The Bowler Bulldog is the latest road-legal rally raid off-road special from the people who brought you the memorably bonkers Nemesis EXR-S, and the Wildcat before it.
It is not what it looks like: another tuned and upgraded rich man’s Land Rover Defender. In fact, it’s the first car to use Bowler’s all-new, all-aluminium ‘CSP’ chassis (which is designed and built in-house, for the most part), attached to which are modified Range Rover Sport subframes, all-independent suspension (some links of which are also sourced from the Range Rover Sport parts bin) and some very special Bilstein shocks.
With its FIA-approved roll-cage becoming an integrated part of the car’s structure, the Bulldog is effectively a full spaceframe competition car – albeit one with 270mm of wheel travel and knobbly BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres.
The car currently comes with a choice of petrol or diesel V6 engines from the Range Rover Sport, but the 280bhp, 515lb ft diesel is the one most customers pick for rally raiding, since it needs a fuel tank half the size of the one Bowler used to put in its petrol raiders in order to enable them to complete a 250-mile rally stage without a stop (even here, it’s still a whopping 221 litres, though).
Downstream of the engine is the same eight-speed ZF gearbox that Land Rover offers, although Bowler has developed its own transmission cooler, which is mounted at one end of the car’s flatbed pick-up loadbay, is fed with cool air via a scoop on the roof, and keeps the gearbox going in ultra-tough desert conditions.
The car has a much wider track than a Defender, which is how you’ll likely distinguish it from a distance, but the same 2800mm wheelbase as the old Defender 110. The Defender bodywork and interior architecture, meanwhile, is there partly for practical reasons, because tooling up to produce your own bodies is expensive, and using Defender parts makes the cars easier to repair. But it's also allowing Bowler to tap into the healthy demand that currently exists for extra-special Defenders. In the medium term, Bowler expects to design and fit its own bodies again, just as it did with the EXR-S.
How has Bowler transformed the Bulldog from road car to rally machine?
The Bulldog’s interior has a Defender dashboard and a Defender-familiar driving position, but Bowler has been able to improve on the old-stager’s ergonomics a bit, moving the seat inboard to free up some elbow room.