Automotive - a great
South African success story
dates : 5th March 2006
11th March 2006
The Noble M400 is one of the
world’s most exciting driving machines.
It rates just a notch below the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and
Lamborghini in terms of prestige.
And what few enthusiasts realize is that it’s built in the
Friendly City of Port Elizabeth.
From humble beginnings on a farm outside Port Elizabeth in the
early 1990’s, Hi-Tech Automotive is today considered to be
the world’s foremost specialist sports car
This ultra modern facility located a few kilometers out of
Port Elizabeth, slightly set back from the main road to Cape
Town, employs over 500 people and builds hundreds of sports
cars annually for a world-wide market.
The allure of a hand-built car is global, particularly in
America, Europe and car-crazy England.
Yes, Hi-Tech Automotive builds replicas, and fiberglass-bodied
specials, but to such a high standard that they are accepted
as classics in their own right.
The small factory has grown to the point where it has a
computerized drawing office to rival anything in the
And yet it’s the combination
of hi-tech – to appropriate the company’s name – and
endless attention to hand-built detail – that makes the
Jimmy Price-inspired cars so unique.
That niche was for a replica of a classic car that behaved
like a series-built production car. It started every time the
key was tuned, it handled properly, and the finish was up to
production car standards.
And the detailing, the adherence to originality, even in
replica form, was faithful to the extreme.
The real secret to the Hi-Tech success story is good
management, employing the right people, an adherence to strict
quality controls, and meeting production schedules for an
unforgiving international market.
Owner Jimmy Price says they
don't build cars, they build jewelry for men! That
"jewelry" produced by Hi-tech ranges from Lotus
7-like replicas through the immortal Daytona Coupe replicas
and Cobra roadsters to ever-more exotic recreations.
Reliability was the key issue with these repli-cars, and
attention to detail in the manufacturing process remains
Hi-Techs edge over other Cobra lookalikes. The payoff is that
the Supersnakes continue to be Hi-Tech’s bread-and-butter
line, most of which are exported to America.
Hi Tech calls them the
Superformance Mk III because of licensing rights to the Cobra
Jimmy says every year for the past seven years he and his
staff have expected demand for the Mk III’s to fall off, but
they are still selling like hot chocolate brownies Stateside.
So successful has the Hi Tech Superformance operation been in
America, that Carroll Shelby himself, the originator of the
Cobra in back 1961, has ordered metal bodied Cobra replicas to
be built for him, and to be called Shelby’s. What an honour
for this Port Elizabeth operation!
But the bulk of American orders are fiberglass replicas for
guys and the occasional girl who simply want to relive their
The engines are fitted in America by Superformance agents, 99
per cent of them Ford V8s, and range from 5,8 litre to 8-litre
units, producing up to 600 horsepower!
Cobra replicas have been around
for 25 years. But most were sold in kit form, badly built and
using inferior components. Jimmy Price and Hi-Tech
revolutionized the Cobra replica industry.
The success of the Hi-Tech Cobra, particularly in America,
soon opened up other avenues in this precarious industry. More
and more sports car variants were added, and exports increased
This is the third generation
Noble known as the M400. The first was the M12 GTO 2,5 litre,
the second was the M12 GTRS 3,0 litre five-speeder, while the
3,0 litre twin turbo M400 is fitted with a six-speed Getrag
In metric terms the twin turbo Ford Duratec engine delivers
315 kiloWatts. The name derives from the fact that it has a
power to weight ratio of 400 horsepower per ton. In fact the
Noble weighs in at just over the 1000 kilogram mark.
It’s the attention to detail that has made the Noble such a
success. Jimmy says Hi-Tech has not changed any set-up or
mechanical configurations on the original Lee Noble design.
What he says Hi Tech has done is "productionised"
In other words, Nobles are built to a quality that can rival
the best achieved by small manufacturers like Lotus and TVR
and, in Car Torque’s opinion, surpass those standards of the
small British manufacturers.
All the components used, like
brake discs, calipers, intercoolers and cockpit materials are
state-of-the art, and the Ford engine has been strengthened to
take turbo power with forged pistons and conrods.
With the worldwide success of the Noble, Hi-Tech Automotive
was able to invest in some of the latest automotive
technology. With the technology came increased quality, and
what started off as a cottage industry has become a worldwide
Although Hi-Tech was growing at a rapid rate, its unique
appeal is that it remains devoted to the cause of
Jimmy Price reckons his paint
shop is the best of its type in the country. The whole paint
shop is pressurized, not just the spray booths.
The painting is all done by hand because the volumes are low.
The process is preparation, priming, painting and then
polishing to American car show standards.
As a diversion, Hi-Tech also
agreed to build an all-steel 1932 Ford roadster hot rod body
for a company in America, a male-order speed equipment
business called Speedway Motors.
But Hi -Tech has been setting
its sights even higher.
In fact, this South African company has pulled off a coup that
is the envy of the world’s major manufacturers.
Like the Cobra, replicas of Ford’s
most famous racer, the GT40, have been around for decades.
Most of these re-creations have been compromised in terms of
sticking to the original design, and using production car
Jimmy Price and his crew
decided to go for broke and reproduce the GT40 in metal,
accurate in every single detail.
Yes, thanks to Hi-Tech, the
Ford GT40 lives. The first complete cars have already been
shipped to America and they are faithful to the Mk II Ford
GT40s, as raced by privateer teams and the JWA team under Gulf
colours in 1968 and 1969, right down to the last nut and bolt.
Hi-Tech is making the car so faithfully to the original that
the only concession to modernity will be the fitment of an
air-conditioning system. This is to prevent the tremendous
build up of heat in this pure bred racing car, but which will
be street legal.
the upper and lower control arms, the suspension uprights, the
hubs with center-lock knock off wheels are all exactly as
And the car will run on exact replicas of either BRM or
Halibrand magnesium wheels, exactly patterned to the
The interior, with its seats ventilated by little studded
holes are the same. The gauges, the steering wheel, all are
the same as the original.
The so-called Gurney tab on the tail is an exact replica, as
are the air ducts on the side of the MKII, which ran from 1965
through to its victorious swan song at Le Mans in 1969.
Most of these cars have been ordered for the American market,
but some right-hand drive examples have been built for British
The brakes are vented discs with modern multi-pot calipers. So
yes, this car will go as well as stop. And the suspension is
rose-jointed, rather than using rubber couplings.
So, the GT40 legend lives on. It may be called a Superformance
GT40, the trading name of Hi-Tech in the US. But everyone in
the know, worldwide collectors and gentlemen historic racers,
will know that it is once again possible to buy a genuine
"continuation series" GT40 Mk II, powered by a Ford
engine, and faithful to the original in every single detail.
And, let’s not forget, built in a small shipping port in
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