The Elise blew everyone away in 1996, becoming the most fun sports car on the market, thanks to the genius of Lotus.
Yet it was a virgin firm, Noble, that in 1999 presented something even better, the M10 dubbed by us “the most surprising car of the decade”.
“Hand-built to a standard that wouldn’t do injustice to a modern MG”, it had the Ford Mondeo’s 168bhp 2.5-litre V6 in the middle of a tubular space frame, driving the rear axle through a manual gearbox and, with a glass fibre body, weighed in at just 995kg.
“Come rain or shine, it’ll drive right around the outside of an Elise on any corner you might select.
“It has significantly better brakes and is at least as good at absorbing the ruts bumps of an English B-road. Oh yes, and it sounds like a Honda NSX.
“In fact, it kind of feels like a baby NSX, period. Same growling V6 just behind your left ear. Same balanced poise around long, fast sweepers. Even the gearchange slots home sweetly like an NSX’s.
“We often find with low-volume British sports cars that there are areas of brilliance but little in the way of overall competence. But not so in this instance.”
Oddly, though, Noble would make only five M10s, moving unfulfilled orders to the even better but coupé-only M12.
Which affordable family hatchback is Britain’s best?
We enjoyed a golden glut of affordable family cars in the late ’90s, as seen in Steve Cropley’s comparison of the 1.6-litre petrol hatchbacks – Mk1 Ford Focus, Mk4 Vauxhall Astra and Mk4 Volkswagen Golf – on our fleet after 7000 miles.
“We’re still waiting for our doughty trio to display faults or let us down in some material way,” he said. “Now it’s dawning on us that in all probability, very little will go wrong in this 12-month saga of everyday motoring. The practical differences will be space, driving factors, styling and dealer performance.
“A few of us expected the Focus to streak into the distance as the most desirable, with its fresh shape, fine chassis and responsive engine.
“The others, however, have fought back with weapons which are powerful but take longer to impress you. Both the Golf and Astra, for instance, have torquier engines, which makes them feel a little less frantic in normal driving. The Astra’s other driving advantage is its ability to track arrow-straight over rough and uneven surfaces.
“Despite Ford’s claims of a consumption advantage over its rivals, we’ve found very little difference: all are 35mpg cars.”