Episode 22. Vauxhall Carlton Estate. L298 VLW.

Two years ago I sold this beauty to one of my friends. So why mention it now? Well, him selling it, and us talking about it after it had gone got me to thinking about it, and how great it was. This is the story...

For a long time now I have been looking for a mk1 Vauxhall Carlton estate, this one...

PLD 813W. Last seen in Southampton maybe 20 years ago! Anyway, my guess is that  for some time it's been lurking in our cupboards masquerading as various tinned goods since then. The last time I saw it, it was still wearing its original light metallic blue paint work, and was driving through Southampton as I said, maybe 20 years ago. According to the DVLA website its not been taxed since 1995 so I'm guessing that it's long gone to the great scrapyard in the sky, but i'm hoping probably against the odds, that it's still out there somewhere. I figured that the inernet is a pretty big community, and so I thought that maybe the best way of finding it is to ask if anyone's seen it. I set about posting threads on various forums asking if anyone had seen it, nobody has. The trouble is of course, that although we're a big community, for a good percentage of the time we're hidden away in lock ups and workshops. That said, maybe someone, owns, or knows of, or has seen my old car in their travels, If by some miracle you do happen to have it lurking in your garage, or maybe know someone who does, please let me know, as i'm still on the hunt! Now, because I'd been unsuccsessful in finding my old Carlton (it wasn't really mine to be honest, but I learned to drive in it, and I loved it!) I decided that the best thing that I could do was to locate another, and build myself the Carlton of my dreams. The problem with this is that Mk1 Carlton estates don't turn up very often, and to my eyes they look a lot better than the Mk2 Carlton, (it's just a bit too damn aerodynamic for my liking!) At one point in time they seemed to be everywhere, and I always thought that I would get the next one... Suddenly there was no next one to get, supply has dried up, and pickings are really getting slim! Rather than be defeated, and go without  I decided to take a project one on if I could find one, I didn't care how bad it is. I've put adverts out there looking for one, I've asked everyone I know to look out for one, but nothing, nothing has turned up. Like I said, pickings have really gotten slim! So, on my nightly ebay search, in goes 'Vauxhall Carlton'... 3 listings... Yipee... Holy cow... That Mk2 estate looks a bit tasty, lets have a look at that! Now as I said I wasn't looking for a mk2, I was looking for a mk1 (1978-86), but this thing looked too good not to have a go at it, I put in my bid, and before too long it was mine all mine!! Trouble was it was about 150 miles from me, and with my 'Take me to pick up my new car please' rights all used up with my friends, it was time for a trip on the train... I hate trains. It was about £70 to get the train to Birmingham, which I thought was horrifically expensive. But I soon learned I was wrong, £70 for 150 mile journey was in fact very good value for money as i was about to learn. The next part of my journey was a three mile taxi ride on a Saturday morning. The roads were very congested, and the taxi driver I chose must've been the most courteous taxi driver in the world ever, he let everyone, and I mean EVERYONE out, and it took nearly 50 minutes to get near my destination. I say near because as the meter rolled over to £27 I said to the most courteous taxi driver in the world, how much further mate? He said, its the other end of the street... Here will do me, I said, and walked the rest of the way!

Here's the first fill shot, as ever it had next to nothing in the tank... So first impressions? Strewth...

Look at that engine!! It's obvious that this little beauty has been played with, inside it's a top spec interior, leather, electric everything Momo steering wheel and handbrake grip, extra gauges, CD player so on and so fourth. Outside, lowered, Borbet wheels with massive dish, slightly rolled arches, twin, moderately loud exhausts... Yes make no mistake, this is a cool car. However, this is a real Sheep in Wolfs clothing, yep, you read that right. It looks the part, but it's performance does not live up to it's looks. Don't get me wrong, it goes well, and will happily blast along the motorway at motorway speeds, it just takes a little while to get up to speed. Anyway as I said, Carlton estates don't seem to show up all that often, and this one is in really good shape. I must say that initially I thought that this was a keeper, but, it's not a mk1, and it's a mk1 that I'm really after. However, I may just keep it for a little while, while I continue the search for a mk1 Vauxhall Carlton estate. So as I said earlier, if you have a mk1, even if its a really rough one thats been sitting outside and needs full restoration to get it back on the road, then let me know, I've asked around my friends who are all pretty talented in different areas of car restoration and repair, and they're all up for it if I am able to find one! So I'm putting out an APB people, this is what I'm looking for... It needs to be an estate from 1978–86, nothing else will do, and it needs to have documents, as I want to be able to know for sure it's not stolen. Sorry, but I always get a bit nervous when a car is offered without documents. Oh, and I'd rather it hadn't been in an accident, as I can cut out rust and weld in fresh new steel, but I don't know how to go about straightening a car that's very bent. Obviously if the damage is confined to a panel or so then thats ok, but bent floor pans and buckled bodies would be a no go for me as I wouldn't know where to begin straightening it out. Apart from that I don't care how rusty the body etc is, as I can get it welded up. I'm not even really bothered if the engine doesn't work as I could always go for a different power source! It would be a bonus if the interior was good though, especially the plastic bits. So if you know where something like this is lurking, waiting for a new home, please don't hesitate to let me know... In the meantime however, i'll be cruising in a cool mk2 Carlton wagon! As I mentioned earlier this Carlton has been very well looked after, and is sporting quite a lot of shall we say 'personal' touches. Almost everytime I go near it I seem to notice somehting else. To be fair I do this with most of the cars I've ever owned, usually every time I go near them I notice a new scratch, dent, or rust blister. But the Carlton doesn't seem to have any of them, or maybe it's because I've become blinded by the other bits and bobs that it does have.  Here's a few things I've spotted... So far! Starting at the front...

