To open motoring magazine of the late 1980s was to be confronted by an extraordinary number of super high performance road cars. The most extreme road car based super car was the Lotus Carlton, which was launched in a blizzard of bad publicity. The company had to suffer police chiefs in the UK sounding off about the irresponsibility of producing a car capable of 176mph (282km/h). GM gave the respected midsized Carlton/Omega saloon to Lotus (its then subsidiary) to be transformed into a car that could carry four people, and frighten the average Ferrari at the same time. Most of the modification centered on the straight six 24 valve engine. The block was strengthened, and then Lotus increased the capacity and made some modifications to the head design. Manifolds that could resist 750 degree temperatures were fitted, along with twin Garrett turbochargers. A new electronic management unit was sourced, and a charge cooler was also fitted, to massively increase the effectiveness of the turbos. Other GM companies around the world were roped in, with Holden in Australia donating the rear differential and Chevrolet the Corvette ZR-1’s six speed manual gearbox.
One of the finest body styling kits ever seen, designed by Lotus’s Julian Thomson, completed the Lotus Carlton project. A four wheel drive conversion was mooted, but GM decided against the investment. The result was a staggeringly fast car, 0-100mph (160mph) in 11.8 seconds that was also very refined. The Lotus Carlton was well capable of crossing continents faster than anything else on four wheels, but needed the kind of road space to exploit its performance that’s rarely on offer in Europe.