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First Drive

Retro review: the Noble M12 GTO-3R

£52,500 when new
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This review first appeared in Issue 124 of Top Gear magazine (2004)

This Noble has no anti-roll bars. It’s probably not a new idea and someone will doubtless write in to say that the Humber Jape or the Austin Sausage dispensed with anti-roll bars as long ago as 67BC. 

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Considering, though, that 99.99 (recurring) per cent of modern cars have these things in their chassis as a matter of course, then it’s nice to see someone thinking laterally, if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun. The item in question links one wheel with the one on the other side. So if the nearside front wheel goes over a drain, the vibration gets transmitted to the offside front wheel.

This explains why the Noble has such a surprisingly supple ride. Hang on, you must be thinking, why the heck is he on about ride quality in an article on a lightweight, high-powered, mid-engined supercar? Because the Noble is a car that has a few surprises up its wheelarches. 

Top Gear Noble M12 GTO-3R wheel

Words: Colin Ryan
Images: Jim Forrest

I guess the first surprise is that here’s a low-volume British sports car manufacturer actually turning out something decent and not going to the wall after lots of initial bluster. (Eh, Jensen and Trident?) The second is that something that looks like it was designed in the Seventies – inside and out – is doing the business in this day and age. Despite the crude door mirrors.

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It’s obvious that this car is more about driving than making fashion statements, so let’s turn the key, or press the starter button. Confusingly, either one will do. Spinning behind the two deeply uncomfortable bucket seats (thank heaven for that supple ride) is not a 2.5-litre turbocharged Ford V6. This new version, the range-topping Noble M12 GTO 3-R, to give it its proper name, is blessed with a three-litre turbo’d Ford V6 with 352bhp at 6,200rpm, while 350lb ft of torque is found between 3,500-5,000rpm.

From the driver’s seat, it all seems to come alive around 4,000rpm. And alive as in ‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it'. All that power going into a car made from lightweight materials can only have one outcome – incredible acceleration. Official figures are 0-60mph in 3.9secs and 0-100mph in 9.0secs. With the right launch technique, I don’t disbelieve it.

Subjectively, it’s one of the fastest accelerating cars I’ve ever driven. The sound of the engine is better with the window slightly open and it all adds to the thrill as the world suddenly goes into fast forward. Although the scary but entertaining pops, whizzes, bangs and whooshes that accompanied the original Noble we took to the Nürburgring are missing here. There’s more of a jet-like noise. It even sounds like a jet powering down when turning off the ignition, so there’s still fun to be had at journey’s end.

Be careful at this point, as the Noble eschews ABS brakes and it will take nearly 55 metres to come to a stop from 70mph, and that’s on a dry surface.

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What differentiates the 3-R from the normal GTO is that it has faired-in headlights, a Quaife limited-slip differential and a six-speed gearbox. The latter has one of those actions that’s clunky at low engine speeds, but sharpens up once everything is spinning faster. Even then, it’s best to concentrate on being positive with it. On our test car, it would jump out of second after changing down from third – merely annoying on public roads, but one of the last things you need if you’re hurtling around Brands.

One of the first things you’ll need, though, and one thing the 3-R has to burn, is grip. It’s no different in this respect from other Nobles, but, by jingo, it must get a mention. With fine Bridgestone rubber of 225/40 up front and 265/35 at the rear – all on nicely designed 18-inch alloy wheels – and a set of shock absorbers that seem to have been imbued with a bit of magic, this car can do anything you want it to, go anywhere you point it. But you may want a touch more feedback from the steering. This marriage of grip and speed is endlessly stimulating. And the deeper your own talents as a driver are, the more profound your appreciation.

For longer journeys and/or day-to-day transport, though, the Noble doesn’t really hit the spot (the wide turning circle is a pain around town). And the niche market the 3-R needs to appeal to had better be well-heeled; the price is a not inconsiderable £52,500. But if you want to revel within the integrated roll cage, while being held in place by the racing harnesses (conventional seatbelts are fitted too) and heel-and-toe the close-set pedals as you attempt to be track day king, then this is the car for you. 

Verdict: More or less a race car, but pricey

3.0-litre twin-turbo V6
352bhp, RWD
0-60mph in 3.7 secs, max speed 170mph
1,080kg
£52,500

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