Sean 0'Grady: Tamed by the tiger beneath a Noble bonnet

This car is rare, exceedingly so, which only adds to its mystique
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Indy Lifestyle Online

One of the interesting things about driving what I call the weird stuff is the looks you get. You know the automotive exotica and rarities I'm talking about; Nissan Cube, Smart Roadster, Caterham Seven, completely unmodified and unmolested 1988 Vauxhall Nova, that sort of thing.

One of the interesting things about driving what I call the weird stuff is the looks you get. You know the automotive exotica and rarities I'm talking about; Nissan Cube, Smart Roadster, Caterham Seven, completely unmodified and unmolested 1988 Vauxhall Nova, that sort of thing.

There's something in most of us that wants to be "different" and when we see it we notice. But nothing dominates its surroundings quite like a Noble M12 GTO 3R. This car is rare, exceedingly so, which only adds to its mystique. However, it is not just a matter of it being seldom glimpsed. For the Noble does possess the most extraordinary lines, a strange but beguiling mixture of old Lotus Elite, archetypal Ferrari and Ford Mondeo Mark I (the latter being the source of its taillights). Those huge scoops draw the eye as effectively as they draw air to cool its tuned Ford V6 twin Garrett turbocharged powerplant. It is set so low down that it looks like some sort of customiser's joke but, with care, it will cope with any speed bump. The Noble could have easily ended up looking gawky. It doesn't. It also sounds right. Its engine gurgles magnificently, like any mid-engined supercar.

It always used to be said that if you parked a Ferrari in any Italian town square you would receive admiration; but if you did the same in this country you would be in for abuse. I can only report that the Noble provoked affection wherever I went. That such a plutocratic piece of machinery - £50,000 and upwards - should transcend the emotions of resentment and envy is remarkable. I cannot imagine quite the same happening in an equivalent Porsche or BMW. There is a problem, though - not that my Noble broke down once, due to some loose connection under its clam-like bonnet. It was swiftly fixed by a decent mechanic. The problem with the Noble is that it impresses and terrifies in equal measure. It is what happens when automotive technology races far ahead of the abilities of the average driver (me).

Driving it is like riding a tiger. Progress was indeed slower for me in this vehicle than in almost any other car I've driven because of the trepidation I sensed behind the steering wheel (which, by the way, is like nothing so much as an arcade-game control, with red buttons by your thumbs that look like they will fire rockets at space invaders but which merely activate the horn).

When you know that you have 350bhp and 350lb/ft of torque behind you, you just stop mucking about. With most cars you find yourself pushing them to get the most out of them. Even with a BMW Z4 or a Vauxhall VX220 - supremely well engineered and powerful machines - you can go in for a little bit of that. But the sheer terror of losing control of this Noble animal dominated my time with it.

The power available here must have been about what Stirling Moss and his peers in the 1950s had to play with. As Car points out this month, even 15 years ago there were only a few road cars - notably the Ferrari Testarossa - that delivered 350 bhp.

Today, we know that the new Bugatti, when it comes, will boast 1,001bhp; a Porsche Carrera GT offers 600bhp; a BMW M5 some 500bhp; the new Mercedes-Benz SL perhaps 700bhp. A new Noble, the M400, delivers 425bhp at 6,200rpm. It too goes as well as it looks.

But it won't be doing that for me. I know my limits, I have been tamed.

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