WCF Drives Noble M15 Development Mule
by Nick Hall
Photos by John Colley
edited 05-09-2006

Noble Flies Business Class

Just occasionally the opportunity comes along to sample the industry at work, to drive the semi-finished heart and soul of a sportscar without the added trappings of luxury, electric windows and speed-sapping refinements. And when that car is the Noble M15, the drive becomes all the more compelling.

Noble is a sportscar company that has built an entire reputation on the M12 and took its place at the head of the British industry after just two years of trading. Now the next in the lineage is almost upon us.

Lee Noble has taken a brave gamble with his new car. Priced at Pounds79,450 in the UK, the niche manufacturer known for no-compromise sportscars that 60 per cent of owners took to the track, has invaded territory already comfortably occupied by the likes of the Porsche GT3, Aston Martin AMV8 and BMW M6. All these cars come with decades of heritage, acres of style, spectacular comfort and performance to spare. In short, Noble has its work cut out.

"We know what we're getting into," said Lee. "Dynamically, though, we know this car will destroy everything in its class and a good few others, too."

It only needs to sell 600 cars a year around the globe, though, to consider the car a raging success. And Noble has established such a cult reputation with the M12, especially in M400 guise, that this should be a relative breeze. Cars are already selling by the bucketload in the UK, it will be snapped up all over Europe thanks to full Type Approval and the US - a buoyant market shifting almost 100 M12s a year - is an obvious cash cow. This is a car that, on its own level, is going to work.

The battered chalkboard black development mule is nothing to look at and looks like a half-finished, home-brewed Noble copy constructed from a Toyota Celica and a teenager's warped imagination. Inside the essentials are there, but it's a hot, noisy working environment. But as soon as you slot the familiar Ford Focus-style gearstick that's attached to a custom built six-speed 'box into first, dial in some revs and drop the clutch, such things become less than relevant.

Noble's M15 claws in the horizon like almost nothing on Earth. This development mule is basically a race car, and so comes stripped to the bare bones. That goes some way to explaining the 0-60mph time of 3.3s and 100mph dash in 7.8s, but even with fully loaded interior the M15 will still weigh just 1250kg and do 60mph in less than 3.5s and top out at more than 185mph.

Weight hurts everywhere: in corners, under acceleration and on the brakes. So Noble's commitment to a lightweight frame ensures his car will take the fight to anything in its powerband.

Power comes courtesy of the Duratec 3-litre V6 that starts life in the Ford Mondeo, but only the block is the same and with two giant turbochargers added to the mix this car produces 455bhp and a conveniently remembered 455lb/ft of torque. It's tried and trusted technology and, intriguingly, has gone well beyond 500bhp in race spec. As the gearbox is rated to 650bhp, it's not hard to see a future where a hardcore version hits the market.

In the mule, the noise under hard acceleration could make your ears bleed, a V6 powerplant is a pulsating, agricultural sounding thing when compared with the V12s on offer from Ferrari, but it has its own charm and is much lighter. And the turbocharger whine is an exhilarating thing in its own right, combined with the smell of a car working hard seeping into the cockpit, it's a pretty heady cocktail.

But in the finished article things will be a great deal more civilised. The M12 was a hardcore machine that relayed every noise and inflection to the cabin. The M15 has sound insulation, is decked out with carbon-fibre seats decked out in the finest Italian leather, as much luggage space as a BMW 1 Series and even a state-of-the-art SatNav system.

After the wild child M12 that provided six small zipper bags for luggage and not one concession to every day life, the M15 is a brave new world for Lee Noble. You can tell he's looking forward to replacing the 911 parked outside his office with his own car.

"I wanted a more mature car and you could see the one thing that the M12 really lacked was luggage space," he said. "I initially planned a replacement for the M12, but when I really got into it I realised there was a lot more I could do with the car and take Noble to a higher plane with a new model."

Despite the 48-year-old's eponymous company only coming into the world in 1999, with the M10, he has designed cars for decades. His previous works include the Ultima supercar, which is still going strong, the 200mph Ascari Ecosse and a variety of fast-selling kit cars. Of course the M400, the most powerful M12 that won countless Trackday and Sportscar of the Year Awards, cemented his reputation, but Noble has long been considered one of the chief exponents of chassis and ride engineering.

The M15 won't come with any tricky gadgets, bar ABS and traction control, nor a racing style carbon-fibre chassis, but it doesn't need them. Noble has produced a supremely balanced, lightweight, and stiff car using a spaceframe design that helps keep the price under control. In keeping things simple Noble has managed to produce a car that won't just destroy the cars in its price band in a straight race on track, it will also take the fight to much more expensive machinery from the likes of Lamborghini and even Ferrari.

He relied on solid, mechanical engineering rather than a raft of electronics, the mule car didn't even have the traction control or ABS, but it still worked like a dream on a wet Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground.

Serious work from partners including gearbox manufacturer Graziano, which also supplied Ferrari, AP Racing that supplies the clutch and brakes, Pirelli, who threw enough rubber at the company to keep Springfield's tyre fire in business for weeks and Bilstein suspension has helped Noble produce the car he always dreamed of. He has had to compromise on the interior, thanks to Type Approval issues, but those that drive the M15 will swiftly learn to look past the dashboard into the middle distance as the car eats everything in its path.

Noble has worked tirelessly, taking this car the length of Britain under its battered black clothing, through the mountains to Monza and across Europe on several occasions. Even now they're learning and making subtle changes. Despite offering ballistic performance, the M15 must behave impeccably through town and swallow up speed bumps as effectively as it does rivals.

Bruntingthorpe's expansion joints can toss a car off the straight and narrow at 170mph and spin it out altogether as you jump on the brakes. Not this one, even without the electronic assistance it still carved its course like a knife and soaked up the major impacts from the road surface.

Noble's yellow badge may not be as instantly recognisable as the Prancing Horse, but this car will wipe the floor with one on pure performance grounds. The M6, 911 and Aston wouldn't see which way it went. The M15 simply corners like a Japanese bullet train at speeds that would send most sportscars spinning off the road. It simply skipped sideways even through a river running across one treacherous corner, it won't even go sideways without duress.

A Noble will always tend towards understeer when pushed beyond its limits, which helps the average driver stay out of trouble. Stamp on the throttle and you can swing the back end round, but it's always your choice and this car will make you feel a much better driver than you really are.

And despite costing less, it's more exclusive than the Ferraris that hunt in packs through all the world's major capitals and is the cognoscenti's choice. The styling is dramatic, with a hint of 360 about the front end, American supercar-style box-section sides and a fastback rear that finds all the downforce it needs without resorting to a huge rear wing. It's an imposing and angular car, but it's elegant, too, and with the creature comforts offered it's not hard to imagine it becoming the must-have fashion accessory.

The M15 is a step up in class for Lee Noble, but it's no gamble. This car is a surefire winner.