Italian three-cylinder exotica that’s a coming classic!
The Benelli Tornado: what a marvellously over-the-top masterpiece, borne from a heady mix of washing machine money, a desire to ‘do a Ducati’ and all from the pen of a Brit. Of course, we’re not talking about the original Benelli Tornado parallel twin from way back when here, but a three-cylinder unique-looking beast which was supposedly the start of a brave new world for Benelli but instead it all turned up as too little, too late. The original Benelli Tornado Novecentro Tre broke cover way back in 1999. The bike was the brainchild of Benelli’s new owner, Andrea Merloni, who also headed up the huge Indesit white goods company. Initially releasing a range of small-capacity scooters in the late 1990s, the arrival of a certain Dr Riccardo Rosa (ex of the Cagiva 500cc GP team) showed that they meant business on a much grander scale. Penned by British designer Adrian Morton (who previously had worked at the Cagiva Research Centre under Massimo Tamburini, during development of the Ducati 916) this was a visual smack in the kisser in silver and green. The bike was originally powered by a Rosa-designed 898cc liquid-cooled inline triple of 114bhp and that narrow motor gave
the Tre a svelte, head-on aspect. The chassis was similarly special, being a mix of bolted and glued cast parts and tubular frame rails/members, a curved ‘banana’ swingarm and upside-down forks with Brembo brake calipers, but it was the bodywork that got your attention. This was an attractive mix of straight lines, angles and curves and the real USP was the two large yellow fans buried in the seat unit, which were to aid the cooling of the motor. And boy did it need those fans as this gloriously rorty triple did run somewhat hot and Benelli claimed that putting the radiator under the seat also helped slim the bike down and give it much better weight distribution and a steep steering head angle for super-quick steering out on the road. It all sounded spiffing, but ultimately timing and quality control were the two big enemies of the Tornado. The triple was originally designed to take advantage of the then-current World Superbike rules where triples of 900-or-so cc could compete against 750cc fours and 1000cc twins and legendary development rider/racer Pete Goddard did run the bike in ‘Indesit’ livery towards the end of 2001 (with a best of two 13ths at Brands and Imola) and into 2002 with a best of 11th at Assen. For 2003 1000cc four-cylinder bikes were allowed, meaning that Benelli didn’t even bother turning up. The road bike though was seriously impressive. The motor made all the right noises and even in that first 900cc format produced enough power – it was just that the 600 Supersport class and litre-class sportsbikes of the time were pumping out more… This is where it was just a little bit too late. A move to an 1130cc version (with a claimed 160bhp) in 2006 did show the way they should have originally gone, but by then it was too little too late. So, we mentioned reliability. Well, initially poor dealer support and back-up meant that owners were often left in the lurch as the issues piled up. They included leaky dashboards, clutch issues, a corroding middle spark plug (due to the air-box drain hole being right above it) starting issues and expensive servicing with associated cam-chain changes every 14k and checks at 6k. Thankfully, later on the Benelli UK importer Motogb would give each machine that came through its warehouse a good going over to sort the air-box and clutch issues before they went out to the dealer network. Today, some Tornado models are utter bargains… Motogb was even selling the last 900 Tres for just £5999 in 2012. At the same time the LE – or ‘Limited Edition’ was going for £13,999 – this was the model the World Superbike machines were supposedly homologated from – and the 1130cc model for £10,999. This was a huge saving over the launch price in 2001 of £9939 in November 2002 for the base model. Models released also included the 2004 RS, which had OZ wheels, Marzocchi forks, radial Brembos and a bit more oomph from the triple. So, what would we go for? Well, for riding the later models are undoubtedly the best performers, but they’re not the most collectible – although rarity of all Tornados gives you some degree of that. We’ve seen used original 2002-2003 models for as low as £2650 with sub-4000 milers at under five grand, but that’s a bike you’d want to keep pristine. Still – at the time of writing – some of Motogb’s dealers are flogging brand-new LE models for £12,999 and if we had the cash, we’d buy one and hermetically seal it up for two decades’ time… However, if you like to use your classic, we’d find a well-sorted early model, or RS for anything between £3500-£4500; enjoy it for a while, then stash it away. It’s a slice of Italian exotica history…
Cool clocks often misted thanks to water ingress.