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Tuesday 27 September 2022

Fred Warr

Fred Warr 1929-2022

AMD pays tribute to a legendary figure in the Harley-Davidson family, someone whose family created and still operated the oldest Harley-Davidson dealership outside the United States. This obituary was written about his father by John Warr …
Frederick Howard Warr (Fred) was born in Fulham, London, United Kingdom, on the 3rd of January 1929, the youngest of three children born to army Captain Frederick James Warr and his wife Margaret. Husband and wife 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 - the international, famous London retailer. In 1947, he joined the Royal Air Force. By then he was also 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 their Kings Road, London store - 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 'civilianize' the bikes with colorful paint jobs to attract a buying public who were 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 by air on a 'roll on, roll off' basis from Lydd in southern England to the then famous Le Touquet airport outside Paris on an ex-wartime transporter.
By the early 1950s, Fred had decided to specialize 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 the boat fare and traveled to Milwaukee, where he met with the 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 Humphries 'Rita' 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 his 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 rockers, rock stars and wannabees chilling and talking bikes. Keen for some Americana in their productions, film makers 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 riding 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 trialed and raced various Harleys throughout the 50s and 60s. 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 being a very non-race bike 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 brought the bike into a very credible top ten finish.
As well as being a promoter 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 Harley-Davidson factory race team on preparation of the winning Trans-Atlantic match race bikes for H-D factory rider Cal Rayborn, often referred to at the time as the world's greatest road racer. In 1976, Fred was also involved in machine preparation for the famous stunt jump by Harley riding Evel Knievel over 13 London buses 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 later 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 rekindling his earlier passion for building, restoring and supplying parts for vintage Harleys and imparting much knowledge to 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. Fred passed away peacefully at home on the 11th August, 2022.