Interview: Lee Noble / Fenix Automotive

Lee Noble is back in the car business
Lee Noble is back in the car business
For a while it looked as if life at the sharp end of small British sports car manufacturing had, if not ended, at least gone a bit sour for Lee Noble. For reasons known mainly to Lee himself and the new management team at Noble Automotive, he walked away some 20 months ago from the sports car company he helped create, since when life has been - in his own words - "quite tough".

But as of today, Lee Noble is officially back in business with a brand new car company known as Fenix Automotive, a brand new business partner and, most important of all, a brand new super sportscar that will go on sale next year.

Which is why PistonHeads took the opportunity to catch up with the man himself for a first-hand insight into his latest car, his old business, and what he intends to achieve over the coming years.

PistonHeads: So Mr Lee Noble, how's life? And what have you been up to for the last two years?

Lee Noble: "It's been hard work getting myself back on my feet again, I'll admit that, and I've had a tough couple of years what with one thing and another. But I've been quite busy behind the scenes for a while now, and you'll see why in the very near future.

PH: Let's get this out of the way before we start talking about the new car and company. What went wrong at Noble? Why did you walk away?

LN: "For me personally it all got a bit too big, a bit too quickly. We started doing things that I wasn't entirely happy with, and unfortunately when that happens, well, I just decided it was time to move on.

"One of the main things I wasn't happy about - and this is something I'm not going to forget about this time round - was that it all got so big that I started to lose contact with the customer.

"I remember one event we did at Rockingham and there were hundreds of cars there, it was amazing, yet for some stupid reason I thought I had something else to be doing that was more important in the afternoon, so I left half way through the day. I remember thinking how wrong this was a little while afterwards. I'd allowed my priorities to get so mixed up, and that was an important realisation. It's something I've learned from, and I'm just never going to allow it to happen again. It's what you're there for in the first place, after all.

PH: So creatively you agreed to disagree with Noble Automotive's new owners, and then you moved on, or was it a more volatile split than that?

LN: "It wasn't one of the easiest periods in my life, put it that way. There were some nasty allegations made in the local press about my family that were absolute rubbish, and I'd rather not go back into that now. But it's something I've moved on from. I know now that the worst thing you can do is rush into anything when it involves corporate investment.

Noble M14 was a stillborn concept...
Noble M14 was a stillborn concept...
PH: OK, so that was then and this is now. What can you tell us about the new car? How far down the line are you regards the build process? Is it a real car yet or merely an idea that's still on the drawing board?

LN: "It's a real car, the first prototype is already out in South Africa being built, in fact. It's a mid-engined two seater with my own chassis, my own styling and a nice big V8 engine in the back."

PH: What sort of price, power and performance are we talking about?

LN: "It'll cost approximately £70k for the basic model, and ideally less than £100k even for the full version. It'll have anything between 400-650bhp, depending on how much the customer wants to spend.

...which disappointed many
...which disappointed many
"Performance wise it'll be a properly quick car. Less than 1200kg in full road trim and not just a track day special, you know that's not what I want to make, it'll have a decent interior with air conditioning. I always said I wanted to build a car with the performance of an Enzo for less than £100k, and that's what I'll deliver this time round.

"And it'll have a proper gearbox, too, not one with paddles, and there won't be ABS either. It's just too expensive to put anti-lock on a car that's going to sell in such small volumes. And I'm not going to lose control of the production numbers this time.

"I want to be involved with every car on a personal level because, in a way, that's what the customer will be buying in to. They'll get a part of me, as well as a car.

PH: What sort of restriction on numbers do you think you will need to place in order to remain in contact with each customer?

LN: "It's got to be less than 100 per year. Anything more than that and it's too easy to let things happen that you don't want to happen. I'm not going to let any one get involved who I don't want to be involved on the corporate side, either. I'm not making that mistake again.

PH: Would it be fair to suggest that your new car will be something similar to the still-born M14 and/or M15?

