Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo
Salut à toi American rider,
Let’s go back to England today, London more precisely, to visit a legendary place: WARR’S!
You may remember I spent some days in London / England on this early September. I was a real blast! We went to the famous ACE CAFÉ with my Irish partner in crime Nicholas and were lucky enough to visit London towncenter riding our Harley. It was so cool under a nice Londonian sun on this Saturday afternoon.
Of course, we took memorable pix. Note that we were not supposed to make a stop here (it’s more or less forbidden), but as I’m French (means, undisciplined and arrogant as everyone knows), I now own this exceptional pic: biker me, in front of the Palace (with the queen Elizabeth looking at me trough her window (of course it’ true!!!!).
But, beyond this (very) pleasant ride in town-center London we were very excited by the idea to visit the famous local Harley Davidson dealership. A must see when you’re an European Harleyist: once in your bikerlife time, pay a visit to the oldest Harley Davidson shop of Europe: WARR’S, since 1924.
WARR’S Harley-Davidson first opened its doors on London’s famous Kings Road in 1924, and today the business is still family owned and continues to operate from the same address as the day it first opened. The Warr’s story began with a cycle shop at 661 Kings Road when Captain Frederick Warr started working for himself in 1924 after having seen active service in World War I and then returning to employment in the army after the war due to the lack of work elsewhere. Within a year of opening the shop he had expanded his operation to include motorcycles. During that time the Motor Company had its European operation based in an office on Newman Street in London, and so Frederick, having seen how reliable the early Harley-Davidsons were during his time in the Royal Artillery, visited the Company’s agent and became an authorized dealer.
It was 1924. Captain Frederick James Warr had just been demobbed from the Army for the second time. In 1914 the 16 year old volunteer had fooled the recruiting Sergeant about his age and risen through the ranks in the Royal Artillery serving King and Country on the Western front and later on in the Middle East. Now he needed to earn a living and opened a bicycle shop at 611 Kings Road. That same year he moved on to motorbikes, first Triumph and then Harley-Davidson.
Fred had some experience of the V-Twins on the Western Front during the First World War after the Americans arrived in 1917 and he embraced them with a passion. American motorbikes had had a following in the UK since Edwardian days and HD had a shop in Newman Street, W1. The Twenties was a great decade for motorcycles. The number on British roads trebled in that time as demand for cheap personal transportation grew rapidly. Ex-servicemen were keen to spread their wings. “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm when they’ve seen Paree?”.
Fred ran the business almost single handedly with his wife Margaret until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. As Hitler set his sights on Britain, Fred closed the shop and volunteered for his third spell in the Army, rising to the rank of Major by war’s end. Duty done 611 was open for business again in 1946 and a year later Fred’s son Frederick Howard got involved in the business after leaving the Royal Air Force. Young Fred was every bit the swashbuckling RAF man zooming round the country on an H-D 750cc side-valve WLA. Both wars had made a significant impact on the Harley-Davidson name in the UK. The Rugged WL 750cc motorcycles were supplied to British services through the Lend-Lease scheme. Their well-sprung seats made them extremely comfortable and they were very easy to manoeuvre even on difficult terrain. They were particularly popular in the African theatre because of their oil bath air cleaners and good build quality. The bikes arrived in their thousands in convoys across the Atlantic, although there must be many more thousands under the chilly Atlantic rollers thanks to the constant harassment of the U-boat packs.
So, around 1949 F.J’s son Fred Warr left the Royal Air Force and went to work for his father. Post war trade was tough though and much of the business concentrated on selling and servicing ex miltary surplus WL750s, also known as ‘Liberators’. At that time trade restrictions meant new Harleys were not allowed to be imported into the UK. Fred Jnr campaigned long and hard against both the US Senate and British Goverment to have the restrictions lifted and he was eventually successful. By 1956 the first new civilian Harleys to be imported direct from Milwaukee into the UK since 1939 arrived at the Kings Rd dealership. From the 1940’s to the early Seventies, Warr’s was the only official representation for Harley-Davidson in the UK.
