Friday, February 27, 2009


Les Harris, the 'bridge' between the old Meriden Triumph factory and the new John Bloor models, died last week. From the South Devon Herald Express:

A MOTORCYCLE display team will sound a throttle roar in memory of a Torquay businessman who resurrected the Triumph Bonneville motorbike and met Margaret Thatcher.
Les Harris, 69 and from Torquay, died at Torbay Hospital on February 17 from a progressive lung condition, which he suffered from for more than 10 years.
Mr Harris leaves behind his wife Shirley, his children Carole, Debbie, Angela and Chris, and 10 grandchildren.
Mrs Harris said: "Les was a decent, very hardworking man, with an all-encompassing passion for work, life and his family. He had a mischievous sense of humour and an irreverent intolerance for snobbishness. He also had a dress sense all of his own. Les has left behind a great legacy in our children and grandchildren and our lives have been immensely enriched by his larger than life character and absolute unconditional love for us all."
A 1984 'Harris' Triumph Bonneville
A motorcycle enthusiast, Mr Harris set up his own business in 1974 manufacturing and selling spare parts for classic motorcycles. As British motorcycle firms Norton Motors, BSA Small Heath and later Triumph collapsed, Mr Harris would pay for and store parts to be delivered straight to customers. As the parts stocked up, L F Harris International Ltd started trading out of a warehouse in Newton Abbot before acquiring an engineering company in Leighton Buzzard and opening a retail shop in Paignton.
Mrs Harris said: "With the demise of the Triumph motorcycle factory in Meriden, Les and I made a bid for the rights to the Triumph name in 1983. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful in this; however, we were offered the opportunity to licence the name for five years [by John Bloor, current owner of the Triumph name] and so an incredible journey began with the move to a bigger factory and warehouse."
Les Harris built Rotax-powered 'Matchless G80' models between 1987 and 1990.  This example is lightly modified for a 'café  racer' improvement!

Press coverage of their venture was global and resulted in an invitation to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. In 1987 the Harris' were visited by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. "Les was so proud of these visits. For years he has been hailed as the saviour of the traditional classic Triumph motorcycle all over the world. He loved this time, making many new friends as he dealt with customers around the globe," Mrs Harris said.
In 1988 the couple decided not to re-licence and Les began to design his own motorcycle, producing The Matchless G80. The production of the motorcycle ceased after 1990 in the midst of the recession and the business returned solely to the production of spare parts for classic motorcycles. The family-run company now trades from Pavor Road in Torquay.
At his funeral this Saturday, six soldiers from the Royal Corps of Signals White Helmets Motorcycle Display Team will carry the coffin and provide a 'throttle roar' as Mr Harris enters and leaves the church.
Mrs Harris explained: "Les was not in the White Helmets, but our company built their bikes and donates motorcycle spare parts to them."


Affer said...

Les Harris's sad and untimely death seems to have (at least for the moment) passed by the mainstream UK motorcycle press. Assessing his contribution to the world of motorcycling is perhaps difficult - certainly his acquisition of the Triumph assets was timely, and gave the brand an extended lease of life which arguably it did not deserve. He obviously loved doing it, and deserves great credit for his commitment. Doubtless his customers were grateful too, but in truth those good people inhabited a declining market niche as the market swiftly moved on in all areas, from performance to brakes and handling, and from quality to reliability. Mr Harris certainly succeeded in some measure where others failed; many people tried to recreate the magic of old Brands, George Silk and 'Fluff' Brown amongst others, not to mention Lord Hesketh's attempt to make a new legend. But the global re-establishment of the Triumph brand, with values and machinery to match the heritage, owes everything to the astonishing investment and support of John Bloor, for which he deserves the highest honour the UK can award. It will be very interesting to watch Simon Garner's attempts to resuscitate another much loved name: Norton.

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