|Born||13 July 1919
|Died||2 November 2001
Douglas Lionel Hele was a pioneering British motorcycle engineer with Triumph and other firms: BSA, Douglas and Norton. He was born in Birmingham in 1919 and died in Hagley, Worcestershire on 2 November 2001.
Described as an 'outstanding student' at King's Norton Secondary School. Hele started his career in engineering as an apprentice with the Austin Motor Company at the Longbridge factory in Birmingham where he worked throughout the Second World War. He move on to Douglas Motorcycles in Bristol in 1945 where he worked as a draughtsman in the motorcycle design team under former Norton chief designer Walter Moore. Moore encouraged him to go to the Norton factory, where he helped Polish engineer Leo Kusmicki design and develop the Featherbed framed Manx Norton single-cylinder racing models that won world championships in the early 1950s.
After a short time at BSA where he worked on the 250cc single-cylinder racer with BSA chief designer Bert Hopwood he returned to Norton to continue development of the "Manx" and it is his 1961 version that is the most sought after by collectors today.
His next project was the development of the 500cc Norton Dominator into a racing motorcycle. Hele's prototype "Domiracer" came third in the 1961 Isle of Man TT averaging over 100 mph but the project was abandoned when Associated Motor Cycles ended racing development at Norton to cut costs. Hele's Domiracer was however successful in the Thruxton 500 production endurance race. Hele was encouraged and developed the 650cc sports which went on to win the Thruxton race for three years in a row giving Norton much needed publicity.
Norton closed the Birmingham factory in 1962 and moved production to Plumstead, South London, but Doug Hele was ready for a change and took a job with the Ford Motor Company in their Dagenham factory. Things didn't really work out so it was with great relief when he accepted the position of Head of Development with Triumph in Meriden. His first project was improve the Triumph Bonneville T120. At the 1969 Belgian Grand Prix on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes, Triumph's factory tester Percy Tait led the world champion Giacomo Agostini for three laps and finished second at an average speed of 116 mph on Doug Hele's Triumph Tiger Daytona. Hele went on to design the three-cylinder Triumph Trident and develop them into the most successful race bikes of their time, dominating the 750cc races in Europe and the US. Hopwood attributed the massive racing success to Hele's 'brilliance' and greatly criticised the BSA-Triumph board's reluctance to promote him to more senior positions.
By the early 1970s the BSA-Triumph group was in financial trouble and Hele moved to the experimental team at Kitts Green in Birmingham. When Triumph finally closed Doug Hele turned down a job from a Japanese company and joined outboard motor makers British Seagull in Dorset. In his 70's Hele ended his career working as a freelance designer on the rotary-engined Norton model.
- Triumph Experimental: Doug Hele and his development team 1962-1975 by Mick Duckworth (2013) ISBN 978-1-907139-09-3