Enter the Upstart
Every now and again, a car manufacturer appears, seemingly out of nowhere, prepared to take on the big boys. Ferrari, Porsche, Maserati and Lamborghini are well-established marques who have been around forever. Backed by serious cash and corporate HQs, they rival the world’s biggest companies as well as boasting serious F1 and Le Mans racing heritage. Enter Noble, essentially a cottage company who started small, stayed small but think anything-but-small – making awesome sports cars to rival anything produced in Stuttgart or Maranello.
History of the Noble M12 GTO
Lee Noble doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Enzo Ferrari, Ferruccio Lamborghini, Ettore Bugatti or Ferdinand Porsche but his contribution to the advancement of seriously high-end sports cars cannot be underestimated.
He is a British car designer and engineer who founded Noble Automotive in Leicester in 1999 after working on low volume cars with astronomical price tags for Ultima, Prosport and Ascari. He wanted to keep the ethos of these niche cars but he also wanted to dramatically reduce manufacturing and retail prices and make pure drivers cars. This is a formula that has traditionally ended in disaster (or, more often than not, bankruptcy and subsequent obscurity) but since he came out with the 2.5-litre V6 M10 in 1999 that looked not too dissimilar to the Toyota MR2, he hasn’t looked back.
Only a few M10s were made and sold because when the M12 was announced, buyers moved their deposits over. A wise move if ever there was one. The success of the M12 was based on the strength of the car itself rather than relying on corporate heritage or multi-million pound marketing budgets and it stood up to the close attention it was paid.
You won’t find Porsche or Audi build quality or refinements in an M12 GTO but you will find sheer, unadulterated driving pleasure – the holy grail for serious drivers who aren’t bothered about a badge. Starting at £45,000, it hit all the right notes and the four versions of the M12 seemed to get better and faster:
- Noble M12 GTO – V6, 2.5-litre bi-turbo, 310bhp – 2000
- Noble M12 GTO-3 – V6, 3.0-litre bi-turbo, 352bhp – 2003
- Noble M12 GTO-3R – V6, 3.0-litre bi-turbo, 352bhp – 2003
- Noble M12 M400 – track-variant, V6, 3.0-litre bi-turbo, 425bhp – 2004
Each version was a two-seat, two-door mid-engined car powered by a highly-modified Ford Duratec V6 engine. They each have a full steel roll cage, steel frame and fibreglass composite body panels making them both light and structurally rigid as well as fast – super-fast. The M400 was listed as having a 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds and a top end of 170mph. One-seventy may not be blistering speed these days but 3.5 seconds is knocking on Ferrari 458 numbers. Not bad for a bloke who builds cars in a shed in Leicester.
When the M12 GTO was launched, it came into a market saturated with ‘junior supercars’, the Porsche Boxster, various TVRs and the sporty Mercs but it elbowed its way into a market dominated by legendary names and with a power-to-weight ratio that left a Lamborghini Diablo in its rear-view mirror, the automotive world sat up and took notice.
One issue that Noble faced (and to be fair, was always going to face) was that for forty-five grand in the early 2000s, you couldn’t find a better car to buy in terms of ability and value but when you start asking £62k, you’re creeping into 911 territory. At that price, the cars were scrutinised a lot more closely and customers seemed to revert back to heritage and market kudos rather than taking a risk on Lee from the East Midlands.
The M12 GTO in all of its various guises was an exciting car. Described by Auto Express as ‘a seriously impressive sports car and a rare success story in an arena where so many promising projects fail, Noble built up a tremendous reputation for not just the performance of its cars but for quality and workmanship too.’