This incarnation of the Italian parallel twin is called the 650S. Does that ‘S’ stand for ‘storm’ or ‘squall’, ponders Paul Miles…
Walking rounnd the shiny blue Italiann bike (why is
it Latin bikees only exist in two states; ultra-shiny or tree trunk brown with rust? I’ve never seen a gently patinated example) I experienced a slight sense of déjà vu. A few years ago I was lucky enough to test a very early example of the 650 Tornado, badged a Motobi (see RC88), whereas this later twin proudly displayed the rampant Benelli lion and crown of stars. Families, eh?
Although fundamentally similar, the later machines differ in a few important areas. Most obviously, this Benelli has a huge, rubber-mounted button on the bars. It must operate either the world’s loudest and most powerful horn or, whisper it quietly, an electric start. The beautiful – but almost impossible to decipher – art deco instruments and quite hopeless switchgear had also been replaced in the Mk2 versions with almost-useful handlebar controls and worthy but uninspiring-looking clocks, similar to those found on other models in the range. By the time this cracker rolled off the line in 1972 De Tomaso had taken the helm and was busy trying to bring the entire Benelli range up to date in both style and manufacturing processes.
This modernisation led, ironically, to the premature demise of the Tornado model. The 1970s needed overhead cams and multiple cylinders to woo prospective buyers, not a boring old pushrod twin. Yet, back in 1967 when it was first displayed at the Milan show (where else?), the 650 pushrod twins were bywords for performance. With horizontally split crankcases securely grasping a massive, four bearing crank and undersquare dimensions of 84mm x 58mm, this new twin promised lots of revs and fewer leaks than its marketleading British cousins. Despite being well received, extensive testing, including 40,000 mile shakedown rides that revealed no significant problems, they delayed the launch until 1970.
The original, kickstart-only bike claimed 50bhp and a kerbside weight of 210kg. Sales proved steady, rather than spectacular, so for the 1972 season they unveiled the machine you see here, the electric start, Series Two Tornado S.