PH Heroes: Noble GTO 3R

The year is 2003 and Noble Automotive Ltd looks unstoppable. For years founder Lee Noble has been sprinkling his genius throughout the British low-volume car industry but this time he is getting the recognition he deserves.

His CV includes the Ultima, Ascari Ecosse and the McLaren F1 but in 1999 he set up Noble, and the first product is the gawky M10, followed by the M12. With its Ford Mondeo rear lights and slightly awkward wheel arches the M12 was never going to keep Pininfarina awake at night but this didn’t matter one jot – the motoring press loved it.

The M12 won Autocar’s annual grip challenge and came second in its Best Driver’s car contest. Jeremy Clarkson squeezed into one and named it his Driver’s Car of the Year three years running. Then Noble decided to get serious. The 2.5-litre Ford V6 was ditched in favour of a 3.0-litre V6, smaller turbochargers were added to minimise lag, and power increased to 352bhp. Noble had created the M12 GTO-3R (via the GTO 3), its new flagship supercar. The car was loved by the public and journalists alike and it sold well. Then it disappeared.

The company hasn’t produced a car for some time now and with Lee no longer there who knows where the Noble tale will go next…but that’s another story. The M12 probably died before its time, a bright star in the British car industry that came to an untimely end. The memory still lives on however and for those in the know this strange-looking sports car, with a rear wing that only Tim Westwood could love, is one of the all-time greats.

To find out if it still lives up to the hype I’ve come to Marque II in London’s Vauxhall, a high performance sports car club that has a Noble on its fleet. The 3R got a re-styled nose that gives it more of a finished look and in silver, in the flesh, it looks stunning. The styling is part-street racer, part screw-you. It’s not the prettiest car on the planet but standing still it looks like one of the fastest – mean and purposeful.

I squeeze into the cabin to be greeted by more cheap plastic than a back street cosmetic surgeon, but the built-in roll cage looks cool and although it is small inside it is not overly cramped. You get a choice of racing harness or traditional seat belt and there is a metal starter button in the centre consol next to the boost gauge which fires the V6 into life.

The 3R received a Getrag six-speed ‘box and limited-slip differential so it should be the most focused yet. First can be a little tricky to find but once you are away the Noble shows itself to be surprisingly easy to drive through traffic. The V6 is torquey (350lb ft) and the only issue is the limited visibility.

After I have crawled out of London I find a stretch of road and open the Noble up. The V6 has a smooth delivery and the turbos kick-in progressively, but once they are spooled up the Noble feels every bit as quick as its 3.7 seconds 0-60mph would suggest. You are catapulted forward on a huge wave of boost which pins you into the back of the seat.

Thanks to a perfectly-judged ride the Noble has a slightly eerie feeling of hovering just above the tarmac and the more you drive it the more the suspension set-up continues to amaze. The Noble has impeccable body control and the damping is perfect, soaking up bumps and undulations and allowing you to get on with the job of driving.

It is totally composed, the suspension soft and supple but with almost zero roll going into the corners. With no electronic aids and crushing twin-turbo power making swift progress is a learning curve. The Noble will be there for you but you have to ease yourself towards the limit, squeezing more power in with each turn.

The steering is reasonably quick, with 2.6 turns lock-to-lock, making the car darty and too much speed in the dry will result in gentle understeer. You start to realise that thanks to the combination of wonderfully sorted suspension, tractable engine and effortless acceleration the 3R is undoubtedly one of the quickest cross country tools around, even today.

The steering is assisted and a little woolly around the straight ahead but it weights up nicely and doesn’t fight in your hands when you encounter bumps and ridges. The brakes do without ABS and while strong they will lock up if you jam down the pedal in a rush.

If you haven’t driven a Noble it would be easy to dismiss it as another low-volume British sports car that had the nerve but never quite the ability to take on the supercar elite. But to drive it is to fall in love. You are reminded why you love cars in the first place and in particular fast, exotic, rare cars like this.

There is a simplicity and sense of purpose to the Noble that, coupled to an almost child-like vision of how a supercar should look, make it fascinating. Everyone seems to love the Noble - it’s not weighed down by image issues like other fast cars and it just gets on with it. There’s a race car rawness about its persona but it is easy and rewarding to drive. The GTO 3R will be sadly missed.

Thanks to Marque II for the loan of the car.
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Comments (46) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Adrian W 10 Sep 2008

    Development isnt dead it's just not being done by Noble, Now if you want to drive a really fast well set up Noble pm me. Obviosly just the bloke who wrote the articlebiggrin

    Edited by Adrian W on Wednesday 10th September 14:24

  • DamoLLb 10 Sep 2008

    ^^PM HIM^^

    good read, cheers!

  • stew-S160 10 Sep 2008

    still one of my fave cars ever, and one of the first cars id buy when i win the lotto.

  • pikeyboy 10 Sep 2008

    I've driven one of these awesome cars, drivng is believing......

  • GraemeP 10 Sep 2008

    The first car I ever drove on a trackday was a Noble M12 (the 2.5 litre version) - and it was epic (especially if you like cars to sound like a tie-fighter!).

    Fantastically easy to drive (although had to keep either fully in or out of boost on the corners as I learnt after a spin).

    Would love to try the 3R - not sure I could drive one down my local high street though.

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