What's the story?
Sitting on the startline, waiting to launch Bowler’s Defender Challenge 90, has to be one of the most exciting – and nerve-wracking – moments of my Defender-driving career to-date.
I focus hard on keeping in Edd’s tracks and following his instructions, sacrificing a little speed in the interest of accuracy. Even so, I’m not going slowly. This is huge fun, but all good things…
Stepping out of the Defender 90, I give myself a moment for the excitement to subside before having a chat with Drew Bowler, the blacksmith-turned-rally-raid-legend who made this possible.
Having worked for so many years with Land Rover vehicles, it was almost inevitable that the link between the two companies would become more official, more public. The Bowler Defender Challenge 90, the result of a customer’s question to Bowler, is the first evidence of this.
Drew explains: ‘This customer wanted to enter the Dakar but had no rally experience.’ He very sensibly asked Drew to provide both a vehicle and the training. ‘The people who want to go and do the Dakar often don’t have the experience; it’s very much a wish-list event to compete in. Recently, it became blatantly obvious to us that there should be a route to allow these people to compete.’
On top of the cost of the vehicle, £10,000 per season will gain you entry to seven events in the UK, which will count towards getting the International rally licence needed for events like the Dakar, plus a package of support facilities and the benefits. You can maintain the vehicle yourself, or get a professional team to run it for you. For £15,000, you can get access to Bowler’s works mechanics and logistics support.
Our favourite bit?
‘I power away from the trees and across the uneven, open floor of the quarry, splashing through puddles and towards a jump-inducing hump. I’ve got no idea what speed I’m doing, but it feels quite fast enough for my first lap. The expected jump never happens, instead the superb suspension soaks it up, whereas a lesser Land Rover would certainly have taken to the air.
And the verdict from LRO writer Mark Saville?
‘From the outside, the Defender Challenge 90 looks reassuringly ‘standard’, but nothing could be further from the truth. This beautifully crafted vehicle has been painstakingly developed with one purpose in mind, to complete at the highest levels of international motorsport. At the heart of this particular 90, beats a Stage 2 tuned 2.2 TDCi engine with 185bhp and 380lb ft. It’s thoroughly intoxicating.’
Engine: Bowler Stage 1 2.2 TDCi
Suspension: Bespoke Bilstein dampers/springs, anti-roll bars, bushes, steering damper
Other mods: Front roll cage, heated Recaro front seats, Bowler lightweight bumper, steering guard, sill protectors