I don't remember it myself, but I'm told that the first word I ever said was 'car'. I haven't talked about much else since. I grew up in the village of Romsley, to the south of Birmingham in central England. At 18 I went to Loughborough University to do a degree in Automotive Engineering – the plan being that it might lead to an interesting motor industry job, and if it didn't it might help me become a motoring writer. I was sponsored by Ford, and worked for the company in Brentwood, Basildon, Swansea and Dunton in the 'sandwich' year of my degree course in 1990/91.
Though the opportunity was there start climbing Ford's greasy pole, I thought better of it and instead started freelancing for car magazines. The first was Car Design and Technology: at Loughborough I'd written to them asking for a staff job, and editor Anthony Curtis suggested instead that I write some articles for them as a freelance. Sadly the only story I did for CD&T never appeared, because the publishing company folded.
Encouraged by that small beginning, I started freelancing for other car magazines – notably the shoestring Jalopy and the fine old journal Practical Motorist in what turned out to be its twilight years. I also worked for Car Mechanics, 4x4 Magazine (another title that would soon disappear) the Evening News paper in Worcester and the Post Office's senior citizens magazine, Active Life.
On the staff: Fast Car
In 1994 I joined Fast Car magazine as a Staff Writer. I was hired to strengthen the magazine's technical content, at a time when Fast Car was highly regarded for its technical articles and product tests. So I spent a lot of time testing aftermarket exhaust systems and the like. I also ran the magazine's technical advice section and had my own column for a while, called 'More Go... With Noakes' (headed up by Alastair Loxton's 'speeding desk' cartoon, left).
Within a year of joining the magazine, I'd been promoted to Technical Editor, and went on to be Deputy Editor.
Some of my colleagues from that era would go on to achieve great things: my first editor, Danny Morris (on the floor, left) became a publishing industry managing director; Ian Strachan (giving Danny a good kicking in the pic) wrote motoring stories for The Sun before moving on to a motor industry job; Dave Roberts (black shirt in the pic) and Charlotte Blight are established freelance journalists; Melissa Moorhead, the wonderful art editor who made so many of the magazines I worked on look so good, went on to do the same thing for IPC's Ideal Home; Andrew Charman, also now freelance, became chairman of the Southern Group of Motoring Writers and now writes about cars and heritage railways.
After two years with Fast Car I moved across to a new magazine from the same publishing company, Retro. The magazine for 'old cars with attitude' turned out to be ahead of its time, and a year later it was relaunched as the more all-encompassing Classics Magazine.
In 1999 I was invited to join the Guild of Motoring Writers, the premier group of motoring journalists in the UK and the following year I became Editor in Chief of Classics, at the same time developing a new internet magazine called It's on the Net.
Later I was involved with the launch of a Fast Car special called The Guide, and the relaunch of Fast Bikes.
By the end of 2002 I was keen to spend less of my time being a manager and more of it writing, and I went back to freelancing. By then I'd already made contact with The Crowood Press and had begun work on Mercedes SL - The Complete Story. Soon after I was offered the chance to write The Ultimate History of Aston Martin, and more book projects have followed.
I continued to write for Classics and for It's on the Net, until the latter was hived off to a different arm of its publishing company and never seen again. Since then I've written for CAR, Auto Express, Classic & Sports Car, Classic Car Weekly and the motoring enthusiasts' website Pistonheads.com, amongst others.
In 2006 I moved to Warwickshire to take up a part-time post at Coventry University, teaching on the unique Automotive Journalism MA course run by the School of Art and Design. But I still spend most of my time doing what I most enjoy: writing about cars.
In 2007 Haynes published Ford Cosworth DFV: The Inside Story of F1's Greatest Engine which at the end of the year was awarded the Guild of Motoring Writers' Timo Makinen Trophy.
Being a motoring writer is more of a paid hobby than a job. It's a petrolhead's dream. How else would you be able to talk to World Champion drivers, ride in a two-seater F1 car, interview designers and engineers, get invited to launches in interesting places and drive all sorts of fascinating cars?
It's the best job in the world.