If the Lotus Final Editions announcement prompted one response - beyond the desire to drive them, that is - it was to fondly recall just how healthy the British sports car scene looked back in the early days of the Exige and Elise. The turn of the century seems even longer ago when you think of Marcoses, Strathcarrons, MGs and TVRs. Since then only Ariel has really managed to muscle in as a newcomer in the business of something very small and very fast on this little island.
Then there was Noble. Though the M10 impressed the media, it’s believed just half a dozen were made as attention switched to the larger, more powerful, much better looking M12. Which, as we all know, was a rather more successful project.
Appropriately enough given the Lotus news, a lot of the current Exige can be seen in those old M12s. Back at a time when the Exige was a four-cylinder featherweight, the Noble used a forced induction version of an off the shelf V6, weighed around 1,100kg and embarrassed many a more expensive supercar with its speed and dynamic prowess. Sounds familiar, no?
Launched to some acclaim in the early 2000s, the M12 evolved and improved over its few years on sale, reaching its zenith with the M400. This one is a GTO-3R; alongside the non-R GTO-3, both models were a significant update for the car, introducing the larger 3.0-litre engine (and thus more power), a six-speed gearbox and a limited-slip differential. The original M12 was exceptionally good; the GTO-3s were probably even better still, introducing more focus but without sacrificing the purity that had won it so much praise.
Like so many great driver’s cars of the 21st century, the Noble M12 has grown steadily more collectible over the past few years. Once upon a time they could be picked up for £20k - no longer. This particular 3R is a truly exceptional one, with a staggeringly low mileage of just 6,949. As such, though higher mileage, 2.5-litre M12s are available for less than £40,000; this one will set you back £60k.
Which, interestingly enough, is about what other, similar British sports cars are on offer at. A very low mileage TVR T350 will be more than £50,000, this original Exige isn’t much less and, on a slightly different tangent, a low mileage Morgan from the end of the 20th century could be £45,000. The cars may have been about no frills performance, but they certainly don’t come cheap.
There remains a special appeal about what Noble created, though, which is probably why values are so high. Though true to the lightweight British sports car ethos, it managed to occupy a little niche of its own with its track focus and searing performance. Given it was praised for its engagement and excitement more than a decade and a half ago, something like this GTO-3R will be little short of exhilarating in 2021.
The incredibly low mileage of this particular M12 might mean it needs a little recommissioning to get back to tip top shape, but that's fine because they don’t make sports cars quite like the Noble anymore. Largely because it wouldn’t be possible, of course - although, much like rally replicas, it seems that their time has somewhat been and gone. For those that missed it first time around, or for those that just want to relive the glory days of the genre, it’s hard to think of a better way to do it.
SPECIFICATION | NOBLE M12 GTO-3R
Engine: 2,968cc, twin-turbo V6
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 357@6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 350@5,000rpm
MPG: 25 or so
First registered: 2003
Recorded mileage: 6,949
Price new: £58,850
Yours for: £59,995
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