At first glance, the Noble almost looks too overdone to be sexy. If you’re a cynic, it looks like a very well-built kit car, or something a talented boy
racer has worked over.
Except, it’s neither. A glance at the Noble badge is enough for supercar fans, as British-based designer Lee Noble has forged himself a formidable reputation. First heard of as a racing driver, his talents as a development engineer and designer soon came to the fore. He built himself, and eventually others, a series of rapid and eye-catching cars - the Ultima, the ProSport, the MidTec and the Ascari.
The last-mentioned was a 373kW rocketship that used Chevrolet power to become, for a while, Britain’s fastest-accelerating car.
Clearly that wasn’t enough for Noble. Soon, he’d formed Noble Automotive Ltd, and released the M10 in 1999. That morphed into the M12, a fixed-head car with more performance, thanks to twin turbochargers boosting the naturally aspirated V6.
The M12 marked Noble’s decision to get a bit serious. Building supercars in a double garage doesn’t work, especially when they’re good enough to sell more than the 20 per year you’d initially planned.
Setting up a British assembly operation was far too expensive for the on fledgling firm. To cut a long story short, it cut a deal with a South African company which has the goods to build the car at a competitive price.
That doesn’t mean mass production, of course, and these cars are still quite rare. Two were sold new in New Zealand; both now traded by owners chafing at the bit for the M15 replacement.
So, what does a $185,000 car that’s good enough to get Jeremy Clarkson foaming at the mouth feel like? Bloody good, even at $139,000 second hand.
It’s not surprising, when you consider this thing’s more powerful than an all-wheel drive Porsche 911 Turbo. That Porsche costs more than this Noble, and needs all four wheels to get power to the ground.
The Noble puts its grunt to the tarmac via the rear wheels. And there’s a fair bit of grunt to corral.
The M12 GT0-3R’s Ford-sourced 3.0-litre V6 engine is as mid-mounted as Noble could get it. It uses twin Garrett water-cooled turbochargers and an air-to-air intercooler to boost power to 262kW and torque to 474Nm.
That’s less torque than the Porsche produces, but the Noble is stripped-down serious. There are no carpets, no electric windows, and there’s minimal heavy steel.
The body’s GPR composite is mounted on a steel spaceframe with bonded and riveted alloy panels wrapped round a full rollcage. The result is a car that tips the scales at 1080kg for 242kW and 438Nm per tonne, which is 100Nm better than the Porsche.
Lower yourself into the thin sports seats, with fore-aft and wheel adjust to ensure most drivers will fit. Choose between the conventional belt or
the four-point racing harness. Insert the key, and press that start button.
There’s a cacophony of raw sound as the engine fires up. Slap the gear lever to engage first in the Getrag six-speed gearbox, it’s stiff, so you need
to be firm.
Ease on the throttle, and slip the leash. Almost immediately you realise this car is something else. The Quaife automatic torque-biasing diff has its work cut out as you scorch for the horizon – 0-100km/h is available in under four seconds. But this is no tightly focused racetrack car (that’s the M400), and it’s genuinely capable on real-world roads.
Partly that’s thanks to the way the twin turbos cover all bases. Urge is virtually seamless and you can pick third and sit in it, dancing on the throttle as the engine sings its siren song.
At 5000rpm in third, you’re doing 100km/h, smack on the 3500 to 5000rpm torque peak. Corner coming up, slap down to second, slow, 60km/h and poised on 6000rpm, a nudge below peak power, as you clip the apex and floor the throttle. The amount of grip is phenomenal, performance brutal, and your ears are soon ringing with it.
But your kidneys and fillings are safe as, unbelievably, the ride quality is almost supple.
Porsche’s equally hard-focus GT3 crashes over every bump or ripple on our tarmac. But the Noble’s double wishbone set-up with its Bilstein shock absorbers controls the car while minimising the ride penalty.
There are almost Lotus-like levels of feedback through the steering wheel, too – this car’s a delight to drive, a loin-melting, brain-singeing demon to drive hard.
It’s not all good news, the fuel tank is smaller than 50 litres and there is no boot, only a space behind the seats about big enough for a Sunday paper. The mirrors let you admire the rear flank and spoiler, but not much else. And you’ll never slide under the radar because every head turns as you drive past.
So what’s it like in a nutshell? Imagine a stripped-down speed demon that’s almost as happy on the school run as it is on a racetrack. Add rarity and jaw-dropping looks. Spice with adrenaline, and serve.