Keeping Meriden twins alive

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Triumph for most may today mean Hinckley 675s and Speed Triples, but the old Meriden twins still have a huge following – not least because of a British factory still making and supplying virtually every spare part imaginable.

That firm is is LF Harris of Honiton in Devon, which for a number of years after the Meriden collapse, even produced complete Triumph T140V Bonnevilles, too.

With the closure of the Meriden workers co-operative in August 1983 it looked like the last Bonneville had rolled off the production lines. However thanks to the efforts of Les Harris the name was kept alive and during a three-year period – 1985-’88 – some 1300 examples of the iconic British twin were manufactured at his Devon factory.

Les Harris died in February 2009 but the wholesale spares company he founded in 1973 – L F Harris (International) LTD – continues to flourish supplying parts for Triumph twins across the globe. Today his widow, Shirley, is the company MD working alongside sales and purchase manager – and ex-Meriden man – John Birch.

“When the workers co-operative collapsed John Bloor acquired the Triumph name but we got the tooling and were re-licensed to manufacture spares and complete machines made prior to 1983,” Shirley told MCN. “Thanks to Teignbridge district council by 1985 we had the Bonneville back in production.”

Harris was joined by some top ex-Meriden men like designer Brian Jones, buyer John Birch and Cyril Miller who was in charge of production and the rest of the workforce – total of around 24 – was all recruited locally.

But it didn’t end there. Shirley continues: “Les was keen to add another bike to our range and as he’d already bought the name of Matchless from Dennis Poore a 500cc single seemed to be the logical choice; Brian Jones designed it and the new G80 went from the drawing board to production in less than a year.”

Around 860 examples of the Rotax-powered single were produced over the next four years but today the business concentrates on what it knows best – manufacturing and supplying spares for Triumph twins.

Various photographic reminders of both the Devon Bonneville and the G80 Matchless are dotted around the walls of Shirley’s office; among them one of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and husband Dennis on the election trail in 1987.

“I was working in the office when out of the blue a phone call came through from the PM’s office,” Shirley told MCN. “They were planning a hush-hush visit for during the run up to the general election and apparently Dennis was a closet biker!

“The visit went very well and following her election victory a photo of Maggie sat on one of our bikes was flashed all around the world along with the headline proclaiming ‘Maggie’s Triumph’, it was the best bit of free advertising we ever received!”

Today, however, the firm is looking very much to the future. Modern CNC machinery turns out parts to a quality and quantity that Meriden could only have dreamed of and other than specialist work like castings and powder coating all parts are manufactured ‘in house’. And with a bulging order book the future looks bright both for L F Harris and the legendary Bonneville.

Andy Westlake

By Andy Westlake