In my younger days, much younger, a Tonka truck took its proud place on the living room carpet. That truck went through walls, bounced over rough terrain and launched several feet into the air off ludicrous ramps made from wood and bricks. This, right here, is the real version: the Bowler Nemesis EXR.
It’s the go-anywhere supercar that makes soft-roaders from Porsche and BMW look just a touch lame. In fact, this might be one of the most spectacular cars to launch this year and while Bowler currently has no plans to bring it to the U.S., we might want to start a Facebook campaign or go on a hunger strike to fix that.
Because there really isn’t much to beat full opposite lock and full-throttle drifts across a field while the car bounces off ruts and kicks up a plume of dirt off each and every wheel. Stones volley off the undercarriage like machine gun fire, the 500-hp, 5-liter, supercharged V8 powerplant roars to the redline like a whistling storm and the car is already flying down the next straight at speeds that would shake a normal car to death toward another ridiculous drift.
It might be childish, but if I owned this car I’d find a cross-country route to work and rip up the outback trails every day. I don’t get the folks who spend their weekends attacking vertical climbs at walking speeds in Mk1 Land Rover Defenders, but this is just attacking landscape in a Tonka supercar. Yeah, I get this.
It looks ostensibly like a highly modded Range Rover Sport, but it’s really not. This is a purpose-built competition car originally designed for the rigors of the Dakar Rally, the hardest off-road race there is.
Drew Bowler forged an almighty underground reputation in the event with cars of his own making and customers were soon throwing checks at him. The Tomcat and then the Wildcat consistently mixed it up with the big works teams on a fraction of the budget and with way less manpower.
Bowler’s too modest a man to take the compliment, but think of him as the Colin Chapman of the off-road world and you really wouldn’t be far wrong. He has created a legend in a converted farm building in rural England and he could be about to go mainstream.
The Nemesis is his third car and Bowler always had a plan to turn this fearsome off-road warrior into a street legal weapon that could tear up a trail or even a field if you’re so inclined. I am, so it feels like Christmas when he takes us to his scrub field and tells us to have at it.
This road car comes in almost any flavor you want, from luxurious, super fast, and slammed-to-the-deck street spec, with an additional low-slung body kit, to a stripped out off-road Atom bomb with full Donerr rally-spec suspension. We’ve got the latter, which is the ultimate toy for weekend dune bashing. Though the everyday road car variant has to be quicker and more refined on tarmac, there’s a real filthy charm to the jacked-up competition car with a license plate. It even looks better with mud-straked arches and a patina of dust on the side.
Either way it’s fitted with the stock 500hp, 5-liter, supercharged V8, and contained within a tubular spaceframe chassis that looks like it’s built from girders and a two-layer composite body that helps keep the weight down to 3,850 pounds. That doesn’t sound so great compared to, say, a Lamborghini, but it’s 1,650 less than the Range Rover. Which is epic.
That means this beast will storm from rest to 60 mph in, wait for it, 3.9 seconds. With the help of the standard ZF six-speed automatic tuned to hold the gear in Sport mode right to redline and operate more like a paddle shift manual it screams down the road. And field.
The suspension, too, totally trick and designed to soak up everything from high-frequency ruts to Titanic-style encounters with rocks while keeping all four 23-inch wheels flat to the ground and driving forward with the help of a heavyweight rally-spec diff at the rear and a viscous coupling that transfers drive to the front.
I’m up to 80 mph on this loose surface before slamming on the brakes, standard Range Rover Sport Brembo discs and calipers, incidentally, and the car somehow digs in, slows down and then arcs sideways in something approaching a Scandinavian flick. It takes stupid provocation to get full opposite lock, too, the standard line is full power and a straight wheel to drag the car back on to the next straight in a drift more graceful than we have any right to achieve after just a few minutes behind the wheel. Drew takes over for a short time and is faster, smoother, more aggressive, just about everything, but this is still an outrageously fun car and so well balanced it almost defies belief.
That engine sits 11 inches further back than in the stock car, and lower, which helps the handling, but reduces the foot well space. It gets warm in there, too, with the engine next to your legs. It’s just the start of the packaging changes, too, as the whole car is about four inches wider; radiators and anything vulnerable has been shifted back from the perimeter.
That’s a rally touch that saves the car from limping into retirement in the event of a crash. Only two of Bowler’s cars have ever been written off. One was simply thrown at the desert scenery and the other hit a bridge at high speed. You can even launch it off a sand dune, land on the nose and, nine times out of ten, drive away. Fast.
So the field we’re playing on over the road from Drew Bowler’s rural base is child’s play for this car. But it’s not the sole ambition, not by a long shot.
You see, Bowler’s customers tend to be exceptionally wealthy Arabs, Russians, and the kind of folks that have a Lamborghini or Ferrari parked in the garage. They complained their supercars were fragile, pointless and borderline unusable. That’s where the EXR is pitched and Bowler is working on a luxury interior spec that sits 2.4 inches lower, on an Ohlins suspension, as well as this stripped-out dune jumper.
Even in on-road spec potholes, curbs or gentle off-roading doesn’t trouble this car. It will literally go any place, any time, and it will do it exceptionally fast. The EXR took the fastest time in the Supercars’ section at the Goodwood Festival of Speed earlier in the year and in the real world is a match for almost anything in the hands of an average driver.
So eventually we bid farewell to the field and head out on to the road. For everyday use, you’d want the roadgoing suspension, or possibly a second car with opposing specs, depending on how rich you are.
Aside from the noise at the rear, though, the EXR feels brilliant on the road. It even feels rear drive thanks to a 60/40 torque split that is managed through the center diff with over lock and separate front and rear diffs to manage the power side to side. The finished road car will, of course, have the Range Rover Sport’s electronic diff that can cope with more or less everything you could feasibly throw at it.
Bowler knows he needs to raise the top speed of 140 mph to topple the Porsche Cayenne Turbos and BMW X6s of this world. He will, and the car is sure to top out somewhere north of 170 mph when he’s done, even if he has to squeeze another 50 hp from the AJ-V8 Gen III engine. Land Rover is more than willing to help in that quest and has happily provided ECU information.
It’s easy to see why; this is the hard-core off-road racing Range Rover Sport that they simply can never build. It is the ultimate Range Rover, the go-anywhere supercar and a proven legend that can withstand the hottest, most barren, most destructive terrain on Earth. It’s the real-world Tonka toy, and all it could take is a Facebook campaign and a hunger strike to bring it to a high street near you.
Transverse front engine, all-wheel drive
5.0-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, supercharged
Fully independent wishbones, coilover dampers
Six-piston calipers, 380mm rotors (f), four-piston calipers, 365mm rotors (r)
Length/width/height (in.) 188.3/78.1/72.0
Peak Power: 500 hp @ 4200 rpm
Peak Torque: 462 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
0-62 mph: 3.9 sec.
Top Speed: 140 mph