Welcome to my world, my world of turbos, tyre smoke, and tuning...
Tuning cars, driving cars, testing parts, and complaining about everything. It's my job, and a the majority of my non-work life too...
Let's face it, standard cars are boring. No matter how fast they are, they have to cater for the 'average user', so they're safe, they're easy, they're, well, a bit too sensible. This is a big reason we tune cars, not just for more performance, but for more feel, more involvement, more excitement. And as the years roll on, the bar of what's considered high performance is ever rising, so it's rare for an 'old' car to be very fast either.
Well, welcome to a rare exception to the rule, the Lotus Carlton, one of the VERY few production cars I've been hugely impressed with, and certainly the only unmodifed car from two and a half decades ago that's impressed me in modern times.
To be honest, most people I know who've driven them don't like them as much as they expected they would, usually moaning about it being geared too long to use the performance, the car not being as fast as they imagined, or the transmission being hard work, feeling old fashioned, but to me that just says they're pussies who can't drive...
First up, the car IS long geared, but not in a way that detracts performance if you know how to drive it, and being in too high a gear is why most think it's not as fast as it is.
It's not a turbo diesel, you can't plant the throttle at 1500rpm and expect it to rocket off down the road, as the engine loves to rev, that's where the performance is, and thanks to the long gears you're at least one gear down compared to most modern cars.
Unusually, 1st gear is actually usable in performance terms, good for almost 60mph, and things get even longer at higher speeds, so while 6th is a cruising gear, 3rd and 4th is for hard acceleration at motorway speeds, and 5th is for doing hugely, ridiculously, illegal speeds; and yes, it's very, very, easy to see the claimed top speed of 177mph...
In all honesty, and I'm very rarely impressed by a cars performance, I was hugely impressed by how these things go even compared to their modern rivals, and the driving experience is leagues ahead in my book. Cars are about fun, and this thing is fun.
I like rawness that other seem to dislike. The heavy duty 6 speed gearbox is clunky and slow, and the clutch is similarly heavy, but from a driving experience, that just adds to it in my eyes. The total lack of driver aids seem to scare people off too, but I loved it, being able to feel everything and having to do everything, which along with huge acceleration, and the grunt to easily spin the wide rear tyres at motorway speeds, it was the experience you get in a good tuned car, but this was standard.
Having said this, it's not some kind of wild beast, and as long as you're not deliberately being a dick, as long as you have a decent understanding of car control, it just squats down and rockets off down the road far faster than I expected, and in roll races versus most it's much newer, but much heavier, rivals, they're left wondering just beat them.
Considering the standard car was the kind of fun you normally only get from a well tuned car, I'm 100% with some well thought out mods (Standard inlet temp is 60degC so the standard chargecoolers would be first to go!) it was be absolutely ridiculous fun.
If I had to compare it to any more modern car, it wouldn't be a BMW M5 or AMG Mercedes, in fact it wouldn't be any standard car, as this car doesn't feel 'standard'. The Lotus Carlton feels a lot like driving a well tuned Toyota JZX100, and that includes the fact that as well as the stupidly quick acceleration for a big obscure four door, it drives and handles far better than you'd expect, and can be seriously chucked around corners.
Unfortunately, the cars and their parts are rare and expensive, so that's very unlikely to happen; the one I had was very kindly loaned to us from the Vauxhall museum! And as the picture top right shows (Top left is on my driveway!), they also let Richard Hammond 'test' the very same car for TopGear...
Hi, I'm Stav...
You may or may not have heard of me, but I've spent the last 15 years working full-time in the tuning scene, and the last decade or so writing for various car magazines.