The Belper-based company, which made its name building Land Rover-derived racing vehicles such as the rally raid Wildcat, has given LRO an exclusive first look at its latest project, which is almost ready to hit the road – and off-road.
A clean-sheet design, drawing on Bowler’s knowledge gained over the past three decades – and its technical partnership with Jaguar Land Rover – it’s intended to fill a gap in the market for low-volume, purpose-built, high-value vehicles. To do that, Bowler has had to completely rethink the way it operates, implementing a process and way of working that some have previously considered impossible.
The prototype rally car you see here is the first instalment – just one version of one strand of Bowler’s innovative, and as-yet unnamed, concept.
‘It’s not a Defender replacement,’ says Bowler brand director Jon Chester, ‘but it will fill a lot of roles, sub-Mercedes-Benz Unimog, where the Defender was traditionally used, especially the 130.’
Look past this car’s Defender-based body panels for a second, which were chosen for their simplicity and ability to get a finished vehicle up and running quickly, as well as the fact they still look cool, and you’ll find an example of an all-new super-stiff and lightweight steel chassis concept that underpins Bowler’s future.
The design incorporates patented technology that allows it to be assembled in an infinite number of ways: any wheelbase length, any number of axles, for any application. Crucially, one-offs can be made cost-effectively as a result.
‘We want to concentrate on what we’re best at: strength, robustness and chassis design,’ says Jon Chester. The idea is that any body type could sit on the chassis, depending on what the customer needs. Function comes way ahead of form, so there are no compromises brought about by the way a styled body looks. That said, the chassis is spectacular.
The distinctive lattice-style framework is all steel, making it easily repairable in the field. And, extensive use of Finite Element Analysis (FEA) at the design stage means there’s nothing in the structure that doesn’t need to be there.
The other key point is how it uses off-the shelf Land Rover parts, incorporating bits from past and present models. It’s actually far more current Range Rover than Defender, with L494 Sport brakes, steering, power units and driveline components, as well as suspension subframes front and rear (albeit running coils springs in place of air bags). The rally car pictured here even uses Series doors!
Racing is the start
Bowler knows that racing improves the breed, so the firm is using off-road motorsport (an arena it understands very well) as part of its ongoing development programme. The rally car is primarily being used to gather data to validate the concept and design.
A range of powerplants is being considered for the next-generation Defender Challenge car, while the 3.0 TDV6-powered rally raid model will see Bowler officially return to baja events at an international level. Both sport butch Defender-based bodies, best described as a ‘bobtailed two-door double-cab pick-up’.
But Bowler is keen to stress that Defender-looking rally cars won’t be the only option. The potential for the platform, which is arguably the most important new Bowler design since the 1999 Wildcat, is far bigger than that. It’s is already actively engaged with leaders from the civilian utility, military and emergency services sectors, and are investigating other configurations that could include live axles and 6x6 variants to provide simplicity and increased payload options for specific requirements.
Bowler is planning to enter its prototypes in UK hillrally events this year, with a possible international baja-style event later in 2016 if all goes to plan. Look out for the machine pictured here running alongside the Defender Challenge at the Walters Hillrally, Glynneath, Wales, on July 16-17.
2016 BOWLER PROTOTYPE
Engine 2993cc TDV6 (rally raid)
Power/torque 300bhp/515lb ft approx. depending on engine
Transmission 4WD, eight-speed auto, paddle-shift
Suspension Independent all-round, Range Rover Sport L494 subframes; anti-roll bars, coil springs, remote reservoir dampers
Brakes Vented discs all-round
Weight 1850kg (est)
Price Defender Challenge car from £75,000, subject to spec
CONTACT bowlermotorsport.com or call 01773 824111 for more info.