His main interest was always road testing: he rapidly became an expert whose opinion was widely sought, rising to be Autocar's road test editor. That's no mean achievement when you consider that this organ invented road testing from 1927, and its opinion on key cars continues to be keenly sought by many experts worldwide, including the car makers themselves.
Harris was always restless, and was always likely to leave, and he did it in 2008, working at various outlets as a freelance journalist, then at a pioneering video project, Driver's Republic, which briefly thrived but closed. He has since found prominence via his own YouTube channel, Chris Harris on Cars, which has garnered a huge audience, and which undoubtedly brought him to the attention of the BBC.
Apart from his presenting skills, Chris Harris looks like fulfilling two more vital roles at the reconstituted Top Gear. He'll be the bloke who really knows cars and the bloke who can really drive. Until now, for all the star appeal, the new TG team has lacked these rather obvious elements. And as those who attend the Goodwood Revival also know, Harris is also the bloke who can really race.
It will be fascinating to see how Harris fares, working in the company of high-ranking egotists who know considerably less than he does.
At Autocar, he never suffered fools (not, at least, without giving them his opinion) and he has become more strident with the years. Headline spats with Ferrari (about untypical road test cars) and Lamborghini (about their cars' capabilities not matching their looks) are only part of the story. When you consider that TG is always going to be a much more stage-managed environment than Harris has worked in before, it's possible to foresee controversy. Perhaps that's part of the reason why they want him.
One thing is for certain: Harris will have the best car opinions of the lot of them. He will become the TG character people want most to hear from, and we choose to think that's partly because of what he learned so well right here at Autocar.