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1971 'Motobi' Benelli Tornado 650
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Benelli's 650cc Tornado parallel twin is a classic motorcycle that sits comfortably between contemporary bikes from the UK and Japan. Martin Gelder took Paul Compton's Tornado for a spin round darkest Bedfordshire...

Over-engineered. If you wan to sum up Benelli's Tornado twin, those two words are as good a starting place as any. I climbed onto Paul's Benelli straight after riding his Gilera 125 two stroke (which is another story, for a later date) and the contrast between the nineties Gilera flyweight and the seventies Tornado bruiser was immediately apparent.

The bike is a “Series Two”1971 Motobi version of the Benelli Tornado 650. The Series One machines had four leading shoe (double sided 2LS) front brake allegedly deemed too strong for the American market, while the Motobi variants seem to have differed mainly in colour scheme and badging.

Belt drive for dynamo is behind cover 1971 'Motobi' Benelli Tornado 650

Firing up the Benelli with the slightly awkward kickstart generates an overwhelming impression of heavy metal components threshing round in a controlled manner beneath you. The engine picks up revs quickly and cleanly, sounding more like a contemporary Japanese four than a Brit twin of similar vintage. There seems to be very little flywheel inertia and while it could never be described as smooth, the engine buzzes and thrums rather than rattling and shaking.

Note oil level sight glass and 'Hedgehog' footrests. Benelli Tornado 650 engine: Unburstable?

Clunking up into first with the long travel right-side gear lever and pulling away reveals an engine with plenty of bottom end shove despite the apparently revvy nature of the oversquare engine. A large bore and a short stroke are usually combined in the chase for higher power through higher revs, and the Benelli's ratio between bore and stroke are closer to a modern Aprilia v-twin than anything to come out of Small Heath or Meriden. Or Hinckley, for that matter. However, engine designer Piero Prampolini used the radical dimensions to keep piston speed down while juggling valve lift and duration to make sure that the cylinders could be filled quickly and efficiently, creating an engine that has plenty of what we call torque without the need to flog the engine through the gearbox.

Paint job is not original! Note ignition switch in sidepanel. 1971 'Motobi' Benelli Tornado 650

This is borne out on the road. The engine pulls happily and strongly from low revs and is happy to be short shifted through the gearbox into top. There's no need to hang onto the revs in the way that the first impression suggested, and there's no real evidence of snatchiness in the power delivery or throttle response despite the lack of flywheel weight. The gearbox itself is quite heavy and fairly positive, although there is a big gap – in lever throw and in ratio – between first and the rest of the gears. I hit a few false neutrals, but that's possibly due to my brain struggling with with the wrong side, wrong way up gearbox (for me, anyway; it's a one up, four down, right-hand side change) than anything else.

Contemporary road tests described the slow speed handling as awkward and heavy but in comparison with modern bikes it feels natural, if quite top heavy. The bike carries its considerable weight fairly high and the riding position is definitely “sit on” rather than “sit in”. At higher speeds the handling is good in that it is neutral and unremarkable; it's a real benefit on greasy winter roads when a bike behaves predictably. The rear shock absorbers are the original units, with handy preload adjustment levers cast into their bodies, and the forks are stout but compliant with good damping. We later found out that the head bearings had been on the loose side of correct adjustment, but this didn't reveal itself in any poor stability; a testament to the rest of the chassis being well designed and in good shape, perhaps.

Everything about this bike is beefy. Front bake is a double sided single leading shoe drum

The front brake is the same double sided, single leading shoe Grimeca unit fitted to drum braked Morini Sports, and is powerful once the slack in the stiff and heavyweight cables is taken up. The rear drum brake is rod operated via a cross-over linkage and was positive in operation.

Overall, the Tornado is a taut, willing and solid but buzzy motorcycle. It was originally launched into a market where the Japanese manufacturers were starting to offer a serious challenge to the British parallel twin home turf, and it seems to straddle the old and the new worlds. It bristles with the individuality that makes Italian bikes of the period so interesting, and like all the best motorcycles it's dominated by its engine.

The controls, about to fall easily to hand.... Needles start in the two o'clock position and rotate clockwise. Note the slimness of the tank.

If the bike was mine I'd spend some time adjusting lever positions and tinkering with the minor things, so perhaps it's better to talker the bike's actual owner, Paul Compton:

“I bought the Tornado from North Leicester Motorcycles for £1500. I wanted to try a bigger bike than my Morinis, but I didn't really fancy a Triumph twin and Nortons were more than I wanted to spend. I also like the odd-ball and the Tornado is most bizarre. I knew it had an all roller bearing bottom end, but the valve lubrication tops off the over-engineering of the engine. Even the rear wheel bearings are double row angular contact, costing me £25 each! I even like the vibration reducing 'hedgehog' footrest rubbers.

“It hasn't needed a vast amount of work. It came with the seat and side panels from a later S model and whilst the side panels had been fitted by drilling an extra hole, the seat came with a set of rusty bits of bent metal that lined up with nothing. I sourced a NOS seat (Benelli badged, but you can't have everything), side panels and footpeg rubbers from the US via the Yahoo Benelli group.

“I also bought another set of side panels and a tank quite cheaply on eBay. The spare tank and NOS sidepanels are there for when (if) I want to restore the bike. I bought a NOS headlamp back bowl from Cosmopolitan Motors in the US (There are integral electrical connectors in the blow that were crumbling in the original) and a NOS and supposedly unobtanium rear light from Domiracer in the US. Various other bits came from Benelliparts in Germany.

“Other than that, it's mostly been a case of cleaning things up, making replacement cables, replacing wheel bearings, etc. Oh, and I had to make quite a fiddly little bracket for the ignition switch. Many things on the bike are rubber mounted, including the battery tray. The ignition switch hangs off the end of the battery clamp that holds in place two six volt batteries (for a 12v system). I didn't want to use two batteries and made a bracket to hang from the (rubber mounted) fuse board. The wiring was fine once I replaced a few terminals, it's even running nearly all the bulbs it came with.

Benellis on eBay.co.uk

“I like it for the willing engine, noise, stable handling, massive over-engineering and the exclusivity!”

1971 'Motobi' Benelli Tornado 650

  • Engine: Overhead valve 360 degree parallel twin
  • Capacity: 643cc
  • Bore x Stroke: 84.0mm x 58.0mm
  • Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
  • Claimed Power: 50bhp at 7200rpm
  • Gearbox: 5 speed
  • Final Drive: Chain
  • Claimed weight: 185kg (407lbs)

    The day was colder than we thought, ok?... Kick kick kick kick. Kick kick. Kick. Kick. - Apply Choke - Vrrrrroooommmm....

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