The end of the war saw hoards of bikes staying in Britain. Bikes along with tons of spare parts were auctioned off as Government surplus. Fred bought as much as he could against stiff opposition from other dealers like Claude Rye of Fulham. It was not uncommon to bid for lots without knowing exactly what was in the boxes. Fred once bought a ton of spares, only to discover that half of the container was full of speedometers! Warr’s were in a great position to civilianise the bikes and carved out a reputation as specialists in that area. At the time there was big competition. Claude Rye claimed to have the biggest supply of Harley-Davidson parts in the world. Manchester’s Fred Fearnley claimed the biggest spares dump in Europe. It was a time when you could by an H-D 750 finished in cream for £89! Young Fred was a very accomplished rider. He rode in most kinds of competition, taking part regularly in sprints and road trials. He took an Electraglide to victory in the National Rally of 1974 and his 1957 success in the 1000k Silverstone won him a special commendation from the Milwaukee factory. In the mid-seventies he competed in two Circuits des Pyrenees riding an Electraglide and a café-racer sportster. It was 1957 and Fred jnr had taken the helm and was driving the business forward. It was time to source new Harley-Davidsons. So off he set on the Queen Mary and headed for Milwaukee. After a very rough crossing he checked into a cheap hotel and then met with founders son William Davidson (Willie G’s father) and his export manager. Fred was wined and dined aboard William’s boat on Lake Michigan. Fred was impressed and so was Davidson. Fred was even more impressed when Davidson told him “his hotel bill had been taken care of”!
One of the problems facing Warr’s at the time was the protectionism of the British government. There was a complete ban on the importation of US motorcycles to the UK. After much lobbying the illogical situation was resolved (US car imports were allowed but not bikes) with a token allowance of 80 units into Britain. It was not easy to sell such a number. Most of the bikes coming in at that time were K Models and the new Sportsters. At the time Warr’s was pretty much the only official HD dealer in Europe. Warr’s continued to sell, service and maintain Harleys for the next ten years until 1969 when AMF bought Harley-Davidson. AMF opened up an office in London’s Burlington Street in the early seventies and started to appoint new dealers – as many as 20 in the London area at one time. But the dealers found the low quality, highly specialised machines difficult to sell. Warr’s survived this period by doing the job properly, doing repairs and selling spares. They bought the bikes other retailers found unsaleable but made some margins there too. And so it continued through the bad old AMF days until the management buyout of 1981 and the proper rebirth of the V Twin manufacturer.
1981 was also the year when the next Warr generation became involved in running the show. Fred’s eldest son John Warr joined as the company moved from the King’s Road premises to Waterford Road round the corner. Two years later in 1983 he went to Wisconsin to take part in a dealer meeting. There he caught his first sight of the new Evo engine designed by Englishman John Favill. Favill had been with Norton Villiers prior to joining H-D. The introduction of the Evo engine with its aluminium modern gaskets and the best of engineering practice, backed by a management who put quality on top of their agenda, led to a surge forward in sales. With reliable bikes they could now go out and expand the market.
Like his dad before him John Warr has Harley oil in his veins and soon got involved in racing bikes. His passion started when he saw American racer Cal Rayborn, the H-D factory rider, come over for an Anglo-American Match Race series in 1972 and use the Warr workshops. Legend records that Rayborn won three of the six races in the series. To young John, Cal was a Harley hero and he could hardly wait to get out there and try to emulate him.
Harley racing legend Cal Rayborn takes tea with Fred Warr. He started production racing at the age of 17. When legendary H-D racing manager Dick O’Brien came up with the XR1000 based on the 750 flat tracker John took to the big brute with a relish and kitted it out for the track.
