How many people need a Dh1.4 million Noble M600?
"No one needs it." Peter Boutwood, Noble's inexhaustibly affable managing director, has answered his own question with what appears to be fatal candour. "You don't need it, you want it," he continues. "You want it for one reason, and that is for fun. I defy anyone to get in our car and take it out and not smile. Because it's so exciting. Suddenly, you've got that whole, childish adrenaline rush, of being in control of your own destiny."
So, with an immediate destiny I wish I could be more sure of, I'm driving out through the gates of Noble's headquarters and factory, near Leicester, England, in a production-ready metallic charcoal, 360kph M600 - the supercar that was recently unveiled at the Autosport International Racing Car Show in Birmingham in January. Boutwood is sitting beside me, spooling out salient, Noble-related facts and anecdotes from the passenger seat as we go. "Before we let a journalist behind the wheel of the final preproduction car, we'd already completed three years of development," he says. "It's the first Noble that's been in the wind tunnel and the heat chamber at Mira [Motor Industry Research Association], on a four-post chassis-testing rig and to some of the highest and lowest roads in the world [Pikes Peak and Death Valley in the US]. We didn't want our customers to develop the car for us."
Interesting information, though it's hard to engage in a conversation when I have up to 650hp and 819Nm of torque lurking under my right foot. But before I can let loose all of this power, we have to travel the 24km or so to the Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground - a handy testing facility with a 3.2km straight that evolved out of a Second World War airfield, and where much of the car's shakedown development was undertaken.
I say "up to 650hp" because, on the pretext that it's unlikely you'll need to put a Lamborghini Aventador in its place every day of the week, there's a rotary knob down on the centre console with three settings: 550hp, 600hp and 650hp. According to Boutwood, the 550 position is enough to spoil a Ferrari 458 Italia or Porsche 911 Turbo driver's day without even trying. So 550 is where we start on the public roads.
Even in "mild-mannered David Banner" mode, part throttle inputs move the M600 with near-silent violence. The initial exhaust burble is quickly subsumed by the less-focused induction rush of the 4.4L, Volvo-derived V8's twin turbochargers: unlike a Ferrari 458 Italia, which has a concentrated exhaust scream that permeates right to the bone, the Noble's exhaust seems to be set in an entirely lower register, a softer, more muted wash of bass and bellow that ultimately howls, but in a more distant, closed-in kind of way.
Despite the initially disconcerting absence of aural theatrics, the gathering weight of gravity and spatial distortion on any straight we encounter on the way to Bruntingthorpe are wrecking normal frames of reference. It's no wonder, even in the weakest of power modes: the carbon-bodied car weighs a smidgen under 1,200kg and has a better power-to-weight ratio than a Bugatti Veyron.
And yet the Noble couldn't be easier to drive. "Gear changing could be a lost art one day," Boutwood quips. Unlike many supercars today, the Noble's gearbox is not a complicated, dual-clutch sequential affair with paddle shifters; it's simply a six-speed manual box with a clutch pedal and a gear selector that looks like a matchstick, and it works brilliantly. The stubby gear lever slides from one slot to the next with a buttery slickness an arthritic octogenarian could ace.
Time to move up a click: 600hp. Not only does the M600 seem to get quicker the faster it goes, its acceleration becomes more eerily effortless. Then again, it's throwing so much power and torque at its light mass the result could never be anything other than trippy. Boutwood discloses that Noble's American boss and serial supercar owner, Peter Dyson, describes the M600 as having the spirit and simple purity of a Ferrari F40. He owns one of those classics and wanted the M600 to keep the same simple set-up of supercars from that era: few electronic aids, just a good-driving, well-built car. Dyson has said he considers the M600 to have enough power to hold its own in today's supercar landscape. Hold its own? That sounds a somewhat modest way of describing a stealthy, low-slung, mid-engined hypercar powered by a twin-turbo V8 that has both roll-on acceleration just a breath away from a Veyron's and the F40's analogue purity in a more benign, exploitable and forgiving demeanour. For any serious petrolhead, that's a wish list with an awful lot of ticks.
The M600's cabin is low, cosy and intimate - almost fighter-jet like. The leather-trimmed bucket seats offer a reassuringly snug fit, the small, simple steering wheel good to grasp.
We arrive at Bruntingthorpe and, as I step out to chat with the photographer, Boutwood steps into the driver's seat to warm things up. And he doesn't spare the horses; what the M600's aural output lacks in decibels, it more than makes up for in goosebumps as a shockwave of infra bass energy washes back down the runway straight and the Noble disappears at a rate that looks like a speeded-up film.
What seems like a mere handful of seconds later, we begin to sense its return, much in the same way you sense the approach of a low-flying fighter on a training exercise in a lonely valley. First the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, then you hear the rush of the body against the air, then the explosion of tyre roar and exhaust blare as its mighty Alcan brakes wipe off 160kph in a couple of heartbeats.
Boutwood steps out with a smile, and I settle back in behind the wheel. Although not made out of gossamer, the full carbon-bodied M600 is light, and feels it. And, as we've already established, the hammer that's about to propel it down Bruntingthorpe's long straight is very, very heavy - and now adjusted to 650hp. Result? There's no hype, no electronically enhanced throttle response, no haymaker to the kidneys. Just a push that builds with the relentless intensity of an avalanche. Rushing to 100kph isn't what interests the M600, although it will get there in just three seconds. The exercise is too trivial, too small, too undemanding. Rather, as with the Veyron, the interesting stuff happens between 160kph and 320kph. That's the zone that separates the true hardware from chip-tweaked pretension, the zone where the Noble hits its natural stride. The sustained force of the acceleration is something I won't forget in a hurry. We hit 320, no sweat.
Towering as the M600's performance undoubtedly is, its chassis is simply exquisite. There are some very fast bends at Bruntingthorpe and some of the tight and technical variety, too. Body roll is almost non-existent, the helm's natural sense of flow and precision a swift confidence-builder. The firm springs and expansive rubber touching the road don't seem to exact any kind of penalty on ride comfort, either - at least, not in the light of the truly stupendous grip, traction and stability on offer. There's no edginess. Kill the power mid-bend and the tail stays nailed to the tarmac. The brakes' power and resistance to fading are just as phenomenal. The Noble feels as if it can pull well over 1g in longer turns and, teasing up the torque in the sharper ones, it's easy enough to edge the tail out of line and collect it with a jab of corrective lock. The M600 is a car you instinctively trust. It makes fast easy, stripping away the cause-and-effect concerns that would haunt the nine-tenths Porsche 911 GT2 RS pilot. Momentum and mass seem perfectly synchronised, the car's potential feels uncannily accessible and there's a tremendous sense of precision and immediacy in everything it does and it has wonderful, exploitable balance.
"It's been a long road," Boutwood recounts as we head back to base, "but, touch wood, we've never had a negative review. Everyone who's driven the M600 has 'got' it. The only negatives we've ever had are from people on the outside looking in, saying 'why does that car cost £230,000?' But hey, it's the cheapest full-carbon car you can buy. And I don't think you can fault the finish. It's a hand-built, hand-crafted car that has been totally developed, not on a computer, but by driving.
"It's totally analogue, not digital. What you put in is what you get out."