Few cars have been subject to a public campaign threatening their very existence, but when a band of thieves outran West Midlands Police’s fleet of Peugeot 405s and Austin Montegos using a stolen Lotus Carlton in 1993, the car was deemed “unsafe” and “unreasonable” by the government itself.
With five usable seats and a 177mph top speed that eclipsed pretty much anything else with indicators, this long-lost Lotus, registration 40 RA, consistently evaded capture as the petty criminals embarked on a ram-raiding spree over the course of several months. A local police officer complained of being unable “to get near the thing” and the Daily Mail launched an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to have the Carlton banned from public roads.
The fate of 40 RA remains uncertain to this day. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to finding it. But anyway, there are faster, more common and much cheaper getaway cars available today, especially as the only two examples on sale at the time of writing were nearly £70,000.
That’s huge money for a car that, to the untrained eye, is an ageing Vauxhall repmobile wearing a flash aero kit, but given just 320 UK cars were built and far fewer likely remain, there’s no questioning its scarcity. Let’s not forget, either, that Hethel’s take on the Carlton was rather more aggressive than that of Luton. Under the bonnet lies a 3.6-litre twin-turbocharged straight six pushing 377bhp and 419lb ft to the rear axle, which in Autocar’s own road test helped the saloon cover 0-100mph-0 in just 17sec, placing it second only to the Ferrari F40 at the time. The Vauxhall’s multi-link suspension was tuned for improved dynamics, too, and its six-speed manual gearbox was shared with none other than the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1.
So would your £69,995 go on a new BMW M3 Competition or on this brawny British bank heist weapon? This particular example is currently owned by a Vauxhall specialist, with prior keepers maintaining a fastidious record of all repairs and servicing. It’s an investment, sure, but don’t be put off giving it the beans where possible: the Lotus Carlton was built to be enjoyed, not dry-stored.
Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4, £6999: Always wanted an old-school Evo but hamstrung by your budget and the size of your brood? Take a look at the little-known Legnum VR-4. Making 279bhp from a punchy 2.5-litre V6, this four-wheel-drive battle cruiser can hit 62mph from rest in 5.7sec.
Ford Scorpio 24v, £8995: Widely condemned for its heroically awkward styling, the Mk2 Scorpio could be specified, insanely, with a 24-valve Cosworth V6. Visual clues to its 207bhp innards are minimal, so this could be the ideal low-key, budget alternative to an Escort RS Cosworth.Volvo 850R, £9999: What goes like a new Mazda MX-5 but looks like a school bus? Actually, the 850R’s 0-62mph time is on a par with the MX-5’s but its 250bhp straight five propels it to a Mazda-beating 158mph, in manual form. This car has the stodgier auto ’box but, still, look at it.