He rode Harley XR’s and the first Buells with great success throughout the 80s. In 1987 at Croix en Ternois in France Warr’s also recorded the first ever race win with a Buell outside the States. To this day Road Racing is important to the company and as recently as 2006 Grand Prix star Jeremy McWilliams succesfully rode a Warr’s XBRR Buell in the Daytona 200. In 1990 at a ceremony in Washington DC Warr’s were honoured by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company for outstanding loyalty and dedication to the brand since 1924.
John is also the founder and director of both Chelsea & Fulham and Meridian Harley Owners Groups and is a regular participant in the annual London to Brighton Pioneer Run riding his 1914 ‘Silent Gray Fellow’ Harley-Davidson.
In 1999 the company moved into a new purpose built 20,000 sq ft dealership designed by architects Kilburn & Nightingale and built on the site of the original 1920’s store. In 2003 a further Harley dealership was opened in Mottingham, South London – just 10 minutes townbound from jct 3 of the M25.
In 2014 at a ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee, Warr’s were honoured by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company for outstanding loyalty and dedication to the brand since 1924. Exactly 90 years of Harley-Davidson sales and service.
In summer 2002 Warr’s unveiled a brand new Harley dealership in Mottingham SE9 serving South London and the home counties. As well as sales, service and repairs Warr’s operate a large rental fleet, custom build service, demonstrator programme, storage facilities and are proud sponsors of Chelsea & Fulham Harley Owners Group which was started by John in the mid-eighties.
So, next time you will be in Paris my American friend, we’ll have a ride to the French city of Clais (3 hours) to take the ferry boat to UK. Then, after 2 hours of highway we’ll reach our goal: having a nice cup of tea in a legendary place: WAR’S, the Europe’s oldest Harley dealership!!
Milwaukee Bucks mascot, Bango, will install the first LEGO® bricks
WHAT: The Harley-Davidson Museum® and LEGO® invite all Milwaukeeans to make your mark on a piece of Harley-Davidson history. Visit the H-D Museum on Saturday, Nov. 2 and Sunday, Nov. 3 as a 11-foot-by-4-foot mural is built by you … yes, you! Kids of all ages are welcome to pop into the H-D Museum lobby to snap LEGO bricks into place and help build the mural that will remain on display until spring. *Kids 17 and under will get free admission to the H-D Museum this weekend to help spark those creative juices. Plus, the new Family Fun Guide shines a spotlight on all the kid-friendly fun to be had on campus.
Media are invited to preview the event on Friday, Nov. 1 at 10 a.m. as Bango gives the mural its first installation, showing Milwaukeeans how they can be a part of this special installation.
WHO: Milwaukee Bucks Bango will be on hand to install the first bricks of the H-D Museum’s LEGO mystery mural. Representatives from the Harley-Davidson Museum will preview the weekend’s family friendly activities.
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 1 at 10 AM
WHERE: Harley-Davidson Museum
400 W Canal St., Milwaukee, WI 53201
PHOTO OPPORTUNITES: Watch as Bango installs the first bricks for the LEGO mystery mural and hear about the H-D Museum’s kid-friendly activities taking place over the weekend.
CONTACT: For media access contact Tim McCormick at Tim.McCormick@Harley-Davidson.com or 414-534-6180.
