In a surprise announcement, Jaguar Land Rover purchased the off-road tuning firm Bowler, a 34-year-old business that has prepared Land Rovers for legendary off-road racing triumphs. Bowler will take its place in the portfolio of JLR’s Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department.
Bowler was formed by Drew Bowler in 1985, who founded the company making competition trucks from his garage in Derbyshire, England. After taking on some custom commissions, he created the Bowler Tomcat, and 88”-wheelbase Defender-styled rally raid car. Built on a tubular chassis, the body is a fiberglass copy of a Defender, with a spartan interior designed for long-distance rally raid racing. In 1995, the wheelbase of the Tomcat was extended to the “magical” 100-inch length, before being replaced by the Wildcat in 1997.
The Wildcat used a Discovery chassis and axles, with the rear axle using a Watt’s linkage like a Discovery 2. The Wildcat came with 4.0-liter, 4.6-liter, or 5.0-liter versions of the Rover V8, or a 2.25 or 2.5-liter turbo diesel. It would compete in the Dakar rally in the 2000s, as well as many European rallies. In 2004, the Wildcat won the British Hill Rally Championship, and in 2005, Bowler had the second-largest factory team at Dakar after Mitsubishi.
In the late 2000s, Bowler designed the Nemesis, a vehicle based on the bodywork of the first-generation Range Rover Sport. This bodywork would dominate Bowler’s flagship work in the late 2000s, both as the Nemesis and EXR, with a styling that referred as much to the original two-door Range Stormer concept car of 2004.
In 2012, Bowler partnered with Land Rover to create the Defender Challenge, a racing series that featured only Bowler-prepped Defenders. The Challenge ran from 2014 until 2016, designed in part to prepare participants for Dakar. Bowler also created a range of performance parts for Defenders in the mid-2010s.
Unfortunately, on November 14, 2016, Drew Bowler died suddenly. Even without their founder, the firm has continued to produce vehicles with a team of 26 in Belper, England.
JLR’s acquisition will protect the legacy of Bowler, which was in financial straits and in danger of folding before the purchase.
Though their goal for the brand is not clear yet, it’s easy to see them taking the same route many other marques took by purchasing famous tuners. JLR’s purchase is similar to Mercedes-Benz buying AMG, which resulted in a wide range of AMG-branded vehicles and parts. Some kind of Bowler-designed New Defender will likely come of this union, a vehicle that should dispel any statements that it’s unworthy off-road.
Bowler will take its place as the fourth pillar of the SVO department. The other three pillars are SV, which produces high-performance, high-luxury vehicles; Vehicle Personalisation, which crafts custom commission where the client chooses colors and finishes; and Classic, which restores Land Rovers and Jaguars of all ages.
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