The Benelli Sei 750
The Italian answer to the Japanese onslaught
Italian for six, the styling of the “Sei” is considered tame by some. Still, there’s no denying the appeal of those six chrome pipes.
Photo by Nick Cedar
Benelli Sei 750
Years produced: 1974-1977
Total production: 3,200
Claimed power: 71hp @ 8,500rpm (factory rating)
Top speed: 126mph (period test)
Engine type: 747cc overhead cam, air-cooled inline six
Weight (dry): 220.4kg (485lb)
Price then: $3,995
Price now: $3,500-$7,500
MPG: 28-35 (period test)
It was the fall of 1972 when the Benelli Sei 750 was first unveiled before a large audience of Italian dignitaries and journalists from all over the world. As the sheet came off the Sei, the first production six-cylinder motorcycle ever presented to the public, Alejandro De Tomaso made a proclamation: he was declaring war on the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers.
De Tomaso, a well-known sports car builder and stylist, had purchased the venerable Benelli company the year before, and directed its engineers to produce a new motorcycle — and not just any motorcycle, but a beautiful, stylish, well behaved six-cylinder motorcycle with up-to-date components.
Read Barry Porter's review of owning and riding a Benelli Sei 750
To understand De Tomaso’s ambitions, some context is helpful. The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of great flux in the motorcycle world. The end of World War II brought with it poverty for many in Europe and Asia, and a pressing need for inexpensive transportation. In addition, many returning American soldiers had become interested in the motorcycles they had seen — and ridden — overseas.
The American and English factories made a swift changeover from war production to building small bikes for the civilian market, and numerous startups in Italy and Japan began production.
In a few years, the situation had changed dramatically. By the early Fifties, many American motorcyclists had married and traded in their two-wheeler for a washing machine. Indian went out of business, while Harley Davidson eked out a living on police sales. The British factories made money for a while longer, but, claiming they had to keep their shareholders happy, soldiered on with prewar machine tooling. By the early Sixties, prosperity and inexpensive small cars led many of their customers to discard the motorbike for an Austin Mini.
While the British companies were watching their customer base shrink, the Japanese startups had shaken out into a few well-financed survivors, who plowed most of their profits into state of the art machine tooling. In March 1973, Cycle Guide noted, “For the past 20 years, the Japanese have kept buyers in the States to snap up new manufacturing processes and machine tools sometimes several years in advance of the Detroit auto makers.” As a result, the Japanese could build multi-cylinder, oil-tight engines with electric starters, which they sold for a reasonable price.
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