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Bowler Bulldog: Spotted

Defender not rough-hewn enough for you? How about a two-seat rally raid car?

By Nic Cackett / Tuesday, April 2, 2019

You know how to guarantee getting a good car from a niche UK manufacturer? Buy one that was built for a member of staff. Preferably one with hiring and firing powers. Today's Spotted - a 2018 Bowler Bulldog - is said to boast the director's name on the V5C so you'd like to think that it was put together with some diligence, lest heads roll.

Not that you've got much to worry about on the durability front anyway. Bowler's are famously tough - and with good reason: most of its cars are built specifically for rally raid, the long distance motorsport which likes its stages to be measured in hours and blood and sweat and tears.

So while the Bulldog continues to look like the kind of cocked-about Land Rover Defender you might see ambling through Richmond Park, it's actually a two-seat FIA-approved rally car with an all-aluminium spaceframe underneath. Ask its maker about the exterior (or skeletal interior, for that matter) and you'll get a round of shrugs - new body parts are expensive to fabricate, and using someone else's off-the-shelf bits makes repairs easier. Plus, of course, Land Rover is what Bowler knows best. And, oh yeah - the landed gentry love 'em. Which presumably doesn't hurt.

What else do you get? Well, by all accounts, much to enjoy. The Bulldog is powered by much the same 280hp 3.0-litre diesel V6 and eight-speed ZF automatic that you'd find in a Range Rover Sport - and if that doesn't immediately sound thrilling, then remember that it's paired with a car that's half-a-tonne lighter than the Home Counties favourite school runner. Plus it's got 515lb ft of torque. And limited slip differentials front and back. And a vastly wider track.

Predictably though, it's the suspension which is said to take the oil-stained biscuit. The description just says "Bilstein" but that's just shorthand for the sort of rarefied spring and damper combination which can be expected to take a 12-foot jump in their stride. Expect anything short of a Dakar-calibre sand dune to be swatted aside like a sweet wrapper under 270mm of sophisticated wheel travel.

And don't let the BF Goodrich All-Terrain tyres fool you either. On the road, the Bulldog reportedly combines hot hatch pace with a remarkable sense of precision - helped in no small part by a two-and-a-bit turns steering rack which has precisely nothing to do with a Defender's aimless rudder. Expect genuine, tactile response; and expect the car to respond with a swiftness that belies its height and weight.

What you shouldn't expect is creature comforts. Or quietness. This is a manufacturer who swapped out Land Rover's engine mounts because they were considered too soft and weedy; it's tolerance for indulgence extends as far as supplying two race seats. Pretty much everything else in the cabin has a right angle and is intended to help you survive 250-miles of dusty nothingness.

Which isn't to suggest that the Bulldog is incapable of rewarding normal use - apparently its current owner has used it as an 'occasional road car' and we're willing to bet that it's a set of decent ear plugs away from being very good indeed between A and just-up-the-road B. Of course, when we say 'good' we mean 'ferociously rewarding'. The faint of heart need not apply. Nor the shallow of pocket: the director's Bulldog is on sale now for £140k.


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