Published On: Fri, Aug 11th, 2017

What happened to Che Guevara’s La Poderosa II?

 What made this doctor a revolutionary? Did motor cycle trips play a role in making Che a revolutionary?


by Patrick Smith

  When Ernesto “Che” Guevara was a medical college student in 1952, he and a friend decided to travel across South America by motorcycle. The chosen set of wheels was a 1947 Norton Model 18 belonging to Alberto Granado, a fellow medical student and friend of Guevara’s. Granado called the bike La Poderosa II which meant “Powerful Babe.” The II part requires a bit of explanation. In 1950, Che Guevara took a solo road trip across Argentina on a motorised Garelli bicycle equipped with a Micron engine. Garellis were Italian made. La Poderosa I was the name of the Garelli motorbicycle.

 che bike in museum

The Alberto Granado-Che Guevera Norton bike at the Che Guevera Museum in Alta Gracia, Argentina.

  Granado and Guevara left on Jan 4th 1952 after days of preparation. It was the start of a 7 month trip, exploring Argentina, Chile, Peru, Columbia and Venezuela before the duo parted and went  separate ways. The 1947 Norton  Model 18 was overloaded side bag style and left the bike precarious to ride with the uneven weight. A used bike by the time Granado bought it, this poor thing wasn’t in ideal condition for a major journey. He paid $800 for it, all the money he had! The trip was arduous for man and machine. The first day the bike was dropped twice on the road. Repairs were done on the fly for the most part using baling wire. The bike also broke down frequently, necessitating overnight stays in small village while they borrowed shop space to weld stuff, improvise fixes and patch their rear tires several times during the journey.

 che bicycle

This is what the Garelli moto bicycle looks like in the Che Guevera Museum in Argentina.

 A typical situation follows; leaving Bahia Blanco, the duo had 9 crashes with the Norton going downhill. Their headlight was inoperative, and the frame was broken by that time. They had to walk 20 kilometers to Piedro del Aquila to weld the frame up. The bike was so back heavy from the saddle bag weight and extra passenger, any kind of uneven surface made it porpoise and lose control. By the time they reached San Martin de los Andes, they had to repair the kick starter and the bodywork of the Norton was just trashed. A cool event happened while there. Che Guevara and Alberto Granados attended the motorcar race held at a local track. In exchange for free food, wine and watching the event, they were barbecue assistants, loading firewood on trucks and unloading at the site. No comments were made on the race itself but Granados was a fan citing Oscar Galvez , noted Argentinian race driver whenever he repaired his Norton using baling wire.

Alberto Granado (l) and Ernesto Guevera (center, helmut) pose before leaving on their great adventure

  In Lake Nuapi, the rear tire blew out yet again. A serious problem happened leaving Temuco in Chile. A spill on the road destroyed one front fork and damaged their gearbox.  A truck ride took time to obtain and repairs of a makeshift nature were done at Lautaro. You can see in this vintage pic a completely different style of fork and steering column on the front of the Norton. Possibly an older military bike’s girder fork instead of the Road Holder fork this bike was supposed to have. The Norton was taking a pounding and it couldn’t hold up much longer. The end came en route to Malleco, on a high hill. The bike gave up. The duo got a lift to Los Angeles (Chile) and stored the bike at a fire station while they looked around for a shop to do repairs. A tip from a local about an Austin car garage in Santiago fizzled out when they learned it was closed. Discouraged, they left the bike in the hands of the Austin garage caretaker and made their way on foot to Venezuela.

che Garelli

Che Guevara did his first bike tour in 1950 using a Garelli moto bicycle with Micron engine

Granado remained in Venezuela once the journey ended while Guevara returned to Argentina to complete his medical degree. Some years passed before he became the infamous revolutionary guerrilla in 1959. His death in Bolivia in October 1967, solidified his hero status among left wing Marxists and campus radicals in USA. In 2004 the diaries were translated and made into a movie and best selling book. The sole artifacts from his pre revolutionary life is still at large and presumably gone forever. Granado never mentioned retrieving his bike. The bike at the Che Guevara Museum in Alta Gracia, Argentina is one of those from the movie. The movie crew actually disguised a bunch of Suzukis to look like Nortons. As you can see in this museum photo, the bike is in too good a condition to be the genuine article! Likely somebody in Santiago has bits of that bike or maybe it was disassembled and spread across the remaining Nortons in the area. We’ll never know. It’s a Lost Star bike!



Sign Up Today!

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)