Ital­ian three-cylin­der ex­ot­ica that’s a com­ing clas­sic!

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS -

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.

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