Lee is a British automotive engineer designer and entrepreneur specialising in low volume sports and racing car designs.
His designs go back to the early 1980s, his first being the now famous Ultima. It was with the Mk1 Ultima that Lee won his very first two racing championships. This initial design evolved into the Mk2, Mk3, and spider variants and these evolutions went on to win many more races and championships for customers of Lee’s. It is a testament to Lee’s engineering and design flair that an updated version of the Ultima is still available today and continues to sell in strong volumes.
By the late 1980’s, Lee realised that he needed to find a new project that would stimulate his creative and engineering mind, so the decision was taken to sell the Ultima project,. It is worth taking note here that McLaren purchased a pair of Mk3 Ultima’s to use as test beds for their then forthcoming F1 supercar!
Lee’s next venture was to create Noble Motorsport and this enabled Lee to work on the re-creation of the classic sports racing car the Ferrari 330-P4. Based loosely around the proven Ultima chassis, this car won the hearts and minds of many people and achieved very strong sales volumes, despite it not being Lee’s favourite project. This period of success enabled Lee to indulge his passion for motorsport even further by creating and operating a very successful race preparation department within the business. A wide variety of replica classic sports and racing cars came out of the workshop during this period including the noteworthy and successful Lotus 15 replica. The outstanding success of the Lotus 15 replica gave him the idea of creating a Lotus 23b replica purely for his own entertainment. Lee went on to race the 23b himself, gaining more recognition for his talent both behind the wheel and in the workshop. As a result, Lee released the 23b replica, now called the Noble 23, this too went on to achieve strong sales volumes.
Typical of any creative talent, Lee is not one to rest on his laurels and he saw there was a market for a simple buggy type vehicle purely for road use. So by utilising the Noble 23 chassis and a body created by an outside supplier he created the Midtec Spider. Yet again, Lee was not fond of the styling of the vehicle but despite this, orders started arriving quicker than Lee could fulfil them. The reason for this was twofold. Firstly, the price was very affordable to the average man but possibly more importantly, the road handling was truly outstanding. The Midtec became very popular and Lee’s reputation as an outstanding engineer and designer was really gathering pace. This reputation caught the attention of a local Leicestershire entrepreneur who contacted Lee to discuss purchasing the Midtec brand. Before too long a deal was reached and Midtec had passed to new ownership and Lee was on the search for his next adventure.
Also not being able to stay away from motor sport Lee decided to design a racing car to try and start a single make race series, the car eventually to be named the Prosport 3000 although Lee did build the prototype car using a totally new chassis design by Lee the project was sold to a customer who had access to the funds required to produce vehicles in sufficient numbers, this suited Lee as it gave him the funds to invest in his next super car design.
Lees next design was to be a road going supercar using his well proven talent for chassis design and a totally new body styled in house by Lee himself. This project eventually became known as the Ascari FGT after several cars were sold around the world, Lee was approached by a Dutch business man who decided he wanted a car company also to build a racing car to compete at Le mans. A deal was done and the company sold. Lee went on to run the company and produce the race and road versions for the new owner, however mostly due to the extreme lack of development time the Le mans project failed to qualify for that race, but did become successful racing in the British GT championship occasionally beating cars from Ferrari and McLaren. Although the road car was much less of a success mostly down to the new owners lack of interest in road cars.
So Lee left the company to pursue his own project a road car.
However it was at this point Lee was approached by a company who had just purchased the Prosport 300 company. They asked Lee to produce a new version of this car to race at the Daytona 24 hours this proved a little more complex than originally expected. After lee read the rules it was very clear that the existing car was not eligible, for a start the new car would need to be an open vehicle. And to have any chance of competing it would require a almost complete re design Lee designed and constructed a new body and updated chassis, this car the Prosport Spider competed and ran the whole 24 hours being driven by existing Prosport owners it was 1997.
This really did get Lee’s attention and he quickly realised that his passion had moved away from the replica/race car market.
The clock had now turned full circle and Lee decided to go right back to basics and design something new. Working out of his office and workshop at his home in Cosby, he designed a new open top sports car, the Noble M10. This outstanding new vehicle was launched to great critical acclaim, and in road tests scored more points and beat other cars released by much larger and well known car companies. Lee Noble had finally started to receive the recognition he was due. Newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times wrote glowing reviews of the M10 and the true motoring press were no less impressed. Autocar, in its first review of the vehicle in March of 1999 described it as; “One of the most complete and exciting British mid-engined two seaters we’ve driven”
Later in the year, when the M10 shared the September front cover with 14 other cars, including a Porsche 911 GT3, a Ferrari 360 Modena F1, a Ferrari 550 Maranello and the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage in a shootout feature to determine “Britain’s Best Drivers Car of 1999”, they wrote that the M10:
“Could easily herald the beginning of a significant new British sports car marque. Watch this space”
After a few were sold, Lee started to look at how to develop the car further and it was at this point that he realised the chassis and running gear held the potential to do so much more. The next stage of development would see him add a roof and experiment with turbocharging the engine to increase the engines performance. The next car that Lee would release would be the now world famous Noble M12.
