Radical off-roaders: rough, robust and very individual

These radical off-roaders are rugged, rugged and utterly bespoke

Regular SUVs are notorious for their superfluous “utility,” as owners equate their heavy weight with luxurious city driving, not the ability to get anywhere. We select eight radical machines that offer a blend of performance, design and road clearance

One of the late Virgil Abloh’s last creative collaborations was the Maybach project, developed hand-in-hand with the luxury division of Mercedes-Benz. The second and most ambitious project Abloh undertook in partnership with Mercedes’ Gorden Wagener, Project Maybach, combined Mad Max vibes with far-off visions of a superyacht going ashore.

The 6m long beast spoke of a growing trend to go beyond luxury SUVs. With oligarch chic falling miserably from favor, niche luxury manufacturers are looking for other outlets in every sector. Bloated SUVs that promise protection over off-road capability exude an air of illegal, effectively armored street cars. Again, this isn’t a great look for 2022. Instead, radical off-roaders take the basic premise of the luxury SUV but emphasize utility, both visually and physically.

Here’s our pick of hopped jeeps and polished beach buggies that go anywhere and offer exclusive high-end features, a new generation of ‘sports cars’ inspired by specialist rally racers.

1. BRABUS crawler

(Image courtesy of Brabus)

The unconventional Mercedes meddlers Brabus specialize in transforming the company’s cars into more extreme machines, whether they’re sedans or vans. The crawler is a bit different. Though visually inspired by Mercedes’ long-running 4×4, the G-Wagen, the crawler was designed and manufactured entirely in-house at the company’s facility in Bottrop, Germany. The 900 hp crawler can reach 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds and is not road legal. Despite this, the company will build a strictly limited edition of 15 cars until 2024.

2. Glickenhaus Boots

(Image courtesy of Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus)

The boot is handcrafted by Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, the boutique automaker founded by extreme car enthusiast and former filmmaker James Glickenhaus. Available in both 2- and 4-door variants, the Boot is a solid long-distance off-roader inspired by the bespoke vehicles developed to win grueling competitions such as the Dakar Rally. While the exterior is pure dumb buggy – inspired in part by the “Baja Boot” off-roader custom-built for actor Steve McQueen in the late ’60s – there’s plenty of comfort on the inside. A leather interior, upgraded sound system, full air conditioning and touchscreen entertainment system may not be in the spirit of endurance racing, but it gives the boat a boost in usability.

3.Vanderhall Brawley GTS

(Image courtesy of Vanderhall Motor Works)

Utah-based niche manufacturer Vanderhall Motor Works usually specializes in sporty three-wheelers, akin to an American take on the classic Morgan (still in high demand). However, with his forthcoming Brawley models, founder Steve Hall has abandoned the internal combustion engine in favor of four electric motors, making it one of the few electrified products in the sector. The top of the range GTS has a fully enclosed cabin coupled with transparent doors for better visibility, open wheel arches for massive suspension travel and a special ‘ecrawl’ mode for getting on and off difficult terrain.

4. Bowler Extreme

(Image courtesy of Bowler)

British manufacturer Bowler began over three decades ago with the aim of turning Land Rovers and their ilk into racing machines, retaining the aesthetics and raw capability of Solihull’s best off-roaders and adding a massive dose of horsepower to make them truly competitive. In 2019 the company was acquired by JLR to keep its capabilities in-house. The latest model is the limited edition Bowler Extreme, a radical reinterpretation of the lately-lamented ‘classic’ Land-Rover Defender. Every facet of the venerable old boat has been upgraded, from the engine to the suspension to the interior.

5. Russell built safari sportsmen

(Image courtesy of Russell Built Fabrications)

TJ Russell used to work for Singer, the iconic Californian company that makes custom Porsche-based supercars that blend retro looks with modern technology. Now running Russell Built Fabrications, he offers the Safari Sportsman, a “kit” that transforms the 964-era Porsche 911 into a dirt-loving rally car. Inspired by Porsche’s long history in rallying, as well as the many custom and custom builds used in the long-running Baja 500 race in Baja California, the Safari Sportsman options make the standard car more rugged. Raised suspension, roll bars, new bumpers, skid plates, brakes and a flared body kit to accommodate massive tires can all be reversed if you ever want to restore your Porsche to stock.

6. MILITEM FERŌX500

(Image courtesy of Militem)

The Militem Ferōx500 begins life as the Wrangler Rubicon 392, the most powerful version of America’s beloved Jeep. The Italian manufacturer takes the Wrangler and grinds it, boosting the already extreme performance, “upgrading” the body to make it even beefier and adding a lush trimmed interior. Accents like the interior’s multi-colored ambient lighting, lots of Napa leather and carbon fiber, and endless personalization options suggest that the Ferōx500 is more about style than substance. However, if you dare dusty or even dent your bespoke creation, Militem’s options ensure it outperforms the original.

7. Prodrive Hunter

(Image courtesy of Prodrive)

Prodrive describes the Hunter as an “all terrain hypercar”. Taking the motorsport specialist’s Bahrain Raid Xtreme race car as a starting point, Prodrive worked with long-time collaborator Ian Callum to give shape to this beefy, brutal, street-legal monster. Designed for endurance racing in the desert (it has a 480-litre fuel tank), the 600hp Hunter is a bit of a beast for zipping around town, but give it a rocky road to race or a dune to Hit and he’ll be in his element. Despite Callum’s steely supercar looks and a lavishly trimmed and outfitted interior, the Hunter is designed for tank-like toughness, not your everyday gadget.

8. Ariel Nomad

(Image courtesy of Ariel Motor Company)

An all-purpose version of Ariel’s legendary nuclear racer, the Nomad is a street-legal dune buggy that prides itself on its exceptional lightness and nimble dynamics. Ariel builds his cars around their structure, creating an intricate, ultra-rigid structural mesh that serves as both chassis and body (personal weather protection is essential). Components are then chosen for their reliability and performance, from the suspension to the powertrain (the Nomad uses a venerable, high-revving Honda engine), while all sorts of optional extras can be bolted on to make this mighty machine your own. §

About Veronica Richards

Check Also

‘I will drive a car gifted to Mother Teresa by the Pope in 1964’: UAE historian tells story behind iconic vehicle – Archyde

The Lincoln Continental is a 4-door convertible built specifically for the Pope when he visited …