Thursday, April 25, 2024
HomeNEWSFrederick Howard Warr

Frederick Howard Warr

Frederick Howard Warr 1929-2022
By John Warr, managing director, Warr’s Harley-Davidson

Fred Warr, the London businessman and lifelong biker responsible for the post-war re-birth of the iconic Harley-Davidson brand in the UK, and often referred to as the father of the Harly-Davidson scene in Britain, passed away peacefully at home on 11 August and will be laid to rest in a private family ceremony.

Frederick Howard Warr (Fred) was born in Fulham, London, on 3 January 1929. The youngest of three children, his father Captain Frederick James and wife Margaret ran a motorcycle dealership and general vehicle repair shop on London’s Kings Road.

Fred left school aged 14. His first job was as a messenger boy at Harrod’s. In 1947 he joined the Royal Air Force. By then, he was an avid motorcyclist and had already developed what would become a lifelong passion for Harley-Davidson. His father had been an official Harley dealer since the 1920s, and Fred had clearly inherited his enthusiasm for the American-built V-twins.

By the late 1940s Fred was working with his father at Kings Road, repairing and selling ex-military WL750 Harleys, which at the time were being sold off at government auctions. Fred would buy in bulk and then ‘civilianise’ the bikes with colourful paint jobs to attract a buying public looking for anything other than wartime khaki. Due to post-war trade restrictions, new Harley-Davidsons were not available.

In 1949 Fred became a founding member of the Harley-Davidson Riders Club of Great Britain. As well as cultivating an active riding and social scene for members the club also ran many rallies and gymkhanas. Several overseas trips took place, too, and a popular excursion was to travel to the continent by air with your motorcycle from Lydd airport to Le Touquet on an ex-wartime transporter.

By the early 1950s Fred had decided to specialise exclusively in the Harley brand. He knew that if the family business was to flourish, he would need to be able to sell both new and used Harleys. In rationed post-war Britain, government restrictions meant new motorcycle imports were not allowed. Nevertheless, Fred saved up for the boat fare and travelled to Milwaukee, USA, where he met with Harley founder’s son William H. Davidson. The relationship between manufacturer and dealer was reaffirmed, and after much lobbying of HM government and the US senate, Fred was finally granted a restricted import license. In 1956 the first new civilian Harley-Davidsons into the UK since before the war arrived at the Warr’s Kings Road dealership.

Fred married Margaret Ann ‘Rita’ Humphries in 1955 at the Church of our Lady, Lisson Grove, Marylebone, and their first child Patricia was born in 1957.

By 1960, Fred had become the official UK concessionaire for all things Harley-Davidson. 1960s London was in full swing, and the Harley dealership on the now fashionable Kings Road was the place to be. The American brand has always attracted a diverse clientele, and any Saturday afternoon at Warr’s would often see wannabees, rockers and rock stars alike chilling and talking bikes. Film makers too, keen for some Americana in their productions, would often hire Fred to populate their latest movie with Harleys. Fred stood in for many film riding roles, and in the cult classic Girl on a Motorcycle numerous shots showing Mick Jagger’s then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull racing along on her Harley are actually Fred in tight white leathers and a long blonde wig!

Fred was also a very accomplished rider and racer. He trialled and raced various Harleys throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1974 he won the prestigious RAC National Rally and later that decade twice took part in the infamous Circuit des Pyrenees in France. His chosen mount one year was a very non-racey police issue Harley Electra Glide, nicknamed by the astonished local French press “Le Dinosaur”. Fred rode the wheels off the bike, running out of brakes on the mad mountainous descents as the early disc brakes would overheat and fail to stop the beast. Nevertheless, using engine braking and his considerable riding skill, he bought the bike into a very creditable top ten finish.

As well as being a promotor of all things Harley-Davidson Fred was known for his mechanical expertise and astonishing knowledge of the inner workings of the cult V-twin motors used by the brand. In the early 1970s Fred worked alongside the  factory race team to prepare the winning Trans-Atlantic match race bikes for rider Cal Rayborn, often referred to as the world’s greatest road racer. In 1976 Fred was also involved in machine preparation for the famous jump over 13 London buses by Harley riding Evel Knievel at Wembley Stadium.

In 1986, not long after his wife Rita passed away, Fred semi-retired from the bike business. Fred’s love of biking continued its hold, however and he later went on to ride the length of Britain for charity on a vintage 1916 Harley and also took part in the Mille Miglia endurance rally through Italy on a wartime WL750, painted khaki.

By his mid 70s Fred had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), but his determined attitude saw him travel to China for radical treatments, which he insisted had curtailed the spread of the disease and allowed him many more years than the usual cruelly short prognosis.

Though his leathers had long been hung up he spent the latter years of his life re-kindling his earlier passion for building, restoring and supplying parts and much knowledge for vintage Harleys and their owners.

Fred is survived by daughters Patricia and Theresa and two sons, John and Robert. Fred’s youngest son William was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2003.

Previous article
Next article
RELATED ARTICLES

Product News

New Kawasaki capacity

Kawasaki has introduced a new capacity option for younger riders this season, the KX112 – a classic two-stroke, water-cooled, single-cylinder bike with a 19in...