Motoring Milestones : Happy 30th to the Mk2 Vauxhall Carlton.

Mike Humble:


Carlton GSi
Happy Birthday to the Mk2 Carlton – 30 years old


They call them street furniture in the trade you know? Allow me to explain then. Cars that litter the roads, so popular you barely notice them are jovially named such in the trade – until all of a sudden you realise they’re all but gone… almost.

This year sees the significant birthday of a luxo-barge that caught the customer by surprise not to mention the dealers. We are talking about the Vauxhall Carlton of course, a car that fitted in perfectly with its surroundings be it on an airport mini-cab rank, a car hire forecourt, on the drive of a suburban three bed semi or hanging off your back bumper with blue lights a blazing. The mid 80`s were heady times for Vauxhall as they awoke from being a worthy also-ran brand to running up front with the likes of Ford in both fleet and retail sales numbers.

police carlton
Vauxhall enjoyed considerable success with the Carlton adapted for traffic duties in many UK Police forces – notably with Bedfordshire, Leicestershire and Thames Valley Constabularies. This GM press image taken on the M1 near Luton shows a traffic unit with Bedfordshire Police. They continue a long Vauxhall partnership to this day.


The “new” Carlton was launched to immediate praise in 1986, going on to scoop the coveted European Car Of The Year award. With its slippery shape allied to a pliant ride and soft sumptuous interior it wasn’t long before the Carlton found its niche with customers looking for family car that was a distinctive notch up on the class-o-meter from the Cavalier or a middle management motorway muncher. Ford had their Granada that was all new the year before and Rover with its 800 series also in `86 but the Carlton had that slightly more cut above feel in terms of build quality.

A car to die for? The Carlton was popular as a hearse or funeral car.

Engines spanned from a Bobby basic carb tuned 1.8 through to a multivalve 3.0 unit, and of course lets not forget the bedroom pin-up Lotus Carlton and a sprinkling of diesel power units too. There was, of course, the obligatory estate model which went on to be one the best selling cargo carriers of its era. In fact, when the Carlton was eventually replaced with the Omega, many estate models were snapped up without the need for dealer discounting such was its demand and popularity. The Carlton was even one of those cars to die for… quite literally, as many models were converted to hearse and funeral cars.

Lotus Carlton
At its launch, the Lotus Carlton was the worlds quickest four door saloon.


But today, well under 500 models survive on our roads and most of those comprise of the range topping GSi3000 and limited edition Lotus Carlton variants. So raise your glass and wiggle it to the unfairly forgotten Vauxhall Carlton – 30 years old in 2016.



  1. Great story. I ran four carltons when I worked for what was then Midland Bank. All gave sterling service apart from the last one which seemed like a Friday afternoon car. Omega was just as sweet to drive. Peter

  2. I had the misfortune to buy one of the first 800 cars in our local town of Newmarket. We had that much trouble with the engine, electrics and water leaks and so on that I was eventually on first name terms with Harry Musgrove who was Rovers boss. Eventually Austin Rover bought the car back off me.

    After looking at a Saab 9000 and VW Santana Murketts of Cambridge supplied me with a 2.0i Carlton that we ran for over ten years with very little worries and the thick end of 200.000 miles to boot. Sold that to my brother in law who still ran it up until 2008.

    Still with Vauxhall with our Astra 1.9 and may consider the new model one day.

  3. Nice Blog here.. i am Michael from the Netherlands,and i own a omega carlton GSI 24v dualram from 1990.. on the speedo meter i have 455.220 km’s. Still a rocket on the road here… I love this car for performance and huge space inside the car.. The engine is awesome,low on fuel, and high performance at low revs.. Only the bodywork had to be restored because of rust and sand… But i keep the heritage of this old car to be seen in daily driving… Let’s say.. where you drive or park.. people’s reactions are wide ranged… The sound of torque is amazing while pulling up from stand still… here my car’s photo

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