Proposed M15 also fell by the wayside
Proposed M15 also fell by the wayside
LN: "Well, there were an awful of unfulfilled orders for those cars, and I'm convinced that's where the potential market lies. At under £100k. Anyone can build a car that costs hundreds of thousands of pounds but, as far as I can tell, there's no one trying to do so down at the level I'm talking about. So yes, in a way the new car will be a bit like the M14. Except it looks a bit different and the power source will be quite a bit more robust.

PH: (At this point Mr Noble tells us what the power source is, where it comes from and why it will be so, shall we say, reliable. But he'd rather we keep you guessing about its exact source for the time being, which means it's answers on a post card please...).

PH: Finally, when do you expect to start selling the new car, and does it have a name just yet?

LN: "Sometime next year but, as I say, I'm not going to rush anything. When the first cars get driven I don't want there to be any excuses. Everything will have been tested, nothing will change, nothing will go wrong; they will be perfect.

"It's down to me to make sure it'll happen when we say it will. And it will because I'll have full control this time round.

"We've got a few names that we're thinking about but nothing is finalised just yet."

PH: Thanks for talking to us Lee, it's great to see you back in action again - and good luck with the new project!


(Portrait - Autocar)

Comments (96) Join the discussion on the forum

  • philbennett 20 Jan 2014

    Been over 4 years since that was written.. anything ever happen?

    I saw this in 2010 http://www.pistonheads.com/news/default.asp?storyI...

    and this in 2012 http://www.pistonheads.com/news/default.asp?storyI...

    Are they for sale, working, etc?

  • HeavySoul 04 Jan 2010

    zakelwe said:
    HeavySoul said:
    zakelwe said:
    Now confirmed as the normal and supercharged LS3/9.

    Andy

    Edited by zakelwe on Saturday 2nd January 11:37
    Where did you see that?
    Evo magazine with Lee himself.

    Andy
    Got mine this morning wink

  • zakelwe 04 Jan 2010

    HeavySoul said:
    zakelwe said:
    Now confirmed as the normal and supercharged LS3/9.

    Andy

    Edited by zakelwe on Saturday 2nd January 11:37
    Where did you see that?
    Evo magazine with Lee himself.

    Andy

  • Niffty951 03 Jan 2010

    HeavySoul said:
    fatbutt said:
    egomeister said:
    Niffty951 said:
    My only problem with the car (and its a big one) is the stupid price tag! You can't charge the customer for the development of the car otherwise a Golf would cost £100,000. You have to fit a price to the product.
    How else do you price a car if you don't charge the customer for the development?
    You amortise your development costs over a set period of time. You can't price a car without taking into account the market. Its well known that Toyota lost money on pretty much every Prius built due to the horrendous development costs, but they take a very very long term view in their business plan.
    Agreed, of course any small manufacturer does not have the resources of someone like Toyota and it must be incredibly hard to set the correct price against try to guess the future.

    From the little I know of Dyson, he seems to have a large business interests elsewhere so presume he is pretty secure in the medium term to shore up some of the large initial costs of development/building.

    What would you say the life cycle on a car like the M600 is? Four/five years?
    I agree 100% with the difficulties faced by a small company but they have found the money upfront (obviously as they have to have developed the car before they can start selling them - cough M14) so I think there would be a strong argument to put to the investors that by pricing the car competitively and covering the build cost plus a percentage they would massively widen their market. Not only for that car but it would pave the way for future models. I mean lets face it, if it wasn't for the M12 the M600 would be 'just' another shed made supercar, it would never have had the world wide media attention it's currently benefitting from. The M600 does not appear expensive to make (please correct me if I'm wrong) I think by pricing it in the £60-80k region to compete with the likes of th Evora and base 911 undercutting the next bracket of long established performance cars would have concreted the foundations for Noble as a real contender in the market. Perhaps the man himself will have more luck, I wish him all the best.

  • HeavySoul 02 Jan 2010

    zakelwe said:
    Now confirmed as the normal and supercharged LS3/9.

    Andy

    Edited by zakelwe on Saturday 2nd January 11:37
    Where did you see that?

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