The M12 met with outstanding success and The M12 series, in various model and power output guises, went on to sell world-wide and put the name Lee Noble firmly on the world map and in the mind of anyone with an interest in performance cars. In his February 3rd, 2002 Sunday Times column, Jeremy Clarkson declared the M12 “Easily my car of the year in 2001”. No small accolade for “A man building cars out of a shed in Leicestershire” as Clarkson and his Top Gear Hosts described Lee when they reviewed the car on the programme.
Autocar carried several reviews of the M12 in all of the different model variations and returned to them time and time again as it became the benchmark vehicle. One such test was the “Grip Challenge” that was a feature article in the August 2001 edition. The aim was to determine the car with the best cornering ability. In this test the M12 was pitted against cars such as the Porsche 911, the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Evo VII and a Formula Palmer Audi single seat racing car! The M12 was to come second, beaten only by the Formula Palmer race car, making it the best handling road car in the test, beating the likes of Porsche, BMW, Audi and Lotus.
Production numbers for the M12 were such that Lee knew he needed to find a reliable way of combining mass production with hand built care and quality. Lee decided to work with Hi Tech Automotive to achieve this. The South African manufacturer, with its experience, skills and reputation, was the ideal place to produce the M12 production cars. This proved to be yet another good decision by Lee as this great relationship saw top quality products produced in volumes that Lee could never have managed without massive funding in the UK.
This decision allowed Lee time to concentrate on the next designs and evolution of the Noble brand. During 2003 Lee spent time designing a replacement body for the M12 chassis, a body with a new look and an interior that offered a bit more luxury and comfort. This car was became the Noble M14 and it was launched at the 2004 British Motor Show to great acclaim. A great many orders were received for this car, both at the show and subsequently following the press and PR releases. Unfortunately, due to the costs involved in taking this from a prototype to a full production car, alongside development issues involving the reliability of the gearbox due to the increased power output, it was decided to put this car on hold until all the issues could be satisfactorily addressed.
At the same show, a convertible version of the M12, The M12 GTC was shown to the press and public for the first time. This variant had a removable roof, a rear bulkhead and a luggage compartment at the rear. Although interest was high production was not viable, again due to costs.
The M14’s gearbox reliability was the biggest issue holding back the production and full scale release of the car. Lee contacted the gearbox manufacturer, Graziano, an Italian based company with a good reputation. After some discussion it was agreed that they would develop a gearbox capable of reliably handling the increased power output that Lee had managed to achieve rather than the standard Ford unit previously used. However, due to the design it was to be an inline longitudinal installation rather than the previous transverse instillations. This of course meant changes had to be made.
A new chassis was needed so Lee designed an upgraded and much stiffer chassis with more room for occupants. He then decided to make a new body due to the improved internal space available this car was named the Noble M15, a car that Lee still regards as his best design. In fact the M15 was a very good all round road car, offering greater levels of comfort, usability and practicality than anything made before or since made by Noble Cars. Still using the trusted V6 turbo engine, in a slightly uprated form and with the new reliable Graziano gearbox, the car was a great success and appealed to a much wider audience than any of the previous cars. Yet again the order books were full for this new model and an agreement was made again to manufacture in South Africa, however the investors that were funding the project got into difficulties and were forced to withdraw, and this left Lee in a somewhat difficult situation. With so many orders to fulfil a new source of funds would be necessary and not wanting to lose a loyal customer base Lee looked for investors. Unfortunately, and uncharacteristically for Lee, he made a very bad choice, and was basically deliberately misled. Lee knew this would spell the end of Noble as a serious car manufacturer.
Despite promising to fund the production, he actually decided not to proceed with the M15. At this point the writing was on the wall for Noble as a brand and for Lee. He continued as MD and at the bequest of the new owners, took the old M14 show car out of storage and turned it into the M600 a car that Lee knew would never work commercially. By the time the first prototype was running the company infrastructure was in ruins and the dealer network had gone. The new product, called the Noble M600, could have been viable, and costs effective if produced in South Africa. Had this been the case, they would have been able to retail the car at £85.000. However and somewhat significantly, after meeting the investor the head of the South Africa operation decided they had no desire to work with the investor. Lee then back on his own designed a new car called the Fenix a prototype was constructed and sent to South Africa for tooling and manufacture, unfortunately this came at the time of the now famous global recession and the project was cancelled due to financial difficulties with both companies.
After this Lee and Justin Fielder a customer and friend joined forces to establish a new company Exile Automotive specifically formed to design prototype and sell very low volume specialised vehicles. The first of these is the Exile a two seat track focused performance car. one that is usable on the street in reasonable comfort. Next is the Bug:R R for road although this car can be used in certain off road applications