The words ‘fast’ and ‘Defender’ generally don’t belong in the same sentence, especially when discussing the old car. It’s an inherently paradoxical statement, like ‘delicious vegetable’ or ‘honest politician’. The reasons the original Defender remains so well loved are manifold – its remarkable longevity, its sheer ability over rough ground and its assimilation into the romanticised, drystone-wall-and-village-pub vision of the British countryside. It is, to employ a much-overused plaudit, an icon. One of those reasons, though, absolutely isn’t the driving experience, which can be described politely as ‘agricultural’, and impolitely with any number of shorter, less punch-pulling words.
And yet, precisely because of that enduring popularity, there are plenty out there willing to put themselves through the tribulations of regularly driving a Defender, tolerating the jostling ride, granite-hewn controls and spine-rearranging seating position because the charm outweighs the flaws. Surely, then, there’s a market for making this as tolerable an exercise as possible.
There have been plenty of firms doing just that for decades, but Bowler is the only one with official backing from Jaguar Land Rover. Building on lessons learned from the old Defender Challenge rally car, the name of their Fast Road Defender conversion is pretty self-explanatory. Bespoke Bilstein dampers are the cherry on top of a huge cake’s worth of suspension upgrades that serve to tame the car’s choppy ride, whilst heated Recaro bucket seats go a remarkable way to making it feel like you’re controlling a car, not a piece of construction equipment. A stage one engine map, meanwhile, helps solve the issue of the Defender’s leisurely pace.
Crucially though, everything people love about old Defenders – the all-terrain ability and the looks, enhanced with a selection of subtle off-road paraphernalia – remains, augmented by newfound on-road manners. It really is the best of both worlds.