What's the story?
It looks like a Series I. It putters and purrs a bit like a Series I. But something about this ‘1957 Series I 88-inch’ just isn’t stacking up. They’re Defender wheels and drive flanges; that chassis doesn’t look like any ‘88’ I’ve ever seen… and why am I getting six-cylinder Jaguar engine noises from a fat exhaust pipe on the ‘wrong’ side?
The answers to these conundrums stem from an unusual brief that landed in rally raid specialist Bowler Motorsport’s inbox, to create a unique Series I. Bowler’s Jon Chester explains: ‘There were three key things… The famous picture of Sir Winston Churchill with his 86-inch Series I ‘UKE 80’ – “That’s cool”, said the person commissioning the project; it had to be British military Desert Sand colour; and “I’d like a Series I that I can actually drive, with sensible brakes, steering, etc.”’ Challenge accepted.
Drew Bowler and his team shortened a TDCi Defender 90 chassis and adapted it to suit the Series I body, which would tick the ‘sensible steering and brakes’ boxes, and take the running gear needed to handle more than 200bhp (see below).
Initially, standard-width Defender axles were going to be used, with flared arches to cover the tyres, but it didn’t look Series I enough, so Bowler narrowed the axles by 60mm each side. The 7.50 R16 Michelin tyres now fill the arches neatly, but taking so much width out of the axles meant the suspension had to be redesigned with a bespoke coil-over set-up. An incredible amount of effort and ingenuity has gone into this project.
At the moment it’s a one-off, but Bowler hasn’t completely ruled-out building more, if there’s enough demand for them.
Our favourite bit?
The near-350% power increase over the Series I’s original 52bhp… That’s where the 230bhp AJV6 petrol engine from a Jaguar X-type comes in. Jon Chester says: ‘We wanted it to look as “factory” as possible, and we knew it could run things like power-steering and air-conditioning that the customer wanted. Plus, we didn’t want to have to tune something and make it unreliable.’ That almost sounds sensible.
And the verdict from LRO editor Mike Goodbun?
I’m not a huge fan of modernising classics; you too often end up with something that’s neither charmingly old, nor convincingly modern, but this strikes a brilliant balance. From the V6’s fuelly rasp to the nicely weighted steering, everything feels and sounds ‘period’.
Body: 1957 Series I 88in soft-top
Chassis: Shortened TDCi Defender 90
Engine: 2967cc Jaguar X-type V6, 24-valve, variable valve timing
Power & torque: 231bhp, 209lb ft
Transmission: Permanent 4WD, R380 five-speed manual gearbox, LT230 transfer box, shortened rear propshaft, narrowed Defender 90 live axles
Suspension: Coil-overs all-round, modified front radius arms
Steering: Modified Discovery 2 power-assisted
Brakes: Defender 90 discs and calipers
Wheels & tyres: Defender rims, 7.50 R16 Michelin Latitude Cross
0-60mph: less than 10sec (est)
Contact: bowlermotorsport.com, 01773 824 111