The Noble M600 is a bit of a Top Gear legend. Industrial estate in Leicestershire: check. Volvo XC90 engine: check. Expensive, no ABS and lacking an exotic badge: check. Clarkson-eyeball-popping speed, terrifyingly knife-edge handling and, if you lift the Tornado fighter bomber switch and disable the traction control, intensity only a racing driver can tame. Yup, all of that. An instant anti-establishment hero was created and Noble would go on to sell hundreds, right?
Only it hasn’t. M600s are, tactfully, not exactly 10-a-penny. So earlier in 2016, the boys from the industrial estate in Leicestershire agreed a deal with boys from an industrial estate in High Wycombe. Super Veloce Racing was to take on exclusive distribution rights for the UK and Europe, confirming the deal at the 2016 London Motor Show with an exotic-looking new customer demonstrator car currently listed in the PH classifieds at £296,600. As it’s been a few years since we experienced the M600, we felt it was time for a refresher drive.
But we weren’t to drive that exotic-looking customer demonstrator. That’s yet to be registered. Nope, SVR was proudly letting us loose in the M600 thrashed by endless tame racing drivers, genuine racing drivers and motoring journalists. Now almost four years old with more than 40,000 miles on the clock, it’s intentionally still doing the rounds, says SVR director (and successful racer) Lee Cunningham. “It’s a great way of showing the integrity of Nobles – this car proves they’re long-lasting and can withstand hard driving.” It’s had a new clutch, says Cunningham, plus new consumables, but that’s about it.
With SVR founder Ben Adnett, Cunningham gives us the refresher walk-around. First, the engine, looking almost lonely within an enormous open bay. Ah, the XC90 motor? Nope, the Yamaha-Judd motor. “That’s a misconception,” says Cunningham. “Volvo commissioned the basic design from Yamaha, but this version is a bespoke Judd build.” That’s former F1 builder Judd, 2005 Le Mans winner Judd. It’s Judd engineering that’s given this twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 its 650hp output, not simply bolting turbos to a Volvo engine. “And that’s only 75 per cent of what it’s actually capable of,” teases Cunningham.
It’s bolted to a six-speed Graziano gearbox, restrained solely by traction control rather than ESC, and offers either 450hp, 550hp or 650hp depending on whether you’re in Road, Track or Race mode. We’d start with 450, but our first lesson wasn’t the specifics of engine modes but how to get in. Like an Elise, the sill is high and broad, and a hefty bracing bar in the floor also needs stepping over. Cunningham does a bit of a Fred Astaire and teaches us his entry routine, which makes it easier – but this will never be a walk-in 911. Practice the pedals too, adds Cunningham: they’re not only offset, they’re also ultra-close. It’s almost harder not to heel and toe. Oh, and the driving position is compact: knees splayed, steering wheel in your lap. Like a race car, it’s a car that’s only perfect if you take up the factory’s custom-fitting service.
It feels compact; 4.36 metres long, barely 1.2 metres tall and weighing just 1,200kg. The cabin is surprisingly well finished, with simple controls and a beautiful flat-bottomed steering wheel. It doesn’t feel parts-bin and has the sort of focused atmosphere that makes the lack of touchscreen infotainment and climate control not too incongruous. The single-piece hard-shell seats almost are racing buckets: hard, supportive and pretty unyielding.
Hit the road
V8 rumbling behind, Motec ECU snappily managing tickover with track-like immediacy, Cunningham explains the plan of action. We all know it’s ferocious on track, and that’s what’s built up the car’s reputation. But that’s also misleading. The M600 should also work on the road, so we head onto the commuter routes of High Wycombe and then onto the M40 for a few junctions. The stuff supercar owners actually do, in other words.
Having mastered the close pedals and light, long-throw gearshift (stirred via an ultra-tall lever that Noble’s looking to shorten), things are going nicely. The prominent engine is docile, torque delivery friendly, the ride decent and ground clearance sufficient not to have any frights even when negotiating broken roads, speed bumps and the steep drop out of the SVR trading estate. Because it’s a raw car with so much feedback, even driving this normal stuff is more interesting because of the extra detail filtering through. The M600’s sheer manageability lets you concentrate on this rather than keeping it in a straight line, off-boost or out of the central reservation. Easy squirts of torque mitigate the rear blind spot on the surprisingly pleasant M40 section.
Point proven. “It’s actually not a terrifying car,” says Cunningham, “but something you’ll choose from your car collection to drive precisely because it doesn’t intimidate you.” The biggest effort is actually on the brakes; the famous lack of ABS is combined with just a hint of servo assistance, meaning they’re heavy but lavished with feel. Lovely, precisely because of this. Again, they make mundane drives that bit more illuminating.
Up the ante
We snap the central anodised dial into Track mode and find a more interesting route. Obviously, it’s faster. It’s also more aggressive, the throttle punchier. I like it. I also like the straight-tracking directional stability of the M600, the positive feel through its steering, the sheer manageability and well-sortedness of it. Damping is typically British: tight yet breathable, ideally suited to our rubbish roads. It’s not over-stiff, not an edgy, one-dimensional track warrior, and doesn’t need silly speeds to come alive. And goodness, is the performance thrilling. Even 550hp is ultra-satisfying in a 1,200kg car. Cunningham is undaunted by my enthusiasm, so turns it to Race – releasing the full 650hp.
“Be careful,” he says, as the roads starts to clear and I get 5,000rpm showing in readiness. “There’s so much boost at high revs (1 bar instead of 0.6bar as standard), power really does come in instantly.” I stab at it, our heads snap back, I temper my enthusiasm. Yes, 650hp and 604lb ft are pretty compelling. Race mode appears to have energised the car sufficiently to turn me into a hooligan so it’s back one notch for a bit less intensity to enjoy the ride and handling nuances that demonstrate what a remarkably, almost surprisingly, well sorted car the M600 is. Typically British: made in a veritable shed, delivering the rich, quality dynamics that rivals probably deem wizardry. It’s a delight.
The sales process can include track stuff, says Cunningham, which customers who’ve come to Noble because of JC knobbling a load of supercars with it will probably demand. But it’s the on-road stuff that’s important given this also paints an intimidating picture. Really, there’s no need. The engineering is more credible than Clarkson’s Leicestershire industrial estate jibes portray. On a blazing day, the air-con chills, switches have a lovely click-clack and, compliant ride notwithstanding, it doesn’t shudder frighteningly like Plexiglas when you do thwack into bumps. Yeah, I was surprised, too.
And here’s SVR’s opportunity. The Noble M600 has a glittering reputation as a supercar for those in the know, an underground gem with a reputation for humbling Ferraris … but almost zero exposure amongst those who might actually be in the position to buy one. Which is why SVR is so keen to get past the YouTube notoriety and demonstrate it’s not something to be scared of. Do so, goes the thinking, and the rich can see their automotive credibility skyrocket thanks to the kudos of owning a Noble. “What, you don’t know what it is? Where’s my smartphone – watch this…”
If, six years on from its debut, customers are as positively surprised as I was by the M600, they might just be in with a chance.