Tornado 650 road test
Illustareted March 1971
Italy in sunny
southen Europe, with a reputation for wine,
pizza and exlusive GT cars, also knows how to
produce motorcycles. This feeling for grace
and guts, is very much apparent in the latest
addition to the Swedish big 'bike market, the
Benelli Tornado. The machine is built for the
dollar market, and this particular model was
also meant for the US, but was borrowed to test
buyer appeal in Sweden. 'No decision has been
made to import it as yet, but we still thought
the 'bike of interest, and believe this test
to be a European scoop.
Benelli is, in fact, Italy's largest motorcycle
producer, even though the bulk of production
is made up of mini-bikes. The firm has been
in business since before World War One, and
descendants of the original Benelli brothers
are still in charge. Formerly small 'bikes dominated
the Benelli programme, but to get a foot on
the American continent one needs all sizes in
the model range. And one also needs a prestige
model. So Benelli decided to make a real heavy-weight,
aimed at the traditional British Big 'Bike Buyer.
The first prototype was very English in appearance,
with an obviously Metisse inspired frame. Then
they though better of it, realised Italy has
enough good designers not to have to copy something,
and came up with this 650 from scratch.
The new Benelli strikes an Italian note; beautiful,
clean lines. The deep blue and white finish
contrasts with a black frame, and chrome in
abundance. The cradle frame with two front tubes
and a single under the tank follows modern convention.
The rear shock absorbers are Ceriani while the
front fork, which looks Ceriani, comes from
another Italian firm. The fork legs are naked,
with special rubber seals protecting the innards
when the legs are moving. Brakes are one of
the Benelli's strong points; the Grimecca units
have hubs cast in aluminium. Benelli have always
been active in racing, and many of the lessons
learned have been incorporated in the front
brake, which,has twin leading shoes - not just
on one side but on both. The hub is 230 mm and
houses two parrs of brake pads. These are manoeuvred
by one cable from the brake lever to a junction
box, from where two cables take the movement
to each brake arm. The junction is identical
to that on the racing Benelli As far as we know,
this brake is unique for a mass-produced standard
'bike. We were happy to see that Benelli has
spent so much money on this important safety
factor. The sis rear brake is also a nice job,
and it reflects the overall high quality of
the machine. The diameter of the rear unit is
187 mm, and the 'bike weighs 182 kg.
The engine is also very interesting. The crank
case is split horizontally, through the crankshaft
and gearbox bearings. We believe this to be
Japanese practice, and it has been taken up
by both Laverda and Benelli. The result is usually
a very oiltight unit. Most characteristic feature
of the engine is the extremely short stroke,
58 mm, as compared to a bore of 84 mm, measurements
pointing to a high-revving engine. Maximum power,
58 bhp, is delivered at 7400 rpm, but there
is a tuned version giving 60 at eight-two. These
figures indicate a fairly high state of tune
for a conventional ohv twin of 643 ccs. Maximum
torque is 5.5 kpm, rather high up in the register
at 4100 rpm.
The big bore allows for big valves; the intake
has a diameter of 38 mm, the exhaust 35. An
overhead cam and 180° crank would have been
no surprise, but Benelli didn't go that Japanese.
The valves are operated by pushrods from the
camshaft, which sits on four ballbearings
in front of the cylinders, in the split plane.
The crankshaft is also robust, resting on four
roller- and ballbearings. The flywheel is located
centrally, between the inner mains, which gives
a short and robust shaft. The two pistons run
parallel in light alloy cylinders with cast-in
linings; both cylinders and heads are separate
and each held on to the crankcase by four through-bolts.
In other words, an easy-to-work-on engine. You
needn't lift the whole top off if you only want
to look at, say, the right hand piston.
Engine and gearbox are lubricated with the
same oil — there is no wall between engine
and 'box. This is typical Italian practice,
also found on Ducati. There are two different
oil filters, a coarse, meshed one at the pump's
suction pipe, and a finer car-type filter, which
is reached through the bottom of the crankcase.
The oil level is visibly checked through a glass
inspection "eye" on the right
of the crankcase.
On the right-hand side of the crankshaft, helical
gears take up the drive to the clutch and camshaft.
The clutch is a multiplate unit running in oil.
The kick and gear-change pedals are also on
this side. The generator has been designed with
future electric starting in mind. Electrical
equipment is mounted on the left side,
where the two contact-breakers, with fly-weights,
rotate with the camshaft. The Bosch DC generator
above the gearbox is belt-driven, and other
Bosch components are: ignition coils under the
tank, voltage regulator and, two six volt batteries
in series, giving twelve volts, and a capacity
of 12 ah (amp hours).
Carburetters are Dell'Orto Concentric, 29 mm,
with square slides. They cannot be flooded but
there is a choke, operated from a lever on the
We have already said that this motorcycle
is a fine piece of engineering, and the more
you look at it, the more this is confirmed.
Benelli's chief constructor, Piero Prompolini,
has made sure that his men have not tried any
short cuts in the detail specification. Many
parts are rubber-mounted to take up vibration,
and to protect the rider from annoying resonance
sounds. Speedometer and tachometer are mounted
on rubber, as are the silencers, held at two
points in rubber. More rubber is employed at
the headlamp, tank, handlebar and the side
covers over the batteries and air filter.
