The Lotus Carlton rose to infamy during its production thanks to campaigns from national news publications calling for its removal from sale. Deemed ‘too fast for the road’, the high performance super saloon was incredibly powerful for the time. So much so in fact, that the wrong side of the law also took notice.
The most notable incident had a group of thieves steal a Lotus Carlton and proceed to commit numerous ram-raids across England’s West Midlands region. The average police cars of the time topped out at around 100mph, so they were no match for the 177mph-capable Lotus. It’s unconfirmed, but as the story goes, the thieves even managed to outrun the police helicopter, and neither the car nor the criminals were ever found.
The traits that made Lotus Carltons desirable for illicit intentions – considerable horsepower, stable handling and aerodynamics – are what prompted the owner of the car I’m spotlighting today, Joe Ellis, to enter his version of the model in the Silver State Classic road rally.
For those unaware, the Silver State Classic has the title of ‘The Fastest Road Race In The World’ with some entrants averaging 200mph (!) over the 90-mile-long Highway 318 course held in Nevada, USA.
Joe’s car, which I found at WeAreScramblers’ recent ’90s meet at Bicester Heritage, did not start out as a Lotus Carlton. Instead, the shell of a Vauxhall Carlton was transplanted with all the requisite parts – and more – to ensure it could withstand the rigours of competition.
The engine Joe sourced was originally destined for a single-seater but deemed impractical, which allowed its retrofit into the Carlton shell. These engines started out as 3,000cc in the Vauxhall and Opel Carlton, before being bored out and built to 3,600cc for the Lotus version, with twin turbos added for good measure. 377hp was the result.
Joe’s engine has been further modified to provide a reliable 420hp.
A 120L fuel cell sits wedged where the back seats would normally be, to maintain optimal balance as it is depleted. At 6mpg, every last bit of that fuel was required to make it the full distance.
The differential cooler sat within the boot too, to ensure the rear axle maintained temperature given the extended high speeds it would be subjected to.
The interior is fairly sparse with function and practicality deeming only essential components remain, the rest replaced to ensure the car was fit for purpose. This meant race seats, harnesses, a full roll cage and a Momo steering wheel were amongst the retrofitted components.
OEM wheels shod with shaved Pirelli tyres barely hide the AP Racing brakes tasked with slowing the car down from triple-digit speeds.
As the decal on the boot lid proudly displays, in 2000, Joe and his co-driver Dave Hirons completed the Silver State Classic in 33 minutes, averaging 164mph (264km/h).
The last thing you would expect to see lining up at the start of this event would have been an early-’90s Euro sedan packing a twin-turbo straight six, but I for one applaud Joe and his dedication and out of the box thinking.