While Benelli doesn’t have the ring and recognition of Aprilia or Ducati, it is one of the oldest Italian motorcycle manufacturers in the world. Established in 1911, the company launched out to make motorcycles for sporting and transportation. The company was established in Pesario, Italy and it is likely the oldest European motorcycle company. In fact, the Moto Guzzi manufacturing plant is the oldest operable motorcycle manufacturing plant in operation in all of Europe. There is so much history surrounding the start of the company and its progression over the years.
What is amazing is that the company was able to survive the lean years leading up to the World War II and the war itself. Due to the fact that most people are completely unaware of Benelli as a motorcycle manufacturer, we decided to share some information about the bikes, the family, and a couple of other neat little secrets.
Here are 10 facts that you probably didn’t know about the Benelli family and their business endeavors.
1. The Company Also Makes Shotguns
The company actually has a reputation for making some of the nices shotguns in the world. Actually, if you are not a huge fan of hunting and centerfire rifles there is a good chance that you are not aware of the reputation that Italians have for making outstanding shotguns. The Benelli family and made an indelible imprint on this industry. The fact is that they still make shotguns, but the guns are now made by a separate company.
2. The Benelli Family Has a Connection to the Beretta Gun Company
It should not be hard to believe that two Italian gun makers would come together to create classic firearms, but for those who completely unaware, here is what happened. The funny thing is the Benelli family and the Beretta family came together, but it was not to make guns, it was to make automobiles. Go figure. The prototype they created was known as Beretta, Benelli Castelbarco.
3. Desperation Was the Force Behind the Company's Big Push
Before Teresa Benelli lost her husband and became a widow in 1921, the Benelli motorcycle company was a small family business. However, after the death of her husband, Teresa invested all of the family’s capital into the business with the hopes that the company would grow and provide work for her six sons. During this same time, she sent two of her sons to Switzerland to study engineering.
4. It All Started as a Repair Shop
Before the Benelli family launched its manufacturing arm, it was simply a small garage that repaired bicycles and motorcycles. What is interesting is that the company was able to produce any necessary parts required to repair motorcycles, so the ability to manufacturer motorcycle-related material was already underway.
5. The War Dealt a Significant Blow to the Company’s Growth
While the company was ultimately able to survive World War II, it was not without challenges. In fact, the company ended up having to stop production until 1949. Once the war was over, the company was able to sell motorcycles that were meant to be used by the Italian army. It was 10 years before the company was able to get back to full strength.
6. The Benelli Tornado 650
It was in 1969 that the company made one of its popular models to date, the Tornado 650 S. When you what are considered to be classic European style motorcycles, it is this bike that set the mold. At the time, the Tornado was pretty impressive, it was able to generate 57 hp and reach a top speed of 17 mph. I know that does not seem very impressive when compared to bikes that easily approach 200 mph, but at the time it was remarkable.
7. The Japanese Entry Caused Serious Problems
Before the Japanese companies like Yamaha, Suzuki, and Honda entered the market, Benelli had its heels planted firmly in the American motorcycle market, but the more powerful and sporty Japanese models convinced many American bike owners that the European style bikes lacked style and power.
8. The Rebirth
After sputtering for decades, the company made an attempt to reenter the market an take a relevant position, but the initial attempt was unsuccessful. It was not until 1995 when Andrea Merloni took over the company that it once again showed promise. The Tornado Tre 900 supersport bike was released in 2002 and it held its own. Shortly after that, the company released the TNT roadster.
9. No Longer Authentically Italian
While true bike enthusiasts recognize the deep Italian roots associated with the Benelli brand, the company is no longer authentically Italian. The company is a part of the Qianjian motor group in southeast China. While the bike company is a long way from home, the new style and creative energy that goes into its design are quite refreshing.
10. It Racing History
One of Teresa’s sons, Tonino Benelli is the true legend behind the racing legacy of the brand. Tonino had a natural feel for racing and he developed the technical skill to go along with it. Not only did Tonino when the Italian championship, he won it multiple times. So, it was a Benelli that carry the racing model into the history books.
Written by Rick Wallace
Read more posts by Rick Wallace