Forget for a moment the thorny issue of the Noble M600's $330,000-plus price. Put to one side the knowledge that Ferrari and McLaren are both about to unleash rivals that, on the surface, would appear to undermine the M600 long before it will see the public road. Ignore, if you can, the fact that this car is made in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the British city of Leicester, by a staff of less than 20 people.
Instead, focus on the positives that surround the all-new M600 because, as we found out last month when we met the team at Noble Automotive and drove their extraordinary new car, there are an awful lot of things to like about the M600. Such as its performance (which is outrageous), the way it looks in production form (gorgeous), and the way it steers, stops, rides, handles and sounds. And changes gear.
Pound for pound, I'd say this is one of the most exciting cars I've driven in the past 10 years. You'd have to dial the clock right back to somewhere in the mid-1990s, to a piece of moorland road on which a bright red car called a Ferrari F40 was sitting, in order to recall the same kind of intense, slightly terrifying driving experience. The M600 is genuinely that kind of car, and deliberately so, according to the company's MD, Peter Boutwood.
“I make no secret of the fact that the F40 was the inspiration for the entire ethos behind the M600,” admits Boutwood, a big smile beaming across his face.
“Put it this way,” he says. “Although we've got traction control and lots of other really sophisticated systems on the car, if you think the electrics are going to get you out of trouble if you do the wrong thing with the accelerator at the wrong time – like they will in an Audi R8 or a 911 Turbo – then think again. They won't. They're not meant to.”
What we are talking about, in other words, is a car that intentionally eschews all the usual conveniences crammed into a mass-produced supercar. So it's a raw, very racy, slightly scary machine that will deliver deeper driving satisfaction than an entire parking lot full of Ferrari F430s. But it's also one that'll throw you mercilessly into the undergrowth if you drive it badly, and laugh at you as the accident unfolds.
It is not, you'd therefore imagine, a car for the faint-hearted. Nor is it a car for the not very well off. Although a firm price has yet to be set, we know it'll cost at least £200k ($330 grand), otherwise the business case simply won't add up. Once a new premises in which to build production versions has been established, Noble plans to make 50 cars a year – roughly one a week. Every car will be individually numbered, and on the sills will be engraved the names of every single member of the team involved in the creation process.
So apart from a hand-made supercar with a carbon fiber body that will have been lovingly assembled and trimmed to the needs of each individual customer, what else will all that cash buy you? Here are the hard points of the M600's mouth-drying spec:
The engine is twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8, courtesy of a quite peculiar but also rather compelling combination of Ford, Yamaha, Volvo and American engine specialist Motorkraft. This small, exquisite-looking powerplant originally started life as a centerpiece for Ford's now-defunct Premier Automotive Group, and it was designed for that role by Yamaha. In normally aspirated form it's seen service in the Volvo XC90 and S80.
In the M600, the headline outputs sit somewhere between amazing and insane. Maximum power is 650hp at 6800rpm, while peak torque is 604lb ft at 3800rpm. But according to Boutwood, the Yamaha V8 could, and in the fullness of time will, produce quite a lot more than 650hp; 700hp is “easily within its limits,” apparently, and even 750hp isn't totally unrealistic. It may be a tad mental, perhaps, but it's still “a distinct possibility in a future version.”
At the moment, though, the unit is 100 percent reliable at 650hp. The Noble team are sure of this because they have already conducted a full 24-hour test at the Bruntingthorpe proving ground in Leicestershire and covered more than 8,000 miles in America, driving in the harshest conditions they could find – including a stint in red-hot Death Valley.
What's perhaps most startling but also most revealing about the M600's rampant, rabid intention is its weight. Give or take an electric window switch here and there, it graces the scales at around 2,750 lbs. A simple bit of calculator work will tell you that it therefore has around 520hp per ton and at least 480lb ft per ton. A Bugatti Veyron has 495hp per ton and 461lb ft per ton. And the M600, remember, is rear-wheel drive and not four-wheel drive like the Bugatti.
With these crazed statistics ricocheting around the outer edges of your imagination, and with the additional knowledge that the entire rear transaxle and six-speed manual gearbox have been designed specifically for the M600 by Graziano (the same company that produces custom transmissions for Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin), the price and pedigree of this car gradually start to make sense.
In fact, you realize that this is a very different kind of machine from the M12 and M400 that Noble produced at the beginning of the century. This car is truly on another level – and I can tell you that for sure because I've driven it, albeit in prototype form in which wires and computers and grubby bits of tape were protruding from every which orifice inside the cabin.
You must ignore all that, however, and concentrate instead on the basic driving experience. Which is unique for all sorts of reasons, because although the M600 is preposterously fast and clings to the road like the proverbial boiled sweet sticks to a blanket, it's also eerily civilized. And that's a real surprise.
The M600 glides along the public road with much the same sense of comfort and fluidity that you find in the very best cars from Lotus, in fact. The power steering may well be as keen in response as a fly fisherman, but it's also light and entirely free from kickback. Even the clutch is easy to use; it feels no heavier underfoot than that of the average hot hatch.
As for the engine, it's just spooky how well mannered it is, how flexible it is and how well resolved it feels in terms of throttle response, considering how much energy it can produce if and when you put your foot down.
The same goes for the gearchange, which is rifle-bolt precise but doesn't require any of the Herculean strength you'd expect. The whole car feels astonishingly grown up in its demeanor. Not at all like the noisy, raw, hard-riding, fire-spitting monster you might have anticipated.
Well, that could be overcooking it a tad. Because although the M600 may be a whole lot more civilized than expected, when you do finally put your foot down it isn't exactly a pussycat. Before you do that, however, you'll want to play with the switch that sits just in front of the gear lever. It rotates a bit like a headlight switch, except in the M600 it alters the engine mapping. And the level of boost on offer.
On its lowest setting you have 0.6 bar and 450hp. In the middle you get 0.8 bar and 550hp. Rotate it to the far right and you unleash 1.0 bar and the full 650 horses. Call it Noble's version of ESP, with the emphasis very much on extra-sensory perception.
In the prototype the switch is permanently set to 11, and there was zero traction control available on the day I drove it. And it was raining. Not the sort of day on which you turn up wearing a baseball cap back to front, in other words.
The first time I pressed the long-travel accelerator all the way to the floor I was in fourth gear, just in case, already traveling at about 50mph. After a soft initial response from the throttle, there was a series of hisses and whooshes from behind my head, and then the sensation of being thrust towards the horizon became the only thing I was aware of, and it was stronger than anything I've ever experienced in a road car before, including the mighty Veyron.
And then the car squirted sideways as the rear tires lit up and, for one awful and seemingly endless moment, I thought I was about to spank the one and only M600 in existence.
Fair enough, the road was wet and I should have known better, but the level of acceleration it produced before the wheelspin came really did shock me. It was unreal. It was outrageous. It was absolutely bloody sensational.
A little later it dried out – a bit – and I got to discover what it feels like to accelerate fully in third gear in an M600 without wheelspin, and also in second gear with lots of wheelspin. But it's always the first time you remember most vividly, and I'm fairly certain it's an experience I'll never forget.
As for the rest of the car, it's almost (but not quite) as amazing as the raw performance. It rides well, it handles beautifully, it steers properly and it stops well – although there is no ABS as such, because ABS (like lunch, according to Gordon Gekko) is for wimps.
Will it sell? Who knows? If there are enough well-heeled lunatics around who think 911 Turbos are boring and the most exciting car in the universe is still the Ferrari F40, why not? They may even change their opinion on the Ferrari once they've driven a Noble M600.