Originally Published: January 2017

THE OFF-ROAD WORLD is in mourning after the sudden death of one of its most popular figures, Drew Bowler, on 14 November 2016. The visionary engineering genius behind Bowler Motorsport, Drew was responsible for some of the most successful Land Rover competition cars ever built – most famously the Wildcat, which went on to carry a Race2Recovery crew to a history-making finish in the 2013 Dakar Rally.

Having started his off-road career on two wheels, Drew moved on to 4x4s after a close family member was injured in a biking accident. In the early days of hybrid building, he was one of the first to use Range Rover front suspension on the back of a Land Rover – a technique which went on to be widely copied by many others over the decades that followed.  Those early hybrids achieved great success in the comp safari scene and went on to fly the flag for Land Rover in the reborn Hillrally series during the 1990s – and even in the nascent challenge scene. The original Bowler 88” spawned first the Tomcat and then the Wildcat – both designs which were subsequently sold to other 4x4 specialists as Bowler’s own company moved ever onwards and upwards in the world of international cross-country rallying.

With an ever-closer relationship growing between Bowler and Land Rover itself, the Nemesis racer was followed by the modified 90s which have starred in the Defender Challenge over the last three seasons. While the company’s clientele has moved on from the self-builders it served in the early days, however, Drew himself always remained humble, modest and down to earth – a good-natured, good-humoured person who would always have time to stop and talk, even amid the hurly-burly of a Hillrally service area.

Drew’s achievements during his life were such that in a world of small businesses and one-man bands, the Derbyshire company bearing his name is now big enough that it will continue to operate as before. ‘Drew was an inspiration,’ Bowler Motorsport commented in a statement. ‘A pioneer, engineer and racer, Drew will be greatly missed by all who knew him.'

Drew Bowler leaves behind his wife Diane and three children, Sam, Grace and Frances. The sympathy of the entire 4x4 scene is with them, as we come to terms with the passing of one of the most brilliant engineers the off-road world has ever known.

I had the pleasure of meeting Drew Bowler on a number of occasions down the years – on photoshoots with his vehicles, visiting his premises in the hills overlooking Belper or, most often, during windswept service stops at Sweet Lamb in the great days of the Welsh Hillrally.
My own competitive efforts were limited to a sole outing in the navigator’s seat of a Bowler 88 driven by Tom Rae in the 1997 Hillrally. I
know Tom won’t mind me saying that the trophy we took home was earned more by the car than by any great skills on our part.

Mostly, though, I would see Drew at these events as I grabbed hurried interviews with drivers on their way to and from the special stages. Often, in the heat of competition, I would be given short shrift – but even though he would invariably be running in the top ten places, Drew always had time to stop and talk.

Despite the success of the company he built, Drew’s modesty and good nature never flagged. In the 23 years I’ve been doing this job, he was one of the nicest people I’ve met. He will be very, very sadly missed. Rest in peace Drew. Ed.

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