Noble M12 GTO | The Brave Pill

Spot the odd one out: Enzo, Ferdinand, Ferruccio, Horacio, Lee. Putting your own name over the door of your sports car factory has always indicated a high level of confidence that the product will be one you'll want to be permanently associated with. Yet in the case of Noble Automotive it was almost entirely justified.

Regular readers will have noticed that our Pills carry different risk levels. You'd get bored if we only did fizzing grenade V12s. Some Pills require only a modest level of valour, one that could be likened to ripping a week-old sticking plaster from somewhere hairy. But others come closer to the example set by Aron Ralston, the American who got impossibly wedged between two rocks after a solo climbing accident and resourcefully hacked his arm off with a pocketknife before hiking across a desert to safety. After last week's Korma-grade Monaro we've going full Phall this time: a tuned Noble M12 in Thermonuclear Orange, offered for sale on the bit of the map surrounded by sea monsters.

Anyone who hasn't paid close attention to Noble values might be surprised at the Β£34,500 price tag, a figure which is only Β£10,000 less than the M12 would have cost its first owner back in 2002. Yet this is currently the cheapest Noble in the classifieds, proof that values have been steadily rising for years as people realise both how special the model is. Even at that price and by 2019 standards it is still a serious performance bargain; to go faster around a track you'd need to either pay significantly more or buy something without a roof or the Noble's respectable tally of creature comforts. You're unlikely to hear much of our Pill's audio system when it is on the move, but it also has air con and even a set of squashy bag fitted luggage.

Noble's launch caused a fair bit of confusion. Lee Noble's background had been in kit cars, most famously the hugely fast Ultima, so the assumption was his new venture would offer much of the same. The first Noble M10 was only supplied fully built, but its front end had a distinct Done It Yourself look about it, perpetuating the misperception.

The M12 arrived so soon enough afterwards that most deposit-placers immediately switched their orders to it. It featured a fixed roof - the M10 was a roadster - a turbocharged version of the earlier car's mid-mounted Ford V6 and a front end with round headlights and a classic sports car vibe. The glassfibre bodywork was made in South Africa to a high standard, then fitted to a steel chassis featuring riveted aluminium panels to add strength. But while the M12 looked much better than the M10, it was still what detractors suggested was "a bit kitty."

Fortunately for those lucky enough to get the chance, driving an M12 immediately cleared up any doubts over its right to be regarded as a proper sports car. Indeed, an exceptional one. A pair of Garret T25 turbos had boosted the Duratec V6 to 310hp, allied to a kerb weight of just 980kg. Even in its least powerful form the M12 GTO was hugely fast, but the way the chassis delivered was equally impressive: plentiful grip, perfectly dialled-in steering and a balance that allowed either impressive accuracy, adrenaline-spiking lairiness, or a mixture of the two - sometimes in the same corner.

On road it was loud and lacked refinement, especially as the doors tended to pop away from the seals at higher speeds and with a hard-use induction soundtrack that was like getting an obscene phone call from Darth Vader. Damping coped exceptionally well with the real world, and the Noble could deliver big pace despite the near-total lack of driver aids. On track it was mega, quicker and easier to drive hard than practically anything else. At a magazine's handling test in Rockingham I remember being passed by a low-flying M12 with dismissive ease. I wouldn't have minded, but I was in a 996 GT2, a car that coped less well with the tight infield than the much cheaper Noble did.

The M12 evolved steadily over time, with GTO-3 and then 3R variants gaining more power and more grip. Eventually it formed the basis of the M400, which moved the power-to-weight ratio up to 400hp-per-tonne. But while these iterations grew faster, none added appreciably to the purity of the first GTO's driving experience, and as outputs rose and acceleration times fell so prices started to increase. No fewer than 1500 of the M12 clan were sold in 'six years, a very impressive number for a sports car startup, but the M14 and M15 that were meant to follow it were both stillborn. The M600 eventually arrived, just before Lee Noble's departure from the company, and although it is still with us it competes in a completely different part of the market and sells in tiny volumes.

So plentiful reasons to celebrate the high point of our Pill. It is being sold with both a comprehensive history, a list of upgrades and reassurance that most of the M12's known weaknesses have been addressed. Although a private sale the vendor seems determined to follow the examples of the shoutier parts of the motor trade with an ALL CAPS list of key features. The most interesting of which being a limited slip differential (the GTO didn't get one as standard) as well as a circuit-spec lubrication system, part-stainless exhaust, later ECU and what seems to be an upgraded cooling system. There are no performance claims for the tweaked powertrain, but it won't be slow. Our Pill has also been repainted in Lamborghini Orancio Pearl with matching dashboard details; the next owner can be pretty certain of not losing it in a carpark.

It also happens to be in Orkney, and therefore closer to Oslo than London. Whenever the geographic location of previous further-flung Pills has been pointed out someone has always chimed in to say that they are just down the road and it therefore isn't far away at all. While that might well be the case here, this is still the furthest listed so far from PH HQ and - for most - the M12 is going to be at least one ferry ride and quite a lot of fuel away. But for sissy Sassenachs from south of Sutherland collection does offer the prospect of combining the drive home with some (or even all) of the North Coast 500. Can you think of a better way to commence ownership of such a beast?

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Comments (60) Join the discussion on the forum

  • soad 31 Aug 2019

    In before any Mondeo comments surface. hehe

    Looks far better with a later model’s headlights, I’d say?

    I recall many not liking the basic interior not that long ago...yet values continued to rise.

  • sidewinder500 31 Aug 2019

    Great read, great pill.
    Again, well done, PH.

    The car is great, never mind the mondeo engine, didn't realise the prices are that stiff already...

    Seems that almost anything interesting goes off after the original depreciation period and is valued close to their original price level or above.

    Off to classifieds...

  • StuH 31 Aug 2019

    Bought mine new in 2002 - it was fantastic! Mine was the original 2.5 but still pretty rapid compared to anything else on the road at the time. Great track day memories cloud9

  • Niffty951 31 Aug 2019

    I still have a video of the Houx Annex roundabout, friday in le-mans (2005ish) where a grey Noble M12 pulled the most spectacular donut with only about 1ft to the ankles of the nearest bystanders around much of the 360degrees, before slingshotting away through a group b rally style, rapidly made opening in the crowds.

    My other memory is of the original top gear review. Yep, the Noble will always reside in that special place in my heart close to TVR but sadly unlike the TVR I've never owned or even sat in one.

  • sjc 31 Aug 2019

    I’ve had pretty much unbroken Noble ownership for 14 years.


    Think the only think that will halt my ownership is when I’m to ancient to get in or out of it.
    Just a superbly balanced and damped, rare quick car.

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