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Final salute to bike industry's entrepreneur

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: February 24, 2009

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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 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 and so an incredible journey began with the move to a bigger factory and warehouse."

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."

Mr Harris' funeral is at 1pm on Saturday at St Matthias Church, Babbacombe Road, Wellswood, Torquay. A wake will follow at the Palace Hotel in Torquay and a private cremation will be held on Monday, March 2 at 2pm.

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    jeremy d evans, Denmark  |  July 28 2009, 9:01PM

    sorry to here of Les`s departure. i got to ride one of his machines,when i was 16 and never forgot the experence of it. that feeling will never fade,neither will the legend of mr harris..with sincer respect Jeremy David Evans (grandson of Ruby harris)

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    Doc, Torquay and Paignton  |  February 24 2009, 9:03PM

    What an amazing man and what a truly brilliant life so sad that it was a short life my sincere condolences to his family. RIP

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    Carole Beasley, Torquay  |  February 24 2009, 11:00AM

    I still can't believe that you've gone. Rest in Peace Dad xx