Fratelli Benelli Racing | The Vintagent

Whereas its glamorous rivals captured the general public’s consideration, the Benelli agency has a sterling historical past of race successes courting again to the Nineteen Twenties, and a household of rider/producer/racers who catapulted the little manufacturing unit to the highest echelons of racing.  Now recognized extra for its bicycles (because of on once more/off once more manufacturing of bikes lately), there was a time when Benelli was synonymous with racing and World Championships, and that particular Italian devotion to supercharged multi-cylinder racing exotica instantly previous to WW2.

Fratelli Benelli: Antonio (‘Tonino’), Francesco, Giovanni, Guiseppe, Filippo, Domenico. [The Vintagent Archive]

The manufacturing unit’s story begins with Teresa Benelli, not too long ago widowed in 1911, who bought a little bit of household property and invested the proceeds in machine instruments, establishing a enterprise at which her 6 sons might make a residing. The Benelli Storage of Pesaro employed 5 of the 6 boys, who repaired weapons, vehicles, and bikes; whereas the youngest, Antonio (‘Tonino’) was too younger to work, his influence would maybe be biggest of all, as a championship rider for the household enterprise. At this early date, manufacturing unit spares for vehicles and bikes may very well be troublesome to acquire rapidly, and the Storage was totally outfitted to manufacture any components vital for repairs.

The primary Benelli of 1920, a 98cc two-stroke engine mounted on the rear of a bicycle. [The Vintagent Archive]

By 1918, the brothers’ facility at making components begged the query – why not make our personal bike? – and in 1919 they certainly constructed a 75cc two-stroke single-cylinder engine for attachment to a bicycle.  By 1920 they constructed the primary bike, with a bigger 98cc engine hooked up by outrigger tubes to the rear of a bicycle.  The awkward engine place equated to poor dealing with, and the primary machine wasn’t successful, so by 1921 the engine was moved to the ‘regular’ place throughout the body, and the engine capability elevated step by step to 150cc, with a two-speed gearbox and all-chain drive.

Tonino Benelli, 4 time Italian 175cc Champion, on one of many early 175cc OHC racers, in a lovely interval portrait. [The Vintagent Archvie]

Younger Tonino ‘The Terror’ pressured his brothers for extra energy, with the intention of racing. They obliged, and in his very first race, Tonino positioned second Gino Moretti using a 500cc Moto Guzzi , proving each his ability, and the potential of the little machine.  The little Benelli didn’t win a race in 1922 or ’23, however Tonino honed his expertise as a rider, whereas his brothers discovered priceless classes from breakage and failure.  Wins started in 1924, and continued, whereas the Italian public took observe of the little machine; the elevated gross sales meant the brothers might purchase new machine instruments to create a brand new bike – a 4 stroke of superior specification.

Tonino in 1924 on the 175cc two-stroke racer, at Pesaro’s Foglia observe. [The Vintagent Archive]

Giuseppi Benelli designed a brand new machine of 175cc for 1927, with a stack of delicate gears driving an overhead camshaft; it was a powerful light-weight roadster, and a pure candidate for the race observe. The overhead camshaft engine proved dependable and quick, and Tonino gathered a string of wins, together with Benelli’s first ‘worldwide’ win on the Monza GP, culminating within the Italian 175cc Championship in each ’27 and ’28.  Now with a correct racing staff, Benelli continued to rack up wins in 1929, and Tonino gained the Italian Championship once more in 1930.

Tonino Benelli on the brand new 175cc OHC racer, in 1927. [The Vintagent Archive]

Within the seek for extra energy, one other camshaft was added ‘up prime’, and the brand new double-overhead-camshaft 175cc racer debuted in 1931, a really superior machine and the technical equal of any racer of the day.  The engine nonetheless had an iron cylinder head and barrel, and initially a hand-shift with 3-speed gearbox, however by ’32 a four-speed ‘field with footshift introduced the little Benelli bang updated.  The Benelli race staff ventured throughout Europe in a bid for elevated export gross sales, successful GPs in France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, successfully dominating the 175cc class by way of 1934 with their cracking little double-knocker light-weight.

The manufacturing unit staff of latest DOHC single-cylinder racers, in 1934. [The Vintagent Archive]

The FIM abolished the 175cc racing class in 1934, and all of a sudden Benelli had racers with out a class. Reasonably than instantly enlarge their racer to the 250cc class, they spent the following few years consolidating their roadsters, and capitalizing on their new visibility throughout Europe.  By 1936 their mannequin vary have been all single-cylinder, overhead-camshaft machines of 175cc, 250cc, and 500cc.  These roadsters have been all quick, dependable, and fashionable, and Benelli grew to become the fifth-largest bike producer in Italy.  By 1938, their ‘250 Sport S’ roadster was good for 93mph, a determine not bettered by a manufacturing ‘250’ till the Sixties.

The final (1934) model of the ‘iron’ engine, with an oil radiator constructed into the oil tank. [The Vintagent Archive]

However racing beckoned; Benelli couldn’t relaxation on its laurels without end, and whereas the manufacturing vary was consolidated, the race store designed a very new 250cc racing engine in 1938, once more DOHC, however all-alloy, and with rear suspsension (a swingarm with plunger springboxes, and friction damping).  The brand new engine may very well be revved to 9000rpm, and proved practically bomb-proof, even at 110mph.  The competitors had modified dramatically although, as GP racing gained worldwide sporting significance, and far bigger corporations have been ready to speculate closely in new expertise and really superior racing machines.  Within the 250cc subject, Benelli’s most vital competitors got here from Moto Guzzi, with their supercharged flat single, and DKW, with their supercharged two-stroke.  Even with their blowers, these machines had bother shaking off the strong and good-handling Benelli, which may very well be each bit as quick as its rivals, and positively extra dependable.

The glamorous OHC ‘500 Sport’ roadster of 1936. [The Vintagent Archive]

A 1-2-3 on the 1938 Italian GP was an eye-opener for all involved, particularly riders within the 350cc class, whose race averages have been slower than the successful 250!  Englishman Ted Mellors took observe, as his personal 350cc Velocette MkVIII KTT had been outclassed by the successful Benelli of Francisci Bruno.  Mellors approached Benelli a couple of journey for the1939 Isle of Man Light-weight TT this was a superb alternative for the manufacturing unit; an skilled and profitable Island rider using -free!- for essentially the most troublesome and prestigious street race on this planet.

The brand new 250cc racer with swingarm rear suspension and big brakes [The Vintagent Archive]

In that tense yr of 1939, nice forces stood poised on the point of armed battle, and each worldwide sporting contest grew to become a proxy struggle between nations.  The Isle of Man TT had been the personal playground of English bike corporations because the wakeup of a 1-2-3 Indian victory of 1911, with solely occasional losses to the ‘international menace’