Don’t cry for me Edgar

Old Bike Australasia - - WHAT'S ON - Edgar Jes­sop

Many read­ers will think of Che Gue­vara as a high-spir­ited, Nor­ton-rid­ing dude with half a mous­tache. In­vet­er­ate er­satz BSA builder and Edgar Jes­sop fan Doug Fraser has dis­cov­ered an­other side to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

On a re­cent trip to Bo­livia I came across this pic­ture and scrib­bled on the back were the words: “The le­gendary Edgar Jes­sop stand­ing be­side the rel­a­tively un­known chap by the name of Ernesto Gue­vara.” At­tached with a pin were a cou­ple of pages pos­si­bly torn from a di­ary con­tain­ing a story writ­ten partly in Span­ish and partly in English. For the read­ers in­ter­est I have done my best to trans­late. “Dur­ing the win­ter months (off-sea­son for rac­ing) Edgar would re­turn to Gig­gleswick and would usu­ally stay at Sir Car­ruthers’ man­sion where gen­er­ally bor­ing times (apart from eat­ing and drink­ing) were to be had. This year turned out to be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent as Sir Car­ruthers’ twin daugh­ters Sala­man­der and Gertrude had just re­turned home from fin­ish­ing school. Edgar, be­ing a kind hearted fel­low, felt it was his duty to of­fer the girls a class they may not have taken at fin­ish­ing school. A mé­nage a` trois evolved and the win­ter months seemed to just slip by. That was un­til Sala­man­der dis­cov­ered Edgar was con­duct­ing a sim­i­lar class with Papa’s very pri­vate sec­re­tary –a Miss Enid Sharples. Should Sir Car­ruthers ever dis­cover this, Edgar would be hung, drawn and quar­tered and also lose his hand­some an­nual re­mu­ner­a­tion. When the girls laid out the op­tions in front of him, he did what any sen­si­ble man would do: he ran as fast and as far from Gig­gleswick as he could. He had a few Euro­pean friends in rac­ing cir­cles who, shall we say, had im­mi­grated to South America: Ar­gentina, to be pre­cise. Buenos Aires would be his des­ti­na­tion. But alas, after an evening with the ship’s cap­tain and a lit­tle too much al­co­hol, Edgar ne­glected to dis­em­bark be­fore en­ter­ing the Panama Canal. When he awoke many hours later he was in the Pa­cific, not the At­lantic, and head­ing for Chile, not Ar­gentina.

After dis­em­bark­ing at the port city of Val Paraiso Edgar headed to the pub for a hard earned drink. Half­way through his first pint he heard a mo­tor­cy­cle pull up and in walked a chap who recog­nised Edgar im­me­di­ately. The chap in­tro­duced him­self as Ernesto Gue­vara, but said his friends called him ‘Che’. The two of them re­ally hit it off and a plan was hatched for Edgar to get a lift to Buenos Aires on the back of Che’s Nor­ton for the lo­cal TT meet­ing in two months time. A long and ar­du­ous trek fol­lowed, from Chile over the An­des and into Ar­gentina, ar­riv­ing just three days prior to race day.

For­tu­nately for Edgar, find­ing his old friend from the “Con­ti­nen­tal Cir­cus,” Eric Von Zip­per, did not prove to be a prob­lem. The fact that Eric was on the TT com­mit­tee was also very handy as a late en­try was eas­ily or­gan­ised. The mat­ter of what to ride had crossed Edgar’s mind but he was sure Eric would have some­thing in his shed. At lunch two days later Eric eluded to Edgar and Che that the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the TT and in par­tic­u­lar the quite sub­stan­tial prize money may not be all it’s cracked up to be. So to hedge their bets, lit­er­ally, they de­cided to re­paint Eric’s Kom­pres­sor BMW in works Spag­forth Sala­man­der rac­ing colours. This con­sisted of bat­tle­ship grey with di­ag­o­nal stripes of drab olive green: a colour scheme that would make a world war two army mo­tor­cy­cle look stun­ning. A sub­stan­tial amount of money was then placed at the last minute on the Sala­manda Spag­forth with the lo­cal book­ies, which Eric called his “in­sur­ance pol­icy”. Race day came and with the grid con­tain­ing the usual run of pre-war Bri­tish bikes, cammy Nor­tons, Ve­los, the odd Tri­umph, BSA and a cou­ple of Ital­ian Gil­eras, Edgar felt the field would be a walk over. And a walk over it was much to the book­ies dis­may. At prize giv­ing that evening Edgar was a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed, if not sur­prised, when the promised wad of cash that had been so pro­moted turned out to be a deed to a power boat named the Grand Mama. To add in­sult to in­jury it was nowhere near Buenos Aires: it was moored in Can­cun, Mex­ico. News of Edgar’s suc­cess on the Spag­forth Sala­man­der quickly spread all the way back to Gig­glesick – it was, after all, the Sala­man­der’s only TT vic­tory. Edgar was sum­moned, all ex­penses paid. The prodi­gal son had re­turned. With no need for a power boat, Edgar gave the deed pa­per to Che, who later used it with his friends Camilla Cien­frago, Raul and Fidel Cas­tro to travel to Cuba and start the revo­lu­tion. For read­ers who are in­ter­ested, the boat the Grand Mama can still be seen in the Mu­seum of the Revo­lu­tion in Ha­vana, Cuba.

Edgar Jes­sop (third from right) with Ernesto Gue­vara dur­ing a stop en route to Buenos Aires where the Nor­ton was re­con­di­tioned with sur­plus Spag­forth parts car­ried by Edgar in his un­der­pants.

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