Mark I (1978–86)
The first Vauxhall Carlton was introduced in late 1978 as a replacement for the ageing VX1800/VX2000 saloons. Based on the Opel Rekord, but with Vauxhall's typical "droop snoot" front end that featured no traditional grille, it was a traditional large saloon or estate with rear-wheel drive and a spacious, comfortable interior and was available in "L" trim only. Power came from a 2.0 litre carburettor petrol engine which gave reasonable performance, refinement and economy. There were some impressive options available, including central door locking, alloy wheels and electric windows, which in the late 1970s were relatively plush equipment on mainstream cars.
Relationship with other models
Lengthened, more powerful models, based on the Carlton and Rekord, were also available. Positioned directly above them was the Vauxhall Viceroy which also sold as the Opel Commodore, and above that the Opel Senator and Opel Monza (a coupé derivative) which also sold as the Vauxhall Royale and Vauxhall Royale Coupé, although the Opel versions, particularly of the coupé, were more common even in the UK.
A facelift for the 1983 model year saw the disappearance of the droop snoot front, in favour of a more traditional (though still angled) grille shared with the equivalent Opel. This also marked the end of UK sale of the Opel Rekord as the Opel brand was being phased out in the UK. The 1983 facelift also saw the introduction of a wider engine range consisting of a 1.8 L carburettor, 2.0 L carburettor and 2.3 L diesel. A wider range of trim levels consisting of "L", "GL" and "CD" were also introduced at this time. A 2.0 L fuel injection engine was introduced for the 1984 model year and was replaced by a 2.2 L fuel injection engine for 1985.
Mark II (1986–94)
Opel chose to name its 1986 replacement car in this segment Omega rather than Rekord. Vauxhall stayed with the Carlton name. On its launch at the end of 1986 the Vauxhall Carlton / Opel Omega saloon and estate range earned itself the accolade of European Car of the Year.
Relationship with other models
Again there was a lengthened version of the Carlton (and Omega), this time known in both Opel and Vauxhall forms by the same name: Senator.
In the spring of 1994, Vauxhall scrapped the Carlton nameplate, but the name of its Opel equivalent, the Omega, lived on, as it was applied to the Carlton's replacement. At which point the Vauxhall equivalent adopted the name change (a drive towards uniformity was taking place throughout the range) and so the Carlton's replacement was sold as the Vauxhall Omega.
Mark II engine line-up
New to the Carlton's line-up with the Mark II were two straight-6 engines with 2.6 and 3.0 litres. Originally, these were 12-valve engines, but later models offered a 24-valve version of the 3 litre six, producing much more power and torque. As well, Vauxhall used the "Dual-Ram" intake manifold, which lets the car breathe as two separate three-cylinder engines below 4,000 rpm, but changes the intake manifold profile at 4000 rpm to increase the runner length, thus increasing total engine output.
Special Lotus version
In 1990, Vauxhall launched a high performance 377 bhp (281 kW) Lotus Carlton in collaboration with Lotus Cars. (An Opel version was also produced as the Lotus Omega.) It was built with a 3615 cc six-cylinder twin-turbo engine (designated C36GET) capable of over 176 mph (283 km/h), making it officially (for the time) the fastest full four seater that had ever been made. It cost £48,000 — well over double the price of a standard Carlton. As a result, Vauxhall's original plans to sell about 1,000 in the UK ended in 440 UK cars being sold. For those with less money there was the 3000GSi 24v, with a top speed of 146 mph (235 km/h).
Prior to the Lotus tuned version, the range topper was the GSi 3000 on which the Lotus Carlton was based. When introduced, at launch in 1986 it had 177 bhp (132 kW; 179 PS) giving it a top speed of 134 mph (216 km/h). In 1990, power was increased to 204 bhp (152 kW; 207 PS) increasing the top speed to 146 mph (235 km/h). It was also available with an Automatic gearbox lowering the top speed by a few miles an hour and increasing the 0-60 mph time by a second or two.
Guinness World Record
In June 1992 two teams from Horley Round Table, Surrey, UK, set a Guinness World Record time of 77 hours 34 minutes, driving a total 6,700 km across the then 12 EC countries in two Vauxhall Carlton 24V 3000 GSi's (J870 FFM and J751 DYC). The Carltons were provided by Vauxhall Motors and the record attempt was also supported by Mobil Oil and the Royal Automobile Club.