In nearly every single parameter, the new Land Rover Defender improves over the old warhorse Defender it replaced. While Land Rover’s O.G. Defender’s capability as an expeditionary lance and an agrarian implement is undeniable, the British brand worked extraordinarily hard to develop a new Defender that drives and performs like something from the 21st century, and not the 19th. However, with unibody construction and a suite of tech aimed at improving on-road manners, the new Defender isn’t quite the boulder-basher it used to be—especially if your needs include bombing through the Dakar dunes on a rally raid.
For that, you turn to the mad minds at Bowler. The U.K.-based manufacturing workshop established itself as the premier name in making Defenders rally-raid-ready in the 1980s and 1990s, quickly developing a series of proprietary rally-trucks of its own design. The company soon gained a reputation for building tremendously over-engineered race trucks and roadgoing Defenders that racked up a significant amount of off-road race victories over the decades, eventually landing an official technical partnership with Land Rover before being purchased by the brand outright in 2019 (where it joined Land Rover’s skunkworks Special Vehicle Operations division).
Now, RM Sotheby’s upcoming Paris sale prominently features a mix of seven Bowler-ized Defenders and ground-up Bowler race trucks, all of which come straight from former Bowler director Richard Hayward’s personal collection. Hayward admits as he grows older, he finds himself moving away from off-road competition, more so than in years past, so he figures it’s time to let someone else have a crack at these foul-weather all-terrain weapons.
This highly modified Defender 90 is the press car used to promote Bowler’s one-make Defender Challenge series that involved hull climbs and off-road rallies. It was also used as a participating entrant into the series. In the hands of the brand’s late founder, Drew Bowler, and Hayward, this truck claimed first-in-class at the 2016 Scottish Borders Hill Rally and a class win at the 2018 Hill Rally Championship.
Compared to a regular Defender 90, the Challenge truck is jacked-up and battened-down, with custom Bilstein shocks and thicker anti-roll bars, though the stock suspension geometry is retained—as per the series’ regulations. The interior is race-prepped with a roll-cage and bucket seats, complemented by competition-spec wheels, tires, and fire suppression systems. Any dreams of a fire-breathing V-8 are sadly a bit optimistic; the Defender’s standard turbo-diesel 2.2-liter four-cylinder is juiced up to 195 hp and a thick 380 lb-ft of torque.
Not enough gumption? Bowler’s got you covered with …
… this handsome brute! In place of the Defender’s stodgy turbo-diesel engine is a Jaguar F-Type-sourced supercharged 3.0-liter V-6. A unit we’ve enjoyed in a number of modern JLR products over the years. With the additional aid of the Jag’s eight-speed automatic transmission and limited-slip differential, this Defender pickup rockets from 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds. That’s a bit behind workaday performance stuff such as a Ford Mustang GT, but let’s see the V-8 sports car hit jumps and take overall wins in rally competitions as this truck did.
This 110 is a bit of a bittersweet thing for the brand, as it marked the final Defender-based Bowler to exit the workshop. It was also the final competition Bowler driven by Drew Bowler himself before he passed unexpectedly in 2016.
While 335 hp is nice, “almost” 570 hp is better. This angry-looking rally raider is a prototype Bowler, which formed the basis of the firm’s efforts at crafting a bespoke CSP chassis that was aimed not just at motorsports, but also rescue, defense, and exploration operations.
This particular CSP prototype carries another Jaguar engine, and this one’s a whopper compared to the 3.0-liter in the aforementioned Pennine prototype: a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8. It’s good for nearly 570 hp, which are routed to all four wheels through the Jag’s eight-speed automatic transmission. Of course, big brakes, mil-spec suspension, a full-race interior, and a suite of motorsports hardware keeps the hustle high.
According to Hayward, the P1 is “… probably the fastest Bowler ever built and the most exciting vehicle the company has ever produced.” Color us interested.
As you might have guessed from both its name and appearance, the Bowler “P2” prototype is more of the P1, only slightly tweaked. Whereas the P1 was used primarily for competition, the P2 is geared toward the maniacs who seek to terrorize lesser G-Wagens and Wranglers on-road, though the P2 retains a full suite of motorsports safety and hardware the driver could use just as readily for competition.
The P2 started life with a Jag 3.0-liter V-6 but received the 5.0-liter heart transplant like the P1, offering up 542 hp and 516 lb-ft of twist through the same eight-speed automatic transmission.
When Bowler found time between rally victories and tackling far-flung locales such as Dakar, it paid some of its bills by breathing its know-how onto customer’s roadgoing Defenders. This very black Defender 90 is one such example, wearing Bowler’s “Fast Road Suspension” package that added Bilstein coilovers and Bowler-specific wheels. Aesthetically, lightweight bumpers, side rails, and rear steps are peppered around the exterior, complemented by subtle edition-specific touches on the interior. Power from the turbo-diesel four-cylinder shoots up thanks to a Bowler Stage 1 upgrade kit, with output sitting pretty at 175 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque.
Take the Bowler-specific upgrades levied onto the prior Defender 90, and apply them to the elongated Defender 110 chassis. In other words, this 110 rides on the Fast Road Suspension package and scoots along with the Bowler Stage 1 power pack. Forget all that go-fast goodness; our favorite part is the color.
Yup, Land Rover and the producers of the James Bond film Spectre tasked Bowler with creating the biggest, baddest Defenders for the film’s villains. Ten were built for use in the movie and for promotion, with a handful entering private collections after the production of the film wrapped.
In 2019, Hayward tapped Bowler engineers for an additional tribute Spectre Defender, resulting in this pseudo-monster truck featured here. Like the film trucks, Bowler based this tribute on a Defender 110 Crew Cab, augmenting the black truck with wheel arches, beadlock wheels, a full Bowler Fast Road Suspension kit, and those signature 37-inch Maxxis Trepador tires.
The standard diesel engine is re-flashed and boosted with Bowler’s Stage 2 package, offsetting some of the heavier modifications and giving it enough bite to match the hyper-macho aesthetic. Like the film trucks, the tribute includes a large Warn winch, external roll cage, roof rack, bright LED lights, and SVX Recaro seats.
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