Leveling the Playing Field – for a David of a price, you get a Goliath of a Sports Car

Posted on January 23rd, 2010 at 9:00 am by Carbon McCoy



So you want a Ferrari? Welcome to the club. But you can’t afford a Ferrari. I’m in that club, too. So what to do? These days, there are so many choices – from so many manufacturers – that it’s virtually impossible not to wind up with a sports car that fits your needs and your budget.

Ferrari

But you still want a Ferrari. I hear that. The speed, the handling, and the exclusivity–they’re perfect. But your wallet isn’t deep enough for the six-figure price tag. Or it is, but you can’t justify dropping that kind of bacon on a mode of transportation. So now you want something affordable with performance characteristics similar to a Ferrari. Aha. We’ve narrowed the playing field. And you want it to be as elite as a Ferrari. The playing field is now a fine line–flanked by two huge-in-comparison sidelines.

Noble M14

So what is the answer to this five-figure question? The answer is Noble. No, not great in character or brave – although those attributes fit – rather I’m referring to the newest sports car to come out South Africa since …well, never mind.

Dean Rosen of 1G Racing in Cincinnati, Ohio, was at Road Atlanta during Petit Le Mans earlier this year with a few of these uncommon beasts. After meeting him last year, I was set up to go out on a test drive with him. But the wait was long and the race was over before I was next in line. “Next year”, I said to him. “You bet.”

True to his word, as soon as he saw me, Dean said, “Let’s not even wait; let’s just go now.” And off we went. Tucked away in an M12 GTO – the first iteration of a Noble sports car (the second and newest is the M400) – we slowly crept through the throngs of people at Road Atlanta, making our way out to the main road.

Once outside, traffic was nil and Dean punched the gas, as we dashed off to a curvy, desolate side road he’d been down many times before. Dean’s British-like South African accent was almost inaudible over the throaty exhaust, but I managed to hear him tell me a little more information about the car.

“The laws here in the States are strict, and since these cars haven’t been crash-tested, these aren’t allowed in as regular cars. They have to be registered as specially constructed vehicles. They come in as rolling chassis and are only afterwards fitted with a drive train.” So it’s a kit car?

Noble M12

Not exactly–the Noble has almost everything any other US-legal sports car has – blinkers, seat belts, a horn, but no air bags. If you can live with that, then the Noble is definitely the way to go. So what’s hurling us down the road so fast?

“You can equip your Noble with just about anything you want, but this car is fitted with a three-liter Ford V-6,” he said. What?!? “…with twin turbochargers.” Oh.

When he leaned on the gas, the Noble rocketed forward. I don’t mean jaunted like a happy-go-lucky Porsche, I mean rocketed, like a 575M Maranello. When the turbo kicked in, I thought we were preparing for takeoff.

Once we were on the empty side street Dean was headed toward, he began carving corners like some sort of Petit Le Mans halftime show. With a stiff suspension, the Noble shows no signs of body roll. In fact, I’ve seen more body rolls in coffins, than in this monster as we whipped around curve after curve in “Nowheresville,” North Georgia. I asked the question I could almost hear echoing in the cockpit, pondered by scores of passengers before me:

“So how much do these things go for? Is it one of those ‘well, if you have to ask…’ situations?” I queried him nonchalantly. His retort was “No, not a’tal,” as his accent was as cool as the car. As we sliced through another turn, Dean punched the loud pedal and we launched down a bit of straight road toward the next bend. With no turbo lag, power is yielded the second it’s summoned. It’s like ‘The Force’.

With that thought in mind, shit, this car should only come in black.

After awhile, Dean pulled over. “Okay, your turn” he said. “Sweet I thought!” to myself. But Dean proceeded to kinda rain on my brief parade, by adding some redundant advice to yours truly, “But don’t drive like I just did!”

Noble Interior

Yeah, no kidding, I don’t want to be the first to crash-test one of these things. We switched seats and I buckled up as I eyed the dash. Trimmed in Alcantara, the interior of the Noble is almost bare. Sure it’s got all the essential bells and whistles: turn signal and wiper stalks, idiot lights, mirrors, a gearshift and gauges. But aside from the necessities, it’s bare. There is no CD player, cup holders, wine cooler, or whatever the hell else sports cars come with these days. No, the Noble means business.

Dean explained to me how close the gears were and I ran the shifter through them, before we got going, so I could get a better feel for the ‘box. Two little red buttons adorned the inner sides of the carbon fiber steering wheel. BEEP! Oh …that’s what those are for. As I learned later (while trying to back up), first and reverse are close. Like brother and sister in them there mountains–kinda close. So being a quick study was a big help in getting it right, before I could do too much damage.

I slowly coaxed the M12 out onto the road and warmed up to its user-friendly personality. The clutch is Honda-light and, once you find “the spot”, everything else falls into place. The shifter is like a clitoris – intimidating, until you get your hand on it. After that, it’s like riding a bicycle (the gearbox, not the …well, never mind). I even managed to get the M12 into fifth a few times… just to, uh, exercise the synchros. Um, yeah, that’s the ticket.

I tried to take things slowly, but the Noble is so inviting and playful. The exhaust barks out fiercely every command you interpret through the throttle. The steering’s point-and-shoot accuracy erases the margin of sloppiness some sports cars in this price range can’t begin to eliminate. I squeezed the gas and the M12 ate the road, regurgitating it noisily from the exhaust. The more I drove, the more comfortable I felt with the car and its controls.

Noble M15

Eventually, we stopped for gas, but were just as soon back out on the road. The Noble comes in any color you want.

So if you want Ferrari red or Ford blue, it’s just a matter of your checkbook’s hue friendliness. Cloaked in a dark metallic gray, we were but a shadowy streak in the otherwise quiet countryside.

Its big steel brake discs gave me permission to wait as long as my sphincter would allow entering a turn. The sticky tires kept the twin turbos from breaking traction. I was quickly in need of not liking something, for the smile on my face grew to where it was affecting my vision. As I knew we were headed back to the track, so I decided to see just how big my balls were.

Clear across the double yellow, I apexed one of many turns we rounded as I shot off in search of another.

Down shift, match revs, steady gas through the turn, punching it, up-shifting on my way to the next turn, I felt like the star of some video game. If I were on a racetrack, I would certainly be somebody to reckon with. At least, in my own mind (yeah, I’m a member of that club, too). I blurred us around the windy mountain road that seemed to exist solely to display the Noble’s capabilities.

When we finally slowed to a stop sign that poured us out onto the main road back to the track, I looked over at Dean with a big grin on my face and said, “I babied it, didn’t I?” He just smiled back at me. When we got back to the track, I reluctantly parked the M12 where we got in it earlier that morning. Dean turned to me as he shut the door: “If you’re ever in Cincinnati, swing by and I’ll let you drive the M400. You’ll wonder what you ever smiled about while driving this.”

Now that’s a club I want to be a member of!

Currently, Carbon authors The Berlinetta Letter, a monthly online Ferrari newsletter for BerlinettaMotorcars.com.

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