Les Harris (businessman)

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Les Harris
Born 1939
Died 17 February 2009
Residence England, UK
Nationality British
Occupation Motorcycle Manufacturer
Spouse(s) Shirley Harris
Children Carole, Debbie, Angela and Chris

Leslie Frederick Harris was a Torquay businessman and motorcycle enthusiast who resurrected the Triumph Bonneville. Born in 1939, he was described as the "saviour of the British motorcycle industry".[1] Invited to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, in 1987 he was visited by the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He died in February 2009, aged 69.[1]

L F Harris International Ltd[edit]

Les began his own business in 1974 manufacturing and selling spare parts for classic motorcycles. As the leading British manufacturers such as Norton Motorcycles, BSA and Triumph went out of business, Les Harris bought as many spare parts as he could and set up L F Harris International Ltd[2] at a warehouse in Newton Abbot. The venture was a success and he expanded by purchasing an engineering company in Leighton Buzzard and a retail shop in Paignton, Devon.[1]

Triumph motorcycle production[edit]

Triumph T140 Bonneville built under licence by LF Harris
Rare Triumph TR7V Tiger built under licence by LF Harris fitted here with aftermarket silencers, direction indicators and rear suspension units. This model was also used by the Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team.

When the Triumph motorcycle factory closed in Meriden in 1983 Les bid for the rights to the Triumph name and the opportunity to build the Triumph Bonneville T140 with the former Meriden Triumph engineer Brian Jones as well as a number of former personnel from Meriden.[3]

Instead, under a renewable five year licence starting from 28 November 1983[3] granted by the successful bidder, John Bloor, the new owner of Triumph, Les Harris manufactured 750cc Bonnevilles (and some of the 750cc single carburretor TR7V Tiger models [4] also used by the Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team) until 1988.

The announcement of Harris's restarting of Bonneville production was made on 25 June 1985 at Forde House with local member of parliament Patrick Nicolls and motorcycling personalities such as Bert Hopwood in attendance.[3]

Harris eventually moved to a bigger factory and warehouse and because of these 'Devon' Bonnevilles, Triumph can claim to have been in continuous production of motorcycles since 1902, making Triumph the oldest continuous production motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Despite plans to open a factory in Pakistan, there was no mutual agreement between Harris and Bloor to renew the manufacturing licence.[5]

There was a lot of media interest in the venture and Les Harris was described as the "saviour of the British motorcycle industry".[1] In fact, the Triumphs manufactured by Harris were distinct from Meriden-made models in having significantly more German and Italian component parts (such as Italian Brembo brakes, Paioli front suspension and Lafranconi silencers, German Magura switchgear, Varta battery and Merit horn) as the British motorcycle component industry had shrunk massively by the 1980s.[6]

The Matchless G80[edit]

In 1988 Les decided not to re-licence the rights to the Triumph and began to design his own version of a motorcycle, the Matchless G80. Fitted with a Rotax 494 cc air-cooled engine, there was also a Harris Matchless G80 built with a twin front disc brake and an electric starter. These were produced until the recession of 1990 when the business returned to the producing much sought after spare parts for classic motorcycles.[1] Les also built 8 Matchless G80 for trial with the White Helmets Display Team. However, these were not taken on and were returned to the factory where five were supposedly dismantled and reassembled as road bikes, also les told me that one bike was stolen and never found. However two were supposedly presented to the Colonel and Adjutant of the Royal Signals regiment. One is known to exist in Northern England, the other is in the Bridgewater area.[citation needed] This information was sourced directly by me during my ownership of one of these bikes for Les Harris personally before his sad death


Royal Signals Motorcycle Display Team Triumph TR7V Tiger built under licence by LF Harris

Les Harris died at Torbay Hospital on 17 February 2009, aged 69, from a progressive lung condition, from which he suffered for more than ten years. His company built the Triumph Tiger motorcycles used by the Royal Corps of Signals White Helmets Motorcycle Display Team[7] and at his funeral at St Matthias Church, Torquay, six soldiers from the team carried his coffin and provided a 'throttle roar' in his memory.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Final salute to bike industry's entrepreneur". Retrieved 2009-02-28. 
  2. ^ Leslie Frederick Harris worked as Director (MOTORCYCLE MANUFACTURER) at L F HARRIS (INTERNATIONAL) LIMITED from 8 November 1991 to 17 February 2009 - http://www.cbetta.com/director/leslie-frederick-harris
  3. ^ a b c Born Again Bonneville Motorcycle Enthusiast (August 1985)
  4. ^ Besuch der alten Dame PS (7/1987)
  5. ^ Wilson, Steve British Motorcycles Since 1950 (Vol 5) Triumph: The Company Patrick Stephens Limited (1991) ISBN 1-85260-021-7
  6. ^ Bonnie: The Development History Of The Triumph Bonneville (2nd edition) by JR Nelson (Haynes 2001) ISBN 0 85429 957 2
  7. ^ What keeps the White Helmets up ? Classic Bike (March 2012)

External links[edit]