Mechanical complexity and expense mark out modern-day supercar ownership. But back in 2001, low-volume supremo Lee Noble launched his first eponymous model, the M12, which for the next five years held sway as not just a true Ferrari and Porsche rival but also one that didn’t break the bank to buy or to run.
With an original starting price of £44,950, the M12 GTO came to market with a simple but effective recipe: a steel spaceframe chassis clad with a Le Mans-style glassfibre composite body; suspension by double wishbones all round; and power from a then relatively new all-alloy 2.5-litre Ford V6 (plucked initially from the Mondeo) twin-turbocharged to produce 310bhp.
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For a low-volume manufacturer, Noble achieved a high degree of production consistency, with fully trimmed rolling chassis supplied to its Leicestershire factory by South African firm High Tech Automotive. The Ford powertrain (infra dig to some but strong and thoroughly developed) was then fitted as part of final assembly.
The first M12 GTOs received a warm welcome by press and public. With its trademark ‘Darth Vader in the boot’ soundtrack from its Garrett blowers, a 0-100mph time of just over 10sec and a 165mph top speed, it combined blistering performance with taught body control, strong grip and engaging handling.
It was also surprisingly comfy on a long haul, with decent ergonomics and noise insulation, as well as a relatively compliant ride quality.
But the M12’s greater potential was obvious from the start, so in 2002, the GTO was replaced by the GTO-3, using the same Duratec unit but the 3.0-litre version from Ford’s Maverick off-roader. This increased peak output by 42bhp to 352bhp and brought a chunky increase in torque, reducing lag – but also banishing much of that signature turbo noise.
However, the GTO-3 was a bit of a stopgap, as in 2003 it was superseded by the GTO-3R, which was sold until the end of M12 production in 2008.
Identifiable by its faired-in headlights, the GTO-3R brought a slicker six-speed manual gearbox (the GTO and GTO-3 shared a weaker and more recalcitrant five-speeder) driving through a Quaife automatic torque-biasing differential to deploy power more effectively to the rear.
Then there was the pinnacle of M12 performance, the M400, its name representing the model’s horsepower per tonne. With 425bhp and a 0-60mph time down to 3.5sec, there were myriad technical changes: higher-lift cams, larger turbos, forged pistons and an oil cooler. Its chassis also gained Dynamics race dampers, a front anti-roll bar and Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres.
£54,000 and above: Hardcore M400s.
One we found
NOBLE M12 GTO-3R, 2004/ 04-REG, 31K MILES, £46,250: In very good condition, with a full service history and a recent service, this five-owner car has just had a new set of tyres and comes with 12 months’ MOT. It’s almost standard, apart from an M400 shift mechanism and a remap to raise power from 352bhp to 397bhp.