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Wednesday 18th November 2009

Interview: Lee Noble / Fenix Automotive

PH talks to Lee Noble about his new £70k sports car with Enzo performance


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)

sutters
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Author Discussion

Niffty951

Original Poster:

1,520 posts

113 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
Superb!! I hope the lack of a name at a hard time wont hurt his business. I've been waiting for someone to take up the TVR batton for a while and this is the man to do it.

Pity he didn't buy the TVR name but then I suppose that might affect his desire for a small management team. There'd be too much interest from people wanting to get on the band waggon.

Alex Gurr

402 posts

132 months

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Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
What a very grounded set of responses. The focus on customers is what makes small companies like this different and it is great to see the desire to retain that focus.

Alfa Male

381 posts

137 months

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Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
Good interview with very interesting subject matter, I imagine, for many people on here.

If you don't mind me asking: Would this item not have been a perfect candidate for the recently introduced "Kazutoshi Mizuno Style" video interview?

Frimley111R

5,674 posts

119 months

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Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
Shame he can't use his own name/brand anymore. Still really like the M14(?) type cars he did.

mrdemon

5,589 posts

150 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
SO thats just a copy an paste from auto car last month then ?
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dirty boy

13,480 posts

94 months

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Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
He's certainly a 'DO' man. Gets of his arse and carries on, got to applaud that.

I too think he would have been the ideal man to get TVR back, if he did TVR on a small scale I think it would be superb.

Anyway, this new car....one must assume LS power.

In which case, perfect.

Again, something TVR should have done.

Mr Noble, chase that ruskie and buy the TVR name pronto!

Niffty951

Original Poster:

1,520 posts

113 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
dirty boy said:
He's certainly a 'DO' man. Gets of his arse and carries on, got to applaud that.

I too think he would have been the ideal man to get TVR back, if he did TVR on a small scale I think it would be superb.

Anyway, this new car....one must assume LS power.

In which case, perfect.

Again, something TVR should have done.

Mr Noble, chase that ruskie and buy the TVR name pronto!
LS Power: Superb.

Brit tuned and tweaked LS Power: biggrin PERFECT!

Oddball RS

1,412 posts

103 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
Whole article seems a little surreal to me, only a couple of months ago we heard of the new Noble (Nothing to do with Lee, yes i know) and how it was going to cost £170k was it? is this now dead then?

And then the whole "i fell out with the management team", and walked away, but yet as you read on you can imagine that they thought he just wasn't bothered anymore and had lost his focus, which he then admits..... all a bit odd.....

HeavySoul

3,915 posts

104 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
mrdemon said:
SO thats just a copy an paste from auto car last month then ?
More of a rewording then a direct copy and paste I would say and it is Sutcliffe that filed it.

seefarr

284 posts

71 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
dirty boy said:
Anyway, this new car....one must assume LS power.
+1
Robust power source capable of an easy 600bhp has got to be big capacity.

pd86

56 posts

118 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
hmmm i'm was thinking non-turbo'd to turbo'd audi or BMW V8s???

purely because of the trend towards forced induction these days and their economy/pollution benefits.

wouldn't be surprised with the ubiquitous LS though. Obvious reasons why it's such a popular choice!

Staffy1984

315 posts

65 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
pd86 said:
hmmm i'm was thinking non-turbo'd to turbo'd audi or BMW V8s???

purely because of the trend towards forced induction these days and their economy/pollution benefits.

wouldn't be surprised with the ubiquitous LS though. Obvious reasons why it's such a popular choice!
+1 thats was my first thought but an LS engine is just as convincing, can't wait to find out.

tomvcarter

993 posts

78 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
I thought it was going to be c £200k??

ivanj

203 posts

109 months

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Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
Any contact details for the new company?

cathalm

595 posts

129 months

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Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
I'm going to agree with others on this, in the vain hope that Lee reads this. Lee, please please contact Russian Bertie and buy the TVR name. the combination of that name and Lee's expertise would all but guarantee an order from me.

I know it won't happen but a guy can dream right?

5 USA

4,576 posts

130 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
LS engine - tick

Where's he going to get himself a cheap and reliable manual transaxle? Needs to be good or the torque of an LS will rip it to bits.

A £70k road car with no anti-lock (and presumably no traction control or chassis control) is unlikely to appeal to many customers. Lack of ABS will also rule out sale in North America which kills a big market for him. Putting an American compliant engine in a car which can't be sold in America sounds questionable.

Even if it all works out he's going to be competing head-to-head with another LS powered South African sports car, the Perana z-one

http://www.perana.com/Z-one.aspx


AMG Merc

8,917 posts

138 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
tomvcarter said:
I thought it was going to be c £200k??
The £200K model is the M600 from Noble Automotive, the company Lee Noble "left". There's no connection with the "Fenix".

Niffty951

Original Poster:

1,520 posts

113 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
5 USA said:
LS engine - tick

Where's he going to get himself a cheap and reliable manual transaxle? Needs to be good or the torque of an LS will rip it to bits.

A £70k road car with no anti-lock (and presumably no traction control or chassis control) is unlikely to appeal to many customers. Lack of ABS will also rule out sale in North America which kills a big market for him. Putting an American compliant engine in a car which can't be sold in America sounds questionable.

Even if it all works out he's going to be competing head-to-head with another LS powered South African sports car, the Perana z-one

http://www.perana.com/Z-one.aspx
Personally I hate most ABS systems. From the cars I've driven Audi seem to be the only people who can get the ballance right. My BMW Z4M (not an old car at all) used to be so bad that braking at the same point for a corner I know very well I could make it with ease if I ballanced at the point of locking up but once or twice the ABS would get triggered as the wheels skipped because the surface was bumpy and every time it kicked in the car would go straight on at about 20-30mph too fast past the turn in point!

My TVR never felt lacking for not having ABS and the only time I locked an inside wheel for a second (once in 6months) I just re-adjusted my pedal pressure and carried on, there was a slight shimmy and a puff of smoke for my troubles and thats it. If you trigger ABS you have to come right off the pedal and re-apply to stop it interfering and in those circumstances you don't have the time or space to do it. Its actually more dangerous!

In my oppinion ABS in a mass produced big luxury sallon with no feeling is ok but if your in a lightweight sports car and you've got good feedback through the controls ABS is of no benefit at all. I'd be less inclined to buy it if it did have ABS.

Niffty951

Original Poster:

1,520 posts

113 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
5 USA said:
p.s. nice looking car I'd never heard of though. Almost identical in specification to the Cerbera 4.2

tomvcarter

993 posts

78 months

[news] 
Wednesday 18th November 2009 quote quote all
AMG Merc said:
tomvcarter said:
I thought it was going to be c £200k??
The £200K model is the M600 from Noble Automotive, the company Lee Noble "left". There's no connection with the "Fenix".
Damb! i was hoping I was mistaken with the price of the M600!
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