90 Miles In 33 Minutes: One Crazy Carlton

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 Omega, 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.

Chaydon Ford
Instagram: chaycore



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Nice looking car. Never knew Lotus made such a thing. When I first saw the top picture I actually thought it was a white Ford Mustang. Great article.


Such a great car and also, great article. These cars are proper dreamcar material.

One small correction I'd like to suggest is that the Vauxhall Carlton was sold in Europe as the Opel Omega. There never was an Opel Carlton.


In Germany it was sold a the "Lotus Omega"


Thanks for the correction Jesse - amended!


Great article & photos of an interesting car. Any idea what the top speed is?
To maintain 164 mph average, I wonder if they intermittently exceeded 200 mph?


It's quite something, this car is still quite quick by today's standards as a saloon (sedan), it's actually hard to comprehend how quick this must have been on it's release back in 1990.


You stated the "The average police cars of the time topped out at around 100mph, ", this isn't quite correct, the police used the Vauxhall Senator 3 ltr 24 Valve which had a top speed of 145mph, you've also made the same error that all the other journalists make in stating that the engine was "Bored Out". They weren't bored out, they were stroked, they sourced a different crankshaft for a longer stroke and low compression Mahle piistons.


The lotus Carlton wasn't bored out it was strocked


Legend has it the thieves mentioned once robbed a shop opposite a Police station in South Birmingham and got away. how true this is I don't know. My brother almost crashed a few months ago when we saw one on the road. Just seeing it gave us goose bumps.


Hi I remember this car well and also remember Joe he’s a great guy he used my Lotus omega No689 as pattern for a full stainless steel exhaust system and he made a fantastic job of it I also remember him prepping his car for that race unfortunately I no longer own the cari I sold it about 2003 or 2004 was a sad day it was mint condition


what a strange, gorgeous little car. Of course the papers fluffed it up as a "dangerous" car meanwhile there was people with 1500hp+ big blocks running around in that era.


Can't get enough of this Carlton!
Man it's just so rad!


Any Australian readers would see the resemblances, Check out the VN commodore HSV - 5.0L - V8, just for a laugh, looks quite similar.


I remember an early internet video of a Carlton in Sweden outrunning an 850r police estate. I feel like I heard later that it was setup but it was still awesome.