Trucks & SUVs

Land Rover Buys Bowler, Maker of Some of the Coolest Off-Road SUVs

Although today Land Rover tends to be more closely associated with the luxury Range Rover, the company is also responsible for hard-core off-roaders like the Defender. But in addition to bringing the Defender back, with an extra entry-level version, Land Rover also has a high-end division. Special Vehicle Operations, which also works on Jaguars, is responsible for high-speed SUVs like the Range Rover SVR. But with Jaguar Land Rover’s latest acquisition, SVO is getting a dose of rallying. JLR recently announced the purchase of Bowler, a company behind some amazing off-road SUVs.

Who is Bowler, and why would Land Rover be interested?

As Road & Track reported, Bowler has worked in the field of off-roading since 1985. Originally, Bowler just modified vehicles for competition. Autoweek reported on the company’s presence at storied races like Dakar and the African Eco Race. However, Bowler also started making its own vehicles.

Its first product, the V8-powered Wildcat, was made famous on Top Gear when Richard Hammond pounded around an off-road park. Bowler continued refining the Wildcat over several years before selling the rights to QT Service, according to Motor Trend. Although never sold in the US, the Wildcat demonstrated Bowler’s commitment to rallying and off-road racing.

Buyers couldn’t spec leather seats or audio systems; instead, there were options like an on-board water supply and integrated fire suppression. And with a 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds, a Wildcat could out-accelerate a modern Ford F-150 Raptor.

The Wildcat was also one of the first times Bowler worked on a Land Rover vehicle. The Wildcat’s design was based on the Land Rover Defender. Bowler’s next vehicle, the Nemesis, was also loosely based on a Land Rover, this time a Land Rover Sport, according to Motor Trend.

Even Bowler’s latest product, the Bulldog pickup truck, uses Land Rover parts. It uses the 550-hp supercharged V8 and 8-speed transmission from the Range Rover SVR. With all-wheel drive, it’s a properly quick off-road truck.

Even handicapped by terrain and tire choice, it managed to beat the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon in Carwow’s drag tests. The Bulldog also managed to out-drag a V8 Mustang.

Bowler has even partnered with Land Rover directly for competitions. Beginning in 2012, according to Top Gear and Car Throttle, Bowler worked on the Defender Challenge Land Rover Defenders.

How will the purchase of Bowler impact Land Rover?

Land Rover Defender modified by Bowler
Land Rover Defender modified by Bowler | Bowler

According to SVO managing director Michael van der Sande, Bowler offers “innovation and success, with a reputation forged by its participation in the world’s toughest off-road motorsport competitions.” Jaguar Land Rover’s purchase of Bowler is meant to help SVO create “create an exciting and diverse portfolio of products and businesses.”

Range Rover Sport SVR Off Road
Range Rover Sport SVR | Land Rover

In short, SVO wants to expand the kind of products it offers to potential clients. At the moment, SVO consists of SV, Vehicle Personalization, and Classic. SV works to deliver high-performance Jaguar and Land Rover products, with Vehicle Personalization being responsible for bespoke, one-off customized vehicles. Classic, as the name suggests, looks after and restores classic JLR vehicles, and even finishes off production runs, such as with the XKSS.

2020 Land Rover Defender
2020 Land Rover Defender | Land Rover

However, SVO didn’t have an off-road division. True, Land Rover is bringing back the Defender. But it will likely be more luxurious than the original; classic Defenders are also often modified by their owners for hard-core overlanding. SV has catered more to the on-pavement audience, rather than the dedicated off-road fans.

Bowler Bulldog
Bowler Bulldog | Bowler

But by buying Bowler, SVO can now potentially offer a factory-fresh dedicated off-roader. Considering the electric Bollinger B1 and B2, which are at least tangentially-inspired by the Defender, it’s clear that an audience for a well-built, simplistic off-road SUV exists. And the Bowler team are experts at such vehicles.

Could Bowler’s products make it over to the US?

Bowler Bulldog on beach
Bowler Bulldog on beach | Bowler

Although Bowler will continue to produce its own vehicles, and provide support for classic Defenders, it’s unlikely Bowler’s own products will make it to the US. The Bulldog may be road-legal in the UK and Europe, but the US’ regulations would make federalization expensive, especially for such a niche product. Although, if Bowler could get the Bulldog classified as a Class 3 pickup, that would exempt it from certain tests.

But Bowler’s earlier Defenders are old enough to qualify for 25-year-rule importation. And in a few years, the first Wildcats will also be eligible for importation. Still, even without Bowler’s name on the SUV, it’s exciting to think of what the company can bring to Land Rover.