Wednesday 16th January 2002


NOBLE BUILD

We go behind the scenes at Hi Tech Automotive in South Africa where the Noble M12 is born...

Late last year, Guy Stobart-Hook visited the Hi Tech Automotive factory inSouth Africa. That's where the Noble M12 begins life.

The Hi-tech Automotive factory is some 10 miles out of the heart of PortElizabeth. The first thing that intrigued us after turning off the main road wasthe speed trap set-up on the opposite side of the road to the drive of Hi-techAutomotive factory! We spotted him from about a of a mile away with his lasergun and video camera. We thought it was slightly odd for a speed trap to beset-up in the middle of nowhere, but we later learned that some monthspreviously the factory had been testing a Noble!

The road, which turns off of the main road turns over the main road at rightangles in the direction of the factory, is about a mile straight with a big humpin it where it goes over the main road. Apparently one of the first body shellswas fitted with an engine and gearbox (which were sent over for testing purposesetc). On this occasion someone rather stupidly had forgotten to screw down therear clamshell properly so when the car came flying over the hill at 100 mphplus, the rear clamshell opened up like a huge air brake! This caused the car tospin off into a field. The car itself was a mess and they didn't find one of thewheels until the following day, but both the occupants climbed out without ascratch. So it just goes to show a strong these cars are. After hearing thisstory we understood why the speed trap was set-up!

The driveway into the company's property is rather grand being about of amile long with the factory itself completely hidden from the road by trees. Uponentering the reception we were met by Geoff Jones who is in charge of theproduction for the Noble.

First he told us about some of the other products they produce - mainly forthe American market. First of these was a small two seater in the shape a largeCaterham or seven. This car had a Ford Zetec unit in it - it was essentially akit car because otherwise it would not get through the stringent importstandards in America (air bags and the like). This company also produces theCobra CRS - the carbon fibre bodied, lotus V8 engined Cobra, again most of theseunits find their way to America. They also produce a SASCAR which is SouthAfrica's equivalent to NASCAR.

Firstly we were taken to the glass fibre shop were they where laying up Noblebody shells. There are three separate sections for the body shell (excludingdoors). After a day or so the shell would be plucked from the mould and theexcess glass cut away for the windows etc.

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This is where the story came from about the body shells having a hammer putthrough them, Geoff Jones himself was not satisfied with the finish of the bodyshell after they came out of the original mould. When asked for his opinion onwhat to do about it he took a large sledge hammer and hit one of the shell aboutas hard as he could - the hammer hardly made a scratch and bounced off! So yesthe body shells are very strong - they certainly looked it to me as well. Thebody shells are now made to a high tolerance with regard to measurement,certainly the shut lines we saw on the body shell had more accurate shut lines(in my opinion) than either my Elise or Exige.

Next the body is undercoated and then hand sanded to give it a fine finish.In these pictures you can see car numbers 23, 24 and 25. Here also was one ofthe original prototype body shells built in England - it never had any engine orrunning gear fitted to it, being a prototype it also does not measure up!

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Click to enlarge... Click to enlarge...

The Nobles are currently built along side the Cobra with some body shellsseemingly put to one side whilst Noble production was accelerated (there's alsolower demand for Cobra shells at this time of year).

Then it was to the paint shop here are car numbers 20, 21 or 22 (maybe theowners can identify them? One is in dark grey/anthracite and the other in Viperblue).

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Next was the chassis shop. They didn't have a noble chassis in a jig at thetime, but there was a finished item awaiting inspection in the sun! Here alsothey machine the hubs, axle stubs, etc. out of solid steel. The exhausts,radiators, intercoolers and fuel tanks are also made here, but still no one knewwhat the capacity of the Noble tank was!

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Click to enlarge... Inthe sewing shop the seats are padded out and made up, currently they are onlyproducing the standard items here, if the seats are to be leather they arere-trimmed in the UK.

Finally the body is mated to the chassis and the wiring looms, dashboard,carpets, seats, axles, radiators, intercoolers, windscreens, etc. are fitted.Notice the short steel bar, which is in place of the shock absorber. The reasonfor this so the that axle and wheel can be closed right up into the wheel archand therefore the overall height of the car is reduced so that they take up lessroom. The cars you see here should be arriving in England very shortly if theyhaven't already done so. The yellow Mole Valley car and black Damon Hill carleft a week or so before we made our visit and are now as you all know on theroad in the UK after making their short visit to Leicester have engines andtyres fitted!

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