1973 Benelli Tornado 650S

The 1973 Benelli Tornado 650S had some design idiosyncrasies, but its power and smooth handling made it a great road bike.

| November/December 2009

  • gas tank and gauges of benelli tornado 650S
    The Benelli Tornado "dashboard" has three indicator lights and two gauges.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • Benelli Tornado 650S parked by roadside
    The Benelli Tornado 650S is a compact but robust bike — sort of like a Honda Benly that's been pumping iron and abusing steroids.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • benelli tornado rider on tilted landscape
    The Tornado gives the impression you could ride it all day at 70mph and it wouldn't miss a beat.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • angled kickstarter of Benelli Tornado 650S
    The unusually angled kickstarter on the 1973 Benelli Tornado 650S is a curious feature.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • Benelli name printed on Benelli Tornado 650S seat upholstery
    Long, flat seat on the 1973 Benelli Tornado 650S features a prominent Benelli logo.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • starter button and handgrip of Benelli Tornado 650S
    The oversized starter button on the 1973 Benelli Tornado 650S.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • Benelli Tornado 650S facing left
    “Tidy” and “purposeful” define the design on the 1973 Benelli Tornado 650S.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • front wheel brake of Benelli Tornado 650S
    Custom builders now prize the signature front brake drum on the 1973 Benelli Tornado 650S.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton
  • rider rounding a curve on the Benelli Tornado 650S
    The Benelli Tornado tracks well through curves and straightaways.
    Photo by James Adam Bolton

  • gas tank and gauges of benelli tornado 650S
  • Benelli Tornado 650S parked by roadside
  • benelli tornado rider on tilted landscape
  • angled kickstarter of Benelli Tornado 650S
  • Benelli name printed on Benelli Tornado 650S seat upholstery
  • starter button and handgrip of Benelli Tornado 650S
  • Benelli Tornado 650S facing left
  • front wheel brake of Benelli Tornado 650S
  • rider rounding a curve on the Benelli Tornado 650S

Benelli Tornado 650S
Years produced:
 1968 – 1976
Claimed power: 57hp @ 7,400rpm
Top speed: 97mph (period test)
Engine type: 642cc OHV air-cooled parallel twin
Weight (wet): 480lb (217kg)
Price then: $1,779 (1973)
Price now: $3,500-$6,000
MPG: 40-50

I know absolutely nothing about the story behind this particular 1973 Benelli Tornado 650S. It has no documented history that I know of. No boxes of receipts and musty old records to its name. No “owner Jim bought this bike in 10 boxes, spent five years restoring it and it has won many show prizes” story.

The most specific information I can register by looking at the machine is that it has Benelli badges on the tank, “650S” on the side panels, and it’s a parallel twin. I know that it’s also called a Tornado and I haven’t ridden one like it before. I maybe even unconsciously and sentimentally picked it out from a couple of bikes on offer at a shop because the metal flake lime green looks to have come from the same batch of paint floating around Europe in 1970 that also fabulously adorned the Ford Cortina 1600E my dad used to own.

Perhaps that’s not a logical reason to ride and write about an old motorcycle, but it’s as good as any; non-scientific, random, and more honest, perhaps? It’s also refreshing to try out a bike and have no expectations to fulfill. No concerned owner worried about their pride and joy being ridden by someone else they’ve only known for 10 minutes. No having to recall someone saying “remember what I said about the front brake” or “don’t take her past 3,500rpm.” Walking round and round a motorcycle and taking mental notes, as well as those with pencil and paper, is always best done alone.



First Impressions

On first look, my feelings are slightly mixed. The Benelli Tornado 650S is a very compact but robust looking bike — sort of like a Honda Benly that’s been pumping iron and abusing steroids. A graceful swan it is not. Bits of it just seem, well, big. The massive front brake, the large, slabby side panels, the fat, oversized rubber grips and big, child-friendly black starter button. The aluminum crankcase features generous surfaces, and is topped with a barrel and cylinder head that seem to want to burst out of the confines of the frame. Stubby but tapered silencers sit at an angle that doesn’t help to elongate the profile of the Benelli. The handlebars are low on this bike, and being Tomassellis, I suspect they’re not the original equipment. Researching later, I find that most Tornados had higher bars, though there is one factory photo that shows this same model with bars at just this height. Italian parts bins of the era so often cause the confusions of today.

This bike appears to be in a more or less original, unrestored condition. The chrome is good but slightly dulled, and the alloy is clean but slightly mottled and grubby here and there. The paint work is in good condition but would benefit from half an hour and a can of rubbing compound and some elbow grease. In short, it looks to be a good, classic Italian motorcycle in usable, honest condition. I like bikes like this very much.



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