"Motoring brands don’t come much bigger than Harley-Davidson. In fact, brands in general don’t come much bigger than Harley-Davidson. It’s a name that transcends industries, cultures and the seven continents. And probably Mars when we colonise it. "
Charlie Stockwell of Warr’s Harley-Davidson makes dreams come true
Few people in the UK know Harley-Davidson like Charlie Stockwell, who was Head of Design and Custom at Warr's of London for over 26 years. Charlie explains how he started working at Warr’s
My first encounter with Harley-Davidson came in the early nineties when I was just a kid. My older sister’s boyfriend, who worked for Harley, would come round to pick up my sister on a variety of machines.
Right from the start, Harleys seemed to me to be the essence of cool. The process gathered pace when said boyfriend, who would eventually become my brother-in-law, took it upon himself to help me customise my Yamaha RXS 100. With the help of his expertise and loads of amazing Harley bits and pieces, this little Yamaha Fizzie wannabe became a very unique and charismatic café racer. That was it. I was hooked.
From that moment on I could see that a future beckoned in the world of motorcycles – and, because of the association with my family and Warr’s of King’s Road, it was natural that Harley-Davidson was the place to start.
When I was 16, I was lucky enough to get a Saturday Job at Warr’s. At the heart of the King’s Road in Chelsea, London, Warr’s is the oldest Harley-Davidson dealership there is and probably the most ideally placed. At first, I was just cleaning the floors and tidying up the shop – but I was soon able to get my hands dirty with the bikes themselves. I think my interest in graphic design and art caught fire when I was able to get up close and personal with the whole range of Harley-Davidsons. When I finished school, I was lucky enough to get a full time job. Pretty soon I had the amazing experience of being sent to Milwaukee to the Harley-Davidson University.
After qualifying and working full time in the Warr’s workshop for a while, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would want to move on from providing simple service and maintenance for Warr’s’ customers. I could see that there was an opportunity to provide bespoke Harley builds. The bikes that Harley produces have always been perfect for reinterpreting and recreating – and in the early 2000s the custom scene all over the world was bubbling and about to explode. I was in the right place at the right time, and lucky enough to work with Andy Reynolds. Andy was our Parts and Accessories Manager, had lived in Japan for a couple of years, and had collected a few of the Japan Custom Harley mags and bought them into me. He thought I’d be interested in the Japan custom scene due to my fascination with the Far East. It was the Japanese custom scene that really captured my imagination and got me thinking about designing and creating custom Harleys here in London.
Now, my official title is Head of Design and Custom – and I work closely with customers to create something unique. Of course, people are always inspired by other bikes they have seen out there. The rise and rise of social media has led to a whole universe of bikes that inspire. People can share pictures and ideas instantly and that has made a huge difference to the development of the custom scene. I always try to take the essence of the idea and the customers’ wants, their riding style, the bikes that have inspired them, and try always to create something fresh and unique.
The difference between what we do and what either little custom shops or other mainstream manufacturers are doing is that we offer a full follow-up service. We make sure that when you order a custom bike from us, you’re getting the exact same level of sales and after-service that you get when you buy a stock bike.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but when you buy a Harley-Davidson, you’re not just purchasing a means of getting from A to B. You’re buying into an idea, a dream – and we help make customers very specific dream a reality. And that reality in the current range of Harleys means that not only are you getting access to that dream, it’s now combined with amazing reliability and really high standards of technology. Harley-Davidson have managed, I think, to retain that unique essence while bringing the bikes up to the current standards of build.
No matter how much technology and development goes toward these bikes, a Harley is always a Harley. And long may that continue.
After over 26 years at Warr’s, Charlie Stockwell moved onto his own project – Stockwell Design – in mid-2022 so he could focus on making people’s custom bikes dreams come true. The relationships he built with Harley-Davidson over the decades of working at Warr’s means he continues working on projects with the brand, but his independence also allows him to work on exciting new projects with other bike brands such as Triumph and BMW Motorrad.
Pics courtesy of Charlie Stockwell
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