Big Breeze from Italy: 1971-76 Benelli 650 Tornado

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


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.

9/26/2019 9:46:52 AM

They are extremely durable bikes and I am speaking from experience. Very rare in the USA, and that is a pity.

9/26/2019 7:10:26 AM

The Tornado is handsome.

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