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.
To get modern underpinnings in the Series I, Drew Bowler and his team only had to look across their busy Derbyshire workshop for inspiration. The company is
Our favourite bit?
‘We reckoned 200bhp would be about right,’ says a deadpan Jon Chester, who’s clearly got very used to go-faster Land Rovering. And this is where the 230bhp AJV6 petrol engine from a Jaguar X-type comes in. ‘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!
That Bowler just happened to have a suitable Jag V6 available had nothing at all to do with the decision. Honest. But either way, it’s an inspired choice. The V6 fills the Series I engine bay, and although you’d never be fooled into thinking it’s been there since 1957, as much of the wiring as possible is cotton-wrapped to help give a period feel.
The Jag engine was relatively easy to integrate with the wiring loom, thanks to Bowler ditching the X-type ECU in favour of a motorsport-spec unit. There was no need to fool it into thinking there’s central locking fitted, or anything like that.
And the verdict?
The Bowler guys make it sound deceptively simple, but an incredible amount of effort and ingenuity has gone into this project. ‘It took genuine thinking to do it, and it wouldn’t be the car it is without the people we have here,’ adds Jon Chester.
At the moment it’s a one-off, but Bowler hasn’t completely ruled-out building more, if there’s enough demand for them. I hope it does. 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. And 230bhp in a Series I is a riot!
Body: 1957 Series I 88in soft-toplChassis: Shortened TDCi Defender 90
Engine: 2967cc Jaguar 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 90 live axles
Suspension: Coil-overs all-round, modified front radius armsl
Steering: Modified D2 power-assisted Brakes: 90 discs and calipers
Wheels & tyres: Defender rims, 7.50 R16 Michelin Latitude Cross 0-60mph: less than 10sec (est)