Irmscher badge, I was just thinking about this as I uploaded the image, I'm not sure that I've actually seen any Vauxhall badges on it anywhere! But there are plenty of badges from the Spanish automobile tuning and manufacturing company who specialises in Opels... Irmscher.

Headlights have a HID Xenon conversion, and are pretty damn bright, and of course have eyebrows!

Irmscher mirrors... I'll be honest, I don't care for these at all!

Big Borbets...

With plenty of poke! I wasn't overly struck on the Borbets, but they did grown on me!

Twin stainless steel exhausts, connected more for show than anything else!

'Blu-Dots' in the tail lights. Now whoever bought these and put them in clearly had no idea what they're for, or where they go or they wouldn't have put them in the reversing lamps!

More Irmscher badges, honestly this thing is littered with them!

Under the bonnet...

Bonnet catch, chromed! Seriously, who does that? Talk about attention to detail!

Battery snuggled up in an Irmscher wrapper ofcourse, and battery tray chromed!

Cold air inlet... Do you know I think that says Irmscher on the top!

Lexmaul inlet manifold. That is very cool!

Pulleys chromed, who does that?

Strut top chromed, again, what kind of fantatic do you have to be to do that? Either that you at some point one of the previous owners worked in a chrome plating factory.

Now then, the interior...

Irmscher floor mats, but honestly, were you expecting anything less?

Momo steering wheel.

Alledgedly Lotus Carlton gauges! But I'm not convinced!!

Billet switch gear, also alledgedly from a Lotus Carlton!

Oil pressure gauge.



Ooh look... A start button... Sporty!!

Momo handbrake lever grip.

I think that at some point in its life the Irmscher catalogue threw up on it! I'm sure that there are other details that I've missed, but I'm sure you can see what I mean. The devil's in the details and clearly this has been a very loved car at some point in the past. I just keep wondering, if you've spent so much time, effort, and money as somoeone clearly has on this Carlton, why would you sell it?

I kept thinking that I will just hang on to it myself, and although I have been doing plenty of driving about in it, I've not really taken it for a proper drive. I can't explain why I havn't as I just don't know, but to be honest, I think the problem is the rain, it just doens't inspire me to go out driving. Still never mind, lets go. Right then into the car, and pop a CD in... Oh good, The Doors... Riders On The Storm! Perfect, that should help my mood! There's a killer on the road, His brain is squirmin' like a toad, Take a long holiday... Let your children play... If ya give this man a ride, Sweet FAMILY will die... Killer on the road, yeah... Ooh yeah, that's cheered me right up! I'm in a driving mood now, oh yeah baby!! I've always loved that song, but I think before the drive ends I'll be changing it for something a little more upbeat! I figured that I'd just meander my way through the New Forest, not really going anywhere, just see where I'll end up. The thing is, it's raining, and it's dark, I never used to mind driving in the dark, and if I'm honest I still don't mind driving in the dark, or the rain for that matter. But it does suck the joy out of the drive a bit, I'm not really enjoying it, not at all. It's not the car, the car is lovely, I'm inside, I've got the wipers on, I'm warm, and even my bum is getting toasted on the wonderfully heated seats. Make no mistake, this is a really lovely car to drive, and if you were some sort of salesman in the early nineties, and had come from a mk1 Carlton to this mk2 Carlton you would've felt very special indeed! If it was mine in the nineties I would've been chuffed to nuts, infact even now I'm pretty chuffed to have been able to have called it mine, it really is a superb car to drive. However this evening as I wound my way through the twisty New Forest roads it has to be said that it wasn't as good as I'd hoped, it felt more like a chore than a pleasure, and thats not good. I think part of the problem with the Carlton is that the speedo is in KM/H, and only in KM/H, the route I followed this evening seemed to pass by several government sponsored fund raising stations, which dotted the route through the new forest. As I approached each one I was glad that they give the motorist a fighting chance by having them covered with a huge reflective sticker, but I'm approaching them constantly trying to work out how fast I'm going in MP/H. I've never been good at maths, therefore my drive was filled with my mind racing, trying to figure out what 30mph looks like in kph, what does 40mph look like, what's 50? I think that if I were to keep this Carlton the first thing I'd do is track down a set of gauges in MPH. But, as I'm not, I'll try not to worry about it! It does make me wonder though, who changed the original gauges from ones that had both MPH and KPH on them from factory, to a set that only had KPH? Who would do a thing like that? And why?

