Big Breeze from Italy: 1971-76 Benelli 650 Tornado

Comparing the Benelli Tornado with the parallel-twin alternatives Triumph T140 Bonneville and Yamaha XS650.

| September/October 2019

650-tornado 

Benelli 650 Tornado

Years Produced: 1971-1976
Power: 52-57hp @ 7,200rpm
Top Speed: 97 mph (period test)
Engine: 643cc (84mm x 58 mm) air-cooled, OHV parallel twin
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Weight/MPG: 480lb wet/40-50mpg (avg.)
Price then/now: $1,779 (1973)/$2,000-$9,000

Timing may not be everything, but bad timing can scuttle the best of plans. Through most of the 1960s, parallel twins dominated the U.S. market for half-liter-plus motorcycles. And while Honda’s CB450 could give a British twin a good run, Bonnevilles and Lightnings ruled the strip and the sales charts. Not surprising, then, that Pesaro-based Benelli — then the biggest motorcycle maker in Italy — would plan a 650cc parallel twin aimed at U.S. buyers.

Well established as the supplier of Wards-Riverside commuter bikes, Benelli should have had a strong tailwind. But U.S. importer Cosmopolitan lacked an adequate dealer network, and like other makers of big twins, Benelli hadn’t reckoned with Honda’s game-changing 1969 CB750 Four. Just when Benelli was gearing up for its new kickstart-only, OHV, drum-braked twin, Big Red’s smooth four-banger arrived with an overhead cam, electric start and disc brake. The game was over before it started.



Not that the Tornado was a bad motorcycle. Designer Piero Prampolini used his experience with racing engines to pen a compact short-stroke, overhead-valve twin-cylinder engine with horizontally split cases and wet sump lubrication. Below the 84mm pistons were roller bearing rods driving a built-up 360-degree crankshaft with a large central flywheel running on four main ball and roller bearings. A single helical gear on the crank drove both the camshaft (also running on rollers) and the mutiplate clutch. The 5-speed tranny drove the back wheel by chain. The 58mm stroke sucked mixture through a single 30mm Dell’Orto VHB carb. A DC generator supplied the 12-volt electrical system, with ignition by battery/coil and contact breaker. Electrical components were by Bosch.

The power unit sat in a dual downtube spine frame with a Marzocchi front fork and dual coil spring/dampers at the rear, and spoked wheels running on Borrani alloy rims. A double-sided, single-leading-shoe front brake and rear SLS drum provided stopping power. A makeover for the 1973 season included a Bosch alternator and electric start — but the drum brake continued until production ceased in 1976.



The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5.00 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $29.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $34.95 for a one year subscription!




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

click me