Benelli is an Italian Motorcycle manufacturer owned by Chinese company Qianjiang
Group. It once manufactured shotguns, although this part of the business is now a separate company.
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The history of Benelli...
Benelli was established in Pesaro, Italy in 1911. Teresa Benelli, a widow, invested all of the family capital into the business in the hope that it would offer stable work for her six sons: Giuseppe, Giovanni, Francesco, Filippo, Domenico and Antonio ("Tonino").
In the beginning, it was just the Benelli Garage, which repaired cars and motorcycles, but was already able to produce all of the spare parts needed for repairs.
In 1920 the company built its first complete engine in-house, a single-cylinder two-stroke 75 cc model, immediately adapted to a bicycle frame. A year later in 1921, Benelli built its first motorcycle, using their own engine which had by then become a 98 cc model.
Two years after that, using a version specially designed for competitions, Tonino "the terrible" took to the track. He displayed an extraordinary natural talent as a rider and embarked on a very successful career which confirmed the company's exceptional capacity for development and production.
Riding a Benelli 175, Tonino Benelli won four Italian championship titles in five years: in 1927, 1928 and 1930 with the single overhead camshaft (SOHC) version, and in 1931 with the double overhead camshaft (DOHC) version.
Unfortunately, a bad crash during a race in 1932 cut short his brilliant career and on 27 September 1937 Tonino died following a "silly" road accident.
As World War II loomed, the Benelli company debuted their four-cylinder supercharged 250cc racing bike. This was intended to compete in the 1940 season, building on Benelli's success in the 1939 Isle of Man TT Lightweight 250 cc race. With the start of the war, the Benelli Four was limited to competition in a handful of Italian domestic races.
Beyond World War II
Wartime destruction caused Benelli to remain out of production until 1949. When production resumed, designs were still largely based on those of the pre-war period. During 1949, Giuseppe Benelli left the family concern to found the Motobi marque.
By 1951 Benelli was offering a range consisting of 98cc and 125cc lightweights (the Leoncino or lion cub) and 350cc and 500cc singles. The Leoncino was available in both two-stroke and four-stroke forms. The need for cheap transport in post-war Italy meant that these lightweight models became immensely successful . Similar models were offered by Moto Guzzi, Ducati and Laverda, and the same economic conditions led to the growth in popularity of Vespa and Lambretta scooters.
In 1962, Motobi was acquired by Benelli, and the combined company produced around 300 motorcycles a day and had 550 employees. Motobi designs continued in production under the Benelli name.
The de Tomaso years
Towards the end of the 1960s, the arrival of Japanese manufacturers caused a crisis in the European motorcycle industry. The original Benelli company was heavily involved in the American motorcycle market, selling motorcycles under 350cc through Montgomery Ward. The advent of competition from Japan led to Benelli products (still largely of single cylinder pushrod design) losing popularity as they were perceived as old-fashioned in comparison to Hondas of the era which sported overhead cam engines with electric starters, in much the same way as the British Motorcycle industry was affected in the larger capacity sector.
In 1973 Benelli was acquired by Argentinian industrialist Alejandro de Tomaso together with its competitor Moto Guzzi which lead to the development of new models featuring multi-cylinder engines, such as the "350 Quattro" and the "500 Quattro", and of the incredible "750 Sei" powered by a huge six-cylinder in-line engine, which put the firm briefly ahead of the Japanese competition. Although technically advanced, Benelli motorcycles of the 1980s were plagued by problems, and the production was finally stopped in 1988 when the company was merged into Moto Guzzi to create "Guzzi Benelli Moto S.p.A.", and the production plants in Pesaro were sold.
In 1989 there was hope of a revival with the backing of Pesaro-based manufacturer Giancarlo Selci. But the time still wasn't right for a real comeback.
In 1995 revival of the brand with the glorious history became a real possibility when Andrea Merloni took charge. Results were fast in coming with the launch of the marvellous Tornado 900 Tre super sport bike in 2002 and the current launch of the TNT, the explosive roadster.
Benelli is now part of motor Group Qianjiang, which is a corporation located in southeast China at Wenling. Benelli Q.J. is located in Pesaro where the previous proprietors based the facilities, keeping the whole workforce previously working at Benelli