I stopped somewhere near Bournemouth for a coke, just for a bit of a break really, well, that and my mouth was dryer than a Nuns gusset! As I sat there looking out through the window of Pizza the Hut I couldn't help but think that this is a very smart looking car. Yes it's clearly from another time, but it still looks modern enough to be parked anywhere without raising so much as an eyebrow. It's very understated, but thats what makes it so cool, and so good looking, it doens't need anything to make it look better, it's nailed it just as it is. Admittedly adding a set of wheels and lowering it does change it's looks somewhat, and it has improved them for the better, although, I don't really care for the Borbets even though they have grown on me! But it doesn't need any kind of fancy graphic or anything to take the emphasis away from the clean and uncluttered styling, I reckon that the stylists at GM nailed it with the styling of these things, definately less is more! Of course not everyone agrees...

So what was this beautiful mk2 Carlton like to own and drive? Well when I collected it there was 124687 miles showing on the odometer (yep, thats right, the odometer is in miles, but the speedo gauge is in kilometers!) I took the odometer to 125298 miles which means I covered 611 miles, and it was good! This took care of 126.92 litres or if you're old like me, 27.91 UK Gallons of BP's finest petrol... No really, look:-

I tried it on regular 95 Octane go-go juice and it pinked a lot, so I stuck BPs good stuff into it and it was far happier. So I just kept with it. I've often wondered if indeed I would get better mileage by using the good stuff, and would it actually make it worth paying the few pence more per litre that it costs... Maybe this is a test for another time! So anyway, with the Carlton sucking up 27.91 UK Gallons of BP's finest petrol over 611 miles this of course means that it was returning 21.89 miles per gallon!! Strewth... Thats not great for a 2.0 litre! Still, never mind, it was a lovely car to drive! Under the bonnet that chromed and polished 2.0 litre GM C20NE engine whirred away happily and lugged the Carlton and it's occupants along quite nicely, although with only 116 horsey power when it was new it was never going to set the world on fire while it was trying to push 1.14 tonnes of Carlton estate through the air! Having said all that, it was nice enough for everyday driving, and unless you were trying your luck at the traffic light grand prix you never noticed it's lack of power that didn't live up to it's looks! Speaking of it's looks, in my opinion this is a great looking car.

This one's for all you Borbet loving wheel whores!

I think this one is my favourite!

Personally I never did fall in love with the Borbets, the eyebrows, or the mirrors, and I think that if I did decide to keep it I would have changed all of those items back to somewhere near standard... Crikey, I think I'm becoming my Dad!. But apart from that, I like the colour, I thought it suited it very well, and I found the shape of the thing to be quite pleasing, although I still prefer the shape of the earlier mk1 Carlton, as I've said before, the mk2 looks very nice, but for me it's just a bit too slippery, a bit too aerodynamic, but, still pretty damn cool!

Inside the Carlton was a very nice place to be, I think that at the time this would have been the model that was leaving Vauxhall's line up to be replaced by the Omega, and therefore, for the Carltons final hooraah it was given all the toys, and this in my opinion made it feel very special.

All the seats were finely covered in dead cow, and wery extremely comfortable. In the front the seats are powered and heated, now, I've not had many cars with leather interiors before, and a lot of people always talk about their leather interior. I've always quite fancied a leather interior in my cars, and I've had a few with leather interiors. However, I've always owned the cars with leather interiors in the summer months. Getting into the Carlton on a cold morning I found those seats to be very chilly, however, the heaters in the seats warmed them up very quickly, and for this I was very thankful!

