It’s taken a while, but Land Rover seems all in about off-road adventures these days. We cover their newest US competitions elsewhere in this issue [See p. 34 -ed], but for sheer brass, we turn to the Bowler Defender.

Introduction – Fall 2021

Drew Bowler created his eponymous company, Bowler, in 1985 to create off-road rally, or “comp safari,,” vehicles, using Land Rovers as the basis for his creations. His success as a builder resulted in Land Rover’s purchase of the company in 2019, and it’s now part of the JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations.

Bowler has developed special model Defenders for off-road rally and comp safari competitions; the latest is the Bowler Defender Challenge, based on the Defender 90, in off-road rally form only. As they’re created for off-road, high-speed racing, they enjoy significant upgrades from even the newest Defender Trophy model.

Each Bowler Defender Challenge vehicle is completely stripped back to install additional monocoque bracing and a full FIA-standard roll cage. In addition, there’s a rally-spec gearbox cross member, strengthened gearbox and engine mounts, and modified front and rear subframes to fit a bespoke performance suspension setup.  The engine is the Ingenium 4-cylinder twin-turbo that’s standard on the Defender 90, with the addition of a redesigned cooling system for the engine and transmission. Bowler takes advantage of the existing hardware and software to enable modifications for additional lighting, navigator-controlled functions, and existing JLR safety systems.

The concept of “performance” in a heritage Defender often seemed like a hazy dream, but the Bowler builds on the substantially improved torque and horsepower capacities of the new Defender. Bowler has created a genuine speed demon and off-road beast, and it will manufacture its custom Defender for the Defender Challenge race series, anticipated for March 2022. The entry fee for the vehicle and the 12-race series will be steep, but oh, how exhilarating!

At the other end of the performance spectrum, we need to take a moment to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Series III. Its 2.25 L 4-cylinder engine produced a lot less horsepower and torque, but the period upgrades of a “safety” dashboard, plastic grill, fully- synchronized transmission, refined clutch, “deluxe” seats, and even a radio [!] would propel the Series Land Rover through the Me Decade and the Yuppie Era. It became the basis for the Land Rover 90/110, and later, the Defender. Never very quick, the Series III tackled any terrain with the same aplomb as its predecessors and refurbished or restored examples continue to delight their owners.

Introduction – Fall 2021