Great drives: The Bowler Wildcat
Whilst attending the 2012 Cholmondeley Pageant of Power, there was the opportunity for visitors to be driven around in a Bowler Wildcat, a V8 powered off-road rallying monster of a car. Here is MotorTorque's verdict on an experience too good to turn down.
As I wait for others ahead to get my turn sitting in the Bowler Wildcat, I look ahead at the circuit ahead which it tackles: an improvised mud circuit roughly shaped into an oval layout.
There's a slight elevation difference on the furthest half of the circuit where it drops lower down compared to the starting point, but nothing steep.
While the layout is very straightforward, the track itself actually looked far from it. The muddy surface was thick, dry, clumpy and very uneven. Your typical luxury or family 4x4 might have been able to handle this, but not at any great speed, and with some possible hiccups along the way.
However the Bowler Wildcat is far away from being an ordinary 4x4. As standard it uses a 4.0-litre Rover V8 petrol engine which produces 270bhp, fed through a five-speed manual gearbox with a two speed transfer box, suitable for both on and off-road driving.
On the road the Wildcat is certainly no slouch, as the engine allows it to cover the 0-60mph sprint in just 4.8 seconds while the top speed is about 140mph.
Alternative specifications of the Wildcat can feature a slightly more powerful 275bhp 4.0-litre V8 provided by Jaguar, or a 245bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel.
The speedy engine under the bonnet is mixed with a lightweight but strong bodyshell with panels made of glass-reinforced plastic. This is built over a tubular space frame steel chassis with a roll cage.
A suspension system shared from the Land Rover Discovery is installed as well as some chunky 16" all terrain tyres.
As I watched others ahead get their go in the passenger seat I could already see the Wildcat was set-up suitably, as it circled round the track two times before powersliding back to the starting point, to drop off the passenger and let in the next.
The Wildcat could certainly kick up a lot of dirt, as I and others particularly found out shortly before my turn when one of the participants ahead of me, a nervous-looking young girl, was given an extra treat by the driver as he performed a doughnut near the starting point, in the process launching a spread of mud at those queuing.
Once I dusted myself off and eventually strapped on a helmet, I negotiated my way within the Wildcat's roll cage and was firmly attached to the sport seat via multiple safety harnesses before the driver set off for another run.
Straight away I got an impression of just how easy a rally car makes off-road driving feel, for as rough as the terrain was the Wildcat felt like it was almost gliding along a tarmac road with only some minor bumps noticeable.
About half-way around the circuit path is a lot more difficult to negotiate but a quick change to a lower gear later and the driver and suspension easily negotiates it without a scratch.
On my second and last lap the driver pushes even harder and the whole experience gets a lot faster and rougher all-round. It was at that point I could see what the helmet was for, my head was bouncing around the cockpit like a steel ball in a pinball machine.
Through most the experience I noticed the driver was talking, but I had no idea whether he was talking to me or his team crew via his head piece because the noisy V8 engine drowned out the rest of the world.
Before we had set off the driver did ask me if I had ever done anything like this before, I said no but always wanted to, I don't regret that wish. My ride in the Bowler Wildcat was enough to confirm to me that it's a seriously impressive piece of kit; any chance to drive or get driven in one should not be passed up.
The event I enjoyed was provided by the charity racing team Race 2 Recovery, who merely asked for a donation (£5 minimum) to enjoy this madness.
Race 2 Recovery was established by a group of wounded British soldiers who decided to take part in cross country races and raise money in process to help them during their recovery against disabilities.
The team has set itself a number of different challenges, including one to take part in the Paris-Dakar rally in 2013, a fearsome 9,000km race that would seriously test any team with or without disabilities to conquer as well.