In the back, more cow skin! My little monsters said they were very comfy, even on long rides, and they had plenty of room to strech out in. But they didn't have the luxury of the electrically heated seats, and would moan in the mornings on the school run that they were freezing! Having said that, they wern't so cold that they didn't keep the windows wound up on the way to school. I think that this was in a bid to make my bald head as cold as their bums were on the cold leather seats!

I can describe the back in one word... MASSIVE! This is how the boot on a load lugger should look! However I did find the dog gaurd a bit restrictive, but it did help to restrain my little monsters! I like the idea of having a dog gaurd between the occupants and the load area, but having an estate car means that there will be times when you want the seating to be configured more like a van, for example if you're collecting a wardrobe, or a bike or something, so if I were to keep this car, then the dog gaurd would get removed! The other little niggle I had about the boot was this:-

Yep, thats the tailgate wide open! This was great if you happened to be sitting under it while it rained, but wasn't that good when you were loading it! I can't believe that this is how it came from the factory, and I believe that this was another modification carried out by the previous owner, but I wonder why.

All in all this is a very nice car, it is in superb condition, and had clearly been looked after, and loved. So, would I have another one? No, no, not really. Don't get me wrong it is a lovely car, but it just didn't do 'it' for me, I don't know what it is thats missing from the experience, I can't quite put my finger on it, but something is missing for me. I think it's a lovely looking car, and it's lovely to drive, and it even feels a bit special, but I have to say that as much as I like my Carlton, Still prefer the looks of a mk1 Carlton. However I almost feel bad for not liking it, as I have wanted a Carlton estate for ages, and this one is very nice, if you can find a better one I will be amazed! I should be hanging on to it with both hands, but it's not what I'm looking for, I'm looking for a mk 1 Carlton estate, and this just isn't one. This would be a mk 2 Carlton estate. Still a beautiful car in my opinion, but as Roy Walker, from the TV game show 'Catchphrase' would say, "It's good, but it's not right!" I can't believe that it's not close enough either, I'll probably never, EVER find a better Carlton I reckon, but it's just not the one I'm looking for. Sometime ago I had a really, REALLY nice Volvo 240GL, it was very very tidy, and I have this friend who was very interested in it, except he was looking for a Volvo 244, not a 240. Now I don't know what the difference is between a Volvo 240, and a Volvo 244, and bizarrely neither did he, but his Dad had a Volvo 244 when he was a kid, and so it had to be a Volvo 244. I thought he was crazy not to have this 240, and I really didn't understand why he didn't want it, but he said it had to be a 244. At the time I really didn't get it, but now, having had this, I can see what he's saying, it's a good car, yes, but it's not the right one... I really do think that I've lost the plot! Needless to say I am very dissapointed with myself for not liking this enough, I don't know why I don't, but I just don't. So the search for a Mk1 Carlton goes on... Almost... After purchasing my Carlton I got this email from the editor of Retro Cars no less! It read:- "I came across your post lusting after a Vauxhall Carlton Estate and wanted to let you know that we're selling ours. It's been a Classic Car Buyer magazine run about for the past 6 years and has been round Europe on a rally. We've given it a lot of time and attention to keep it running well and MoT'd etc. it's been almost 100 percent reliable and is loved by the whole office, but it's time to pass it on as we've got far too many cars here and want to buy more!" So we conversed for a bit and I tried to arrange a time when I could just get away from work for a day, and pop along and see it (buy it!). Eventually i got a free day, so I told Mrs Clint that I was going to be out all day, as I was going to look at a car. She looked out the window to see a car transporter that I had parked outside, and then informed me that nobody just looks at a car if they go to the trouble of hiring a transporter. Hmm, so the game was up! But she was cool about it, to be fair, she's always cool about my car (and bike) stuff... I'm pretty lucky, she's a very cool girl, i really couldn't have got a better woman. I'm a very lucky fella!! (yes, she was stood over me making me write that lol!) So anyway I went to 'see' it, and yes, it's a little bit scruffy, but it's solid, and it runs, drives etc, and is ready to go! Some very pleasant chatter was had with the editor and various other members of staff from Retro Cars, and then for a very reasonable fee, it was mine... ALL MINE!!! YAY!!!!! It was loaded up, and John and the staff at Kelsey Publishing said their goodbyes, I aimed the nose of the transporter towards BelongaClint and I was off home again.

 Once back at BelongaClint the Carltons were put side by side for a look 

The truth is that the Mk2 Carlton is far and away a better car in every way. Except for, for some dumb ass reason I prefer the looks of the Mk1. I must be insane, but that is a tale for another time!