Starting the Benelli was not always easy. You
open the fuel taps, close the choke and start
kicking. It usually takes some time before the
mixture is rich enough to fire up the engine
from cold and we counted three kicks as an average.
The engine is quiet, though it takes on a racy
note at high revs. The short stroke and light
flywheel, we think, make the engine very willing
to rev. When warm it is very responsive, and
runs up the rev-band unusually fast. The Italian-made
rev counter unfortunately lagged way behind
- a quick twist of the grip and accompanying
rise in the engine note registered only 3000
when we were definitely around 5000. The engine
may not be very sensitive to over-revving, but
to do it repeatedly in the lower gears might
do some harm in time. A more accurate instrument
is definitely wanted.
The riding position is a good compromise
for high-speed work and town pottering, with
a handlebar that is not extreme in any T.T.
or Hell's Angels direction. Footrests are folding
and the rubbers have reinforced foot pads, eliminating
the customary tingle. They are not very durable,
though, and after some use will probably wear
down and look like ordinary rubbers. The seat
is comfortable, hard rather than soft, good
for a long run. It is easily removable by unfastening
two screws, revealing the tool-kit.
One immediately feels at home in the saddle,
and it gives no impression of being a 182 kg
heavyweight; it is much more like a nimble 350.
It is easy to navigate through heavy traffic,
and there is no problem in broadsliding round
bends on gravel roads, at the other hand. A
warning, though: accelerating out of corners
on non-paved roads (a favourite pastime on secondary
roads in Sweden!), or going over humpbacks
too fast, the engine revs soar and the rear
wheel easily spins. (/'// remember that. Ed).
The 'bike's natural environment is, of course,
good roads and high speed touring, and at this
the Benelli also excels, although at really
high speeds the riding position offers a bit
too much wind resistance. With a slight crouch,
we had 6500 on the rev-counter (it can accept
a slow rise of revolutions) and that corresponds
to roughly 105 mph. Under favourable circumstances
one may get another 500 revs, but the Benelli,
as most 'bikes, is somewhat overgeared. You
are not likely to reach maximum revs in high
gear. We must commend the powerplant on its
extreme smoothness — no vibration at any
speed due, as we said, to the short stroke and
low weight, rather than to the rubber.
Five gears on such a powerful 'bike seems a
waste, but the reason is that power comes in
some way up the rev-band. There is nothing under
2000; at three it starts coming in, but the
real fun begins at four. A standing quarter
mile takes just over 14 seconds. To keep yourself
and engine happy, the gearbox has to be used
frequently. The mechanism works well but there
is a notch between each gear which has to be
passed. It means very little in practice, but
when changing down (pedal up) we had to take
care that the gear really is engaged.
Clutch and gearbox gave no trouble whatsoever
and required very little effort. Clutch and
front brake cables are protected by rubber
covers at the lever ends, to the credit of the
Benelli detail designers.
Handling androadholdingare, of course, outstanding,
which well they should be, considering the enormous
amount of lire the firm has spent on the race
tracks. The front fork has a friction-type-
steering brake that can be setfpj different
road conditions. Brake slackened for gravel
and town work, taut for motorway travel, seemed
the right settings. First to ground are the
foot rests, but as they fold this was no problem.
Silencers don't touch the tarmac, even though
we had expected them to, as the exhaust pipes
go a long way out from the engine. The side
stand could be better situated. Putting your
foot on the rest depresses the stand somewhat,
so that it "scratches" when cornering
on the limit. Nothing dramatic happens, though
— it just presses back on the foot-rest.
The suspension on our machine was rather firm,
like the seat, but the season must take some
blame for this. It was early November when we
had the 'bike, and the low temperature raised
the viscosity of the oil. Despite this, the
suspension provided a good standard of comfort
and functioned well. Every pot-hole was swallowed
up in a progressive way, and we never bottomed
front or rear. Braking was superb — th«
front brake is terrifyingly effective, and had
to be used with discrimination. It wil stand
up to very hard use from high speed; and due
to big brake area and good ventilation, heat
generation is low, providing an extremely
The rear brake also impressed us. This if an
often overlooked component or modern motorcycles
On many 'bikes the sprocket is in unit with
the brake drum, and the whole bolted to the
hub. With this method heat dissipation is poor.
BeneH and other leading 'bike builders do it
this way: sprocket on one side (the left), and
the brake drum shrunk into the aluminium hub,
on the other.
It is difficult to say anything about Benelli
quality, as the marque is new to us. But if
you look at details, you find'many nice touches
and costly solutions to design problems. Look
at the crank and camshafts, on four bearings,
the needle bearings for the big and small
ends. Look at the lavish use of rubber, even
though we can think of a few twins that could
use it more. Look ait the brakes.
The Benelli will not be cheap, in any sense
of the word, when it comes to Sweden - if it
does. You will get what you pay for, though.
We think we can say that much, after reluctantly
returning this beauty to its would-be importer.
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