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New Prodrive Hunter could be entering a potential desert storm


In an aeons-old cycle, by which ‘big money’ usually (but not always) triumphs over ‘small potatoes’, writes Iain Robertson, a renowned vehicle preparation specialist, employing the services of a former mid-size car company design boss, has spotted a new car market niche that could be worth exploiting, were originality not at stake.


A number of years ago, in the early-1980s, Ford Motor Company changed the brand name of its highly popular and defining Cortina model to Sierra. It was a move that excited one small specialist, British car company boss, who sought to launch his first amphibious car but needed a moderate chunk of investment to do so. To Mr Dutton, the manufacturer of glassfibre bodied sportscars, a simple isue related to a model naming policy was perceived as his route to success. Ford had ‘stolen’ the name Sierra, a name registered to the Dutton Sierra for some years, for its own personal use. Dutton dug in his heels and proceeded with a huge court case against the legal might of Ford. Ultimately, while Ford was allowed, with Dutton’s permission, to apply the Sierra badge to its important midfielder, Dutton was able to launch his amphibious motorcar and pocket some useful extra cash into the deal.


Not for the first time has the ‘wee guy’ triumphed over the bigger one. Yet, we live in an era of copycatting and plagiarism accusations flying around like confetti, in several instances, apart from the recent and glaringly public one related to ginger singist, Ed Sheeran, and one of his popular music ditties, the international motor industry has been a hotbed of copycat activities. In fact, the Chinese motor industry is notorious not merely for replicating western designs to sell them for considerably less money but also for being able to defend its actions using national borders and a ready Sino legal system. Sadly, winning in a Chinese court might be a feckless and rather costly operation.



For many years, I have known a financial whizzkid, based in the north-west of England, by the name of Philip Bond. Had you been a long-time reader of these motoring pages, you may even recall an artist’s impression and accompanying story I created about Philip’s Rumbler Urban Offroader for adventurous offroaders. It was an intriguing concept that was several years ahead of any possible rivals, because the whole idea was virtually fantasy-based, even though Philip did and continues to believe wholeheartedly in the project, promoting it at his own expense to potential co-funders and partners but single-mindedly retaining his original stance on the project.


The idea of producing a largely ugly, misshapen and design questionable vehicle certainly did not have legs that long ago but, then, Elon Musk, of Tesla fame, introduced his ‘advanced’ all-electric pickup truck. I can recall Philip contacting me to ask if I felt that he might have a case against Musk. I did. However, I also begged Philip to ensure that his design copyright was as watertight as it possibly could be and received assurances to that effect. However, it is abundantly clear that any legal case has never been raised, as Philip is still hawking his Rumbler concept and the Tesla pickup is not too far away from production. Yet, time may tell on that score.


Only a few months ago, I published via these pages a story on the UK’s leading vehicle development and motorsport specialist, Banbury-based Prodrive, and its electrifying (but not electric) offroad racer that has been used to impactful effect on multi-surface endurance events. In fact, Prodrive encouraged nine times World Rally Champion and Gallic racer extraordinaire, Sebastien Loeb, to join its ranks as the lead competitor. Very few other specialists have such an enormous pulling potency as David Richards, himself a seasoned rallying exponent (he used to be Ari Vatenen’s co-driver) and chairman of| Prodrive. If Dave invites, you play! This same car, with numerous modifications, forms the basis of the non-electric Bahrain Raid Hunter model, which was whisked to second place success on the Paris-Dakar endurance rally, with Loeb at the controls earlier this year.



Noticing recently that Prodrive had engaged with Ian Callum, Jaguar Cars’ charismatic former styling chief, to work on a mobility concept for the company, I was also heartened to spot that he had been responsible for casting his considerable experience over the Hunter. In fact, scanning the various design details, such as the slim rear taillight units, or even the sloping cabin roof of the offroader, the Jaguar influences can be seen. I have stated it before and repeat that Ian’s last truly emotive design, in my book, was the reskin of the Jaguar XK8, with its taut skin-like aluminium body panels and breathtakingly gorgeous profile. It is without doubt, even though it is not recognised broadly thus far, a future classic.


My concern lies with the intoxicating blend of Callum’s design expertise and Prodrive’s marketing nous. My question surrounds ‘originality’ and, while Philip Bond’s Rumbler project was very much in a wide open space several years ago, all of a sudden, it is not. I accept that design concepts becoming production realities are rare things indeed (the original Vauxhall/Opel Tigra being an interesting case in point) but, when the market, even being prised slightly wider, is starting to embrace extreme urban-offroaders, which is sure to include wealthy dunebusters in some Arab countries, perhaps the time has come to honour the originators, such as Philip Bond, without suggesting that either Prodrive, or Ian Callum, are perpetrating a copycat exercise. I would not dare!



In Prodrive’s case, the steel-framed, carbon-bodied Hunter is powered by a 600bhp, 3.5-litres, twin-turbo V6 engine, the origins of which are not mentioned, that is capable of despatching the 0-60mph benchmark in less than 4.0s, before scorching across the sandy wastes to a reported maximum in excess of 180mph. The six-speed rally gearbox has been swapped for a no less effective paddle-shift semi-auto, while six-pot callipers and huge brake discs slow the beast potently. Less extreme and longer travel suspension units provide a more compromised and less competition focused handling and ride quality bias, while the interior has been ‘Callumised’ to remove some of the competition focus in favour of creature comforts. I would advise that, if you needed to ask the price, you probably could not afford one.


Conclusion:         Should you wish to gain a more than fleeting glance at the Prodrive Hunter hyper-offroader, you can do so at Chelsea’s Royal Hospital between 21-23 April at the Salon Prive classic and concept car exposition that is sure to attract the world’s automotive glitterati and celebrities like wasps around the dessert plate. As one of the most prestigious events of its type anywhere in the world, it is certain to be a stunning success. As to Philip Bond, it is unlikely that he will be suing Prodrive in the near future but I do feel that a nod in his general direction for recognising an automotive market niche long before anyone else got a sniff is long overdue.