 9
Vauxhall Carlton GSI 24V Automatic SORN 42
Total production of Lotus Carlton 950
LOTUS CARLTON TURBO Licensed 56
LOTUS CARLTON TURBO SORN 121
Top Price Viewed 5-3-2023:
1994 Vauxhall Carlton 2.0 GL 8v: 86,430 Miles £1,400
1990 Vauxhall Carlton 3.0 GSi 24v: 79,000 Miles £19,995
1993 Lotus/Vauxhall Carlton: 34,000 Miles £99,995