*Children under the age of 17 receive FREE admission to the H-D Museum on 11/2/19 & 11/3/19 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. when accompanied by an adult. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY; void where prohibited. Cannot be redeemed for cash or cash equivalent. Offer not valid on previous visits. Cannot be combined with any other offer, discount or promotion. Offer can be changed at any time without notice. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. ©2019 H-D or its affiliates. Harley-Davidson, H-D, Harley, Harley-Davidson Museum and the Bar & Shield Logo are among the trademarks of H-D U.S.A. LLC. Third-party trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
Story and Photos by ITN European Reporter Herve’ Rebollo
Let me first introduce Nicholas …by himself: – “When I bought my first Harley, back in 2003, an XL883R Sportster, I had no idea of the world I was entering. I’d had no idea of what MC would stand for; and meeting fellow bikers would always bring to me the same question as when I would meet on a day-off; a colleague from work… Are all these guys genuine? Some choose to ride in large groups, some are more of a lone wolf, I personally enjoy riding in small groups, 4-5 seeming to fit with me. I am from Ireland, a Brit from Belfast, with the major regret of not having joined her Majesty’s military forces. Back in 2003, I was probably in need of some “brotherhood” relationship; the one where you move forward as a team, caring and relying on the bloke standing (riding) next to you. I believe I have found what I was looking for, in sharing today, with those I ride with something special based on concern, respect, something that bounds us together…
My idea of riding? Well weather permitting I’ll bring the bikes out all year round; and maybe shoot-off over the weekends… Living in the Paris region (France) I’ll prefer the 45 minutes on my bike to the 1 hour 30 it would take me to get to work by car. It’s pretty widespread over here to plan a major annual ride, and that’s how back in 2008, I rode my newly purchased Softail around northern Italy; 2009 saw my son and ride north, far beyond the polar circle to the Nordkapp (Norway) on a +5.000 mile run; in 2010, Hervé and I completed the Iron Butt (IBA) first stage (the saddle sore 1000 – 1,000 miles in 21 hours) and then I, 2013 the second stage (the Bun Burner 1500[tm] – 1,500 miles in 32 hours), etc, etc …”.
So, what about this ride? In fact, Nicholas and I wanted to join the ACE CAFÉ to attend its 26th annual reunion, the BRIGHTON BURN UP.
You’ve probably heard of the Ace Cafe. If you haven’t, you’ve seen pictures of it. Even DAVID UHL issued an artwork in 2013 about the ACE CAFÉ (named A NEW FACE AT THE ACE) …
Arguably, it’s the place that put “cafe” in “cafe racer,” and when manufacturers want to tap into that market, the first thing they do is run to the Ace. Like in 2014, Triumph honoured the cafe through its special-edition Thruxton Ace.
It’s a legacy the cafe’s original owners probably couldn’t have envisioned when it first opened in 1938 on the then brand new North Circular Road surrounding London. It was a simple roadside cafe catering to travellers, particularly truckers. With its proximity to Britain’s fast arterial road network, and being open 24 hours, the Ace Cafe soon attracted motorcyclists too.
Once the cafe was established, the owner’s thoughts turned to the motor trade. In 1939 he opened a service station with a battery of 8 pumps on adjoining land with a spacious washing bay, showroom and repair shop. In World War Two, the building was badly damaged during an air raid on the adjacent railway marshalling yards.
After the war the Ace Cafe was reopened in temporary accommodation and subsequently rebuilt in 1949.Long before its ‘greasy spoon’ tag, the cafe/restaurant was actually state-of-the-art, with home-made food being prepared and cooked on the premises.
The Ace Cafe celebrated the Coronation of H. M. the Queen, Elizabeth II in 1953. The post-war increase in road traffic and advent of the ‘teenage’ phenomenon saw the Ace booming, and with it, the arrival of the ‘Ton-Up-Boys’. Ton-Up Boys were named as such because they were driven by the common goal of doing “the ton” — going over 100 miles per hour, which was quite a feat back then. To do so required extensive, methodical modification of one’s motorcycle. To do the ton, motorcycles were modified to maximize speed and handling, not for looks or comfort — although cafe racers ended up being so uniquely stylized that they birthed a whole new and iconic genre of motorcycle that would last for generations to come. Ton-Up Boys would strip their motorcycles down to the absolute bare minimum, removing any and all unnecessary parts that would weigh them down, increase air drag, or detract from the bike’s overall performance. This is how the bikes with a single seat, low bars, no mirrors, underswept pipes, and barely anything else on them were born. They came to be known as “cafe racers” because the transport cafes along the arterial highways were their gathering places.
The British motorcycle industry was at its peak, and along came Rock ’n’ Roll. Not played on radio stations, initially the only place it could be heard was at fairgrounds or on jukeboxes at transport cafes. The Ace Cafe became the place to meet, have a meal or cup of tea, arrange runs (often to other cafes or the coast) or simply to mend your bike. People came to listen to the jukebox, many subsequently starting bands or clubs, some gaining success and considerable reputation.
From this powerful fusion of motorbikes and Rock ’n’ Roll came the legends of record-racing, “drop the coin right into the slot”, and race to a given point and back before the record finished. The Ace Cafe, as the birthplace of a new breed of motor bikes – the Cafe Racer – and with its combination of motorbikes, speed and Rock ’n’ Roll was the launchpad for many famous racers and for many bands.
The famous 59 CLUB was essentially born there, when Father Bill Shergold, a motorcyclist, visited the Ace Cafe and then invited the youths to his church and club. This club then grew into the largest motorbike club in the world.
The tabloid press carried many articles portraying cafes as the places where decent people didn’t go. The building has been used as a cafe, filling station, bookmakers office and latterly a tyre depot. It remains however, largely unaltered.
The legend of the Ace Cafe lives on in the minds of those who went there, those who wish they went there and those too young to have been there. Changes in the social order, the growth of the car market at the expense of the motorbike industry and the expansion of the motorway network saw the Ace Cafe serving its last egg and chips in 1969.
The Ace Cafe Reunion is the brainchild of Mark Wilsmore. In 1993 he shared his ideas for an annual event to mark the closure of the original Ace Cafe and a book and film documenting the history of the Ace Cafe, and endeavoured to ensure that the original Ace Cafe re-opened, with relevant products being available.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the cafe’s closure, Mark, with friends, formed the organising team for the Reunion and arranged for motorcycle runs to converge at the former Ace Cafe site on Sunday 4 September 1994. The idea was well received by motorcycling organisations and clubs. Media support was sought and the event turned into a major free motorcycle and Rock ’n’ Roll event. It was estimated that over 12,000 people gathered at the old cafe site.
Annual Reunions, known as ‘Ace Days’, have taken place on historic ground: Brighton’s famous Madeira Drive.
With the Grand Opening of the original London premises, the Ace Cafe Reunion Weekend has developed into the critically acclaimed ‘world‘s coolest motorbike event‘, attracting every September tens of thousands of Riders partaking in the Brighton Burn Up Run from the Ace Cafe to gather for a free to attend motorbike and rock ’n’ roll party on Madeira Drive.
Planning permission was obtained and ACE CAFE LONDON bought the original Ace Cafe site. As from 7 December 1997, a part of the original and legendary Ace Cafe site was re-opened on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and on the first Wednesday of every month. The riders enjoy themselves whilst having a a cup of tea or coffee and exchanging the latest news and gossip from the biking world. The Sunday openings have been enthusiastically received and the plans to re-open the complete site are being pursued.
On 6 March 1999 a main London water supply pipe burst approximately 10 feet below the Ace Cafe forecourt. Bikes were flung into the air, disappearing in the torrent as they landed. The foaming white jet of water pitched tarmac, earth and rocks in all directions breaking windows and showering the building with assorted debris. Mark dashed back to check that everyone had got out safely, but some had run outside to rescue their bikes. By this time the water was coming through the door. The emergency services were called. Meanwhile, the water found a natural course onto the new North Circular Road underpass at the A406 Park Royal Estate junction, which became flooded to a height of over 25 feet.
At the end, Nicholas and I spent four days in UK. It was a really good funny sunny time … exept on Monday morning, backing from Brighton to Dover to join our ferry, two and a half hours of a real rainy English weather … totally drenched … rainsuits at the end absolutely unuseful … one more great motorcycle wet experience …). The Saturday afternoon we spent riding in London town center was absolutely fantastic.
See ya soon on the road (who knows?)
Hervé your French biker friend