Here at MotorPunk HQ we’re not big fans of city dwelling 4x4s. We repeatedly find that urbane “off-roaders” (bedecked with snorkels, Kevlar sump guards and festooned with Cibies) tend to be favoured by frustrated office workers who dream of escaping the 9 to 5, or tubby little men with predilections for army surplus and nefarious car park antics with ladies of low self-esteem. Here, on the roads of our benign, damp and cramped little island I can’t help thinking that most of these seriously capable machines look … well, a little lost.

Dakar Nemesis

Don’t get us wrong, we at MotorPunk are loving Land Rover’s latest works. Our old favourite, The Defender, is a true design icon that’s as British as the shipping forecast, milky tea and a laissez-faire approach to dentistry. Given enough open space we know, first hand, that proper mud-pluggers like these can be an absolute hoot.

Bowler has been creating off-road competition cars for over 25 years. The first Bowler, an ARC-spec prototype, was based on a Land Rover 88 chassis which was converted to coil springs and used a 2.2-litre twin-carb engine. However, it wasn’t until 1996 (eighteen years ago exactly) that the Bowler Tomcat 100, based on a longer Range Rover chassis, firmly established the Derbyshire-based brand as the Bogfather’s of hill rallying.

While some “specials” might have been quicker in ARC hill rallies the Tomcat was soon regarded as the most consistent and reliable commercially available product on offer to Britain’s top-flight hill rally crews. As Bowler began to dominate the domestic motorsport scene in the 90s, company director Drew Bowler started to set his sights on the high profile overseas Rally Raids, most notably the Dakar Rally and Rallye des Pharaons.

To make the Tomcat faster, lighter and stronger some of the Land Rover underpinnings were ditched in favour of a bespoke spaceframe chassis and integrated roll cage. Now called the Bowler Wildcat it was offered with a choice of 4.0, 4.6 or 5.0 litre V8s in various levels of tune, or a long-range 2.5 litre turbo diesel; the hottest version could hit 62mph in just 4.8 seconds – that’s quicker than an Aston Martin DB7. While the Tomcat and Wildcat retained plenty of Defender DNA, the original Landie was a bit Ray Mears (i.e. safe, dependable and would certainly get you out of a tough spot). However, the Rally Raid Bowler was more like a speedballing Bear Grylls.

Bowler Wildcat

So there you have it – the Bowler Tomcat and its look-alike sibling, the Nemesis, are now worthy members of Car Club 18-30. Eighteen years ago the Tomcat was the off-roader’s poster boy and the kind of thing that young kids dreamt about while thrashing around their Tamiya RC buggies in the park. If you’re a Bowler owner who would like to join us on one of our Car Club 18-30 outings then you’d be most welcome. However, we can’t actually promise that we won’t use some hackneyed catch phrases from The Fast Show … or occasionally mention Stan Collymore.

About The Author

Darryl can usually be found up to his elbows in some unloved piece of BL detritus when he isn’t snapping and scribbling for various print magazines or producing the book on road tripping or tally-ho adventurers. As an occasional presenter on CBS's Carfection YouTube channel, his other hobbies include vintage Scalextrics, ‘60s Bang & Olufsen and dabbling in grassroots motorsport.

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