TVS is acquiring a legacy: Norton, Che Guevara’s ‘diesel baby’ in The Motorcycle Diaries

TVS is acquiring a legacy: Norton, Che Guevara’s ‘diesel baby’ in The Motorcycle Diaries

A buddy, a bike and an epic road trip that would change the course of his life and world history. No guesses here–the reference is to Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and the epic bike trip he undertook with his friend, Alberto Granado starting 1952. What began as a bike trip of two friends eventually went on to rewrite the Latin American history forever. All thanks to a bike–Norton 500cc motorcycle. 

On Friday, Indian business circles were abuzz with the acquisition news of British bike manufacturer Norton Motorcycles by TVS Motor Company, a Tamil Nadu-based motor company, in an all-cash transaction of GBP 16 million. It was no secret that Norton, the maker of the iconic Commando and Dominator series, was looking for a saviour. The 122 year-old motorcycle company was swept off to a corner due to a number of overwhelming factors, including Brexit, unpaid taxes and international competition. 

However, before all these were the heydays when Norton Motorcycles, unwittingly, played an irreplaceable role in world political history, especially the Latin American politics. If it was not for the 1947 Norton Model 18 belonging to Granado, Che’s travel buddy, the world would not have witnessed the rise of the Argentine communist figure. Granado, also a medical student like Che, had named his “diesel van” La Poderosa II, which translates to “powerful babe.” 

However, their journey through the vast stretches of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia and Venezuela was nothing like they had anticipated. The “diesel baby” was not in an ideal condition to undertake the arduous journey. It broke down frequently, necessitating overnight stays in small villages along the journey. During these short stays, Che got a closer look of what poverty looked like. The first-hand experience sowed the seeds of a revolutionary in Che. The bike plays a poignant role in Che’s journal entries, which later became The Motorcycle Diaries

Historians and biographers now agree that the experience had a profound impact on Guevara, who would later become one of the most famous guerrilla leaders ever. “His political and social awakening has very much to do with this face-to-face contact with poverty, exploitation, illness, and suffering,” said Carlos M. Vilas, a history professor at the Universidad Nacional de Lanús in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“The trip would not have been as useful and beneficial as it was, as a personal experience, if the motorcycle had held out. This gave us a chance to become familiar with the people. We worked, took on jobs to make money and continue traveling. We hauled merchandise, carried sacks, worked as sailors, cops and doctors,” Granado said in 2004, decades after Che’s death. The duo parted and went separate ways soon after the journey. 

Apart from The Motorcycle Diaries, Norton Motorcycles is also famous for its role in James Bond film Spectre.

No doubt, with the acquisition, TVS will now own a slice of world political history. 

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