May 19, 2024

Benelli On the Road to Recovery

Famous Italian motorcycle brand aiming for former glory.

As one of the oldest Italian brands, Benelli Motorcycles has had a very chequered history.

Started in 1911, Benelli built its first complete engine in-house in 1920, a single-cylinder two-stroke 75cc model. A year later came its first motorcycle, using their own engine which had grown to 98cc.

The company ventured into race bikes and as World War II loomed, Benelli debuted their four-cylinder supercharged 250cc racing bike. Unfortunately though, the war forced the company out of production until 1949.

By 1951 there was a range consisting of 98cc and 125cc lightweights and 350cc and 500cc singles. In the early 60’s Benelli acquired break away company Motobi, and in 1969 introduced the Benelli Tornado 650 which earned an exceptional reputation for reliability and high performance.

Competition from new Japanese manufacturers in the late 1960’s brought unforeseen competition to the European manufacturers and Benelli found itself in trouble.

The struggling company along with its competitor Moto Guzzi was acquired by Argentinian industrialist Alejandro de Tomaso in 1973. After another surge in popularity and demise largely due to quality issues, production was shut down again in 1988.

Industrial tycoon Giancarlo Selci bought Benelli in 1989 and targeted the scooter market unsuccessfully. Then in 1995 the Merloni Group of Fabriano purchased the majority stake of the brand and did reasonably well for a number of years before this attempt at creating stability also failed.

Help came again in 2005 when Chinese manufacturer Qianjiang purchased Benelli and has owned it since.

With huge amounts of capital behind it and a focus on quality, Benelli Q.J., as it is now called, has been working on rebuilding the brand to its former glory.

There is now 6 motorcycles and 5 scooters currently in production with engine capacities ranging from 50 to 1130cc.

Five new Benelli models were also unveiled at the recent EICMA show.

The model name “Leoncino” that features prominently in the brand’s history returns attached to a  500cc parallel twin engined scrambler. The engine produces 35kW, the bike has a big 19 inch front wheel and brakes by Brembo.

A new “TRK 502” adventure bike is built off the same platform and appears very similar to the much larger Ducati Multistrada 1200. This bike has 17 inch wheels with the option of 19 inch for off-road use.

The new Benelli “Tornado 302” sportsbike is designed to be direct completion to the current crop of 300’s from Japan. It runs an inline twin engine that produces 26kW, a classic trestle frame that gives the bike that characteristic Benelli style and ABS brakes.

Also bearing the Tornado name is the new “Tornado Naked T”, a 125cc minibike and finally a 250cc motored – the “BX250”.

All new models are expected to be released locally in the second half of 2016.

Steve McDowall