After roughly four years of sharing car-related content under the moniker of The Petrolhead Corner, to provide a bit of a break from the horological content we serve up every week, you’d think we’ve just about seen it all. But you’d be wrong, and even we are surprised from time to time by discovering cool and exciting cars to cover. And with a team that’s almost just as passionate about cars as we are about watches, there’s usually plenty of automotive debate going around amongst us all. This week, we have something very special for you. A radical prototype car built on the platform of the legendary Land Rover Defender. It’s called the Bell Aurens Longnose and comes with a fascinating back story!
The car we’re featuring today is one of those obscure oddities that few people know about, and every now and then pokes out its little (or rather long) ‘head’ for the world to take notice. And the world sometimes does take notice of such cars, often gasping for air and uttering a phrase along the lines of “What in the world is THAT!”. I know it happens to me every now and then, and I’m sure it happens to a lot of you as well. Take John Dodd’s ‘The Beast’ for instance, a car that stunned me when I first learned about it years ago. Or the ludicrously loud BRM V16, another car that blew me away when I first heard the audio of it tearing up Donnington Park on the CD that came along with Nick Mason’s book ‘Into the Red’. It’s cars like this that simply left me in awe, and embedded themselves into my memory for the rest of my life.
This very car does that too, and I’m still contemplating if that’s because it’s cool or, well, just weird. Part of me thinks it’s absolutely amazing, and part of me thinks it’s a touch on the ridiculous side. But in all honesty, it has a unique presence! The story of the Bell Aurens Longnose starts with a 1967/1968 Series II Land Rover Defender, with the intention of producing a unique small-series ultra-luxurious version of it, with some wild machinery under its elongated bonnet.
The conversion of the Series II Land Rover into, this, was done by Land Rover enthusiasts Thomas Bell and Holger Kalvelage from Germany. And don’t mistake this for an old car by the way, as it was built somewhere between 2005 and 2009 as far as I understand it. It started with the idea of creating an off-roadster (see what they did there?) based on the classic 4×4. But not just any off-roadster, no, it was to be a beast of an off-roadster! And based on the looks of it, they very much succeeded!
The body is made by Lorenz & Knorr-Held, an oldtimer restoration workshop in Erlangen, Germany. The front section has been stretched, obviously, yet retains that captivating boxy style of the Defender. The cabin was moved back as far as possible and given a slanted rear panel fitted with a monster spare tire and a jerrycan for carry-on fuel (which you’d need if the plan would have worked out as intended!). On either side of the body, a recessed section would give way to the exhaust system, much like stately Mercedes-Benz, Bentley or Rolls-Royce cars would have had in the 1930s. The exhaust would finally exit just before the rear wheel.
The roof construction is quite unique, as is the rest of the car for that matter. The removable hard top gives it a very awkward yet fascinating look. The whole thing looks a touch odd with the roof installed, but take it off and things start to fall into place. You can also take off the top halves of the doors, and fold down the front window to use just the two small windows to ‘protect’ you from the elements. It’s fitted with a luxurious interior, fit for two, with leather bucket seats, wood flooring and trim, a cricket-ball gear knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Just behind the steel roll hoops, there’s a bit of storage space, also finished with wood panelling. The spare wheel can fold down, as does a hatch in the rear panel, to grant you access to the trunk/boot.
But what’s hiding underneath that super long nose? Well, initially it was planned to use the Rolls Royce Merlin V12 from a Spitfire, producing around 1,500 horsepower. So essentially, this was to be a car along the same lines as John Dodd’s beastly ‘little’ machine. You need a bit of extra space for such a monstrous engine, but sadly things weren’t meant to be. Getting it road-legal proved an issue and the German legislators had some concerns about the car’s safety under such power. Instead, it uses a 4.6 litre V8 from a Range Rover, that’s been fiddled with and increased in size to 5.0 litres by JE Engineering from Coventry, England. The power output was dropped from a ton-and-a-half to 350 horsepower. Allegedly, this is still enough oomph to push the car to a top speed of around 200kph.
What happened to this car was more or less a case of a brilliantly cool idea, at very much the wrong time and possibly even in the wrong place. You see, right around when this was completed and presented as a working, driving prototype, much of the world was in financial crisis. The late 2000s and early 2010s weren’t the right time to be launching +150k plus costing speciality cars. Also, not getting the Merlin engine road-legal in Germany was a setback. Perhaps that would have saved the project in the end, as it makes it that much more special than the still potent but less out-there Range Rover V8 it has now. Would this project be built under UK or US road laws, there would have been fewer concerns in getting it licensed, as Germany’s T.Ü.V organisation is much stricter on such things.
Nevertheless, it’s amazing to see people undertake such mad projects and end up building them into driveable cars! Who knows what could have been, as such restomod projects nowadays seem to be big business. According to the information on Thiesen-Automobile.com, which recently sold this very car for an undisclosed sum, two of these prototypes have been built. Another source reported that the two men who built it are still open to taking it into production if the demand is strong enough and the funding is there. However, I’m afraid the asking price for such a machine would have increased astronomically by now so I highly doubt we will ever see the Bell Aurens Longnose brought back to life. Nevertheless, it’s an awesome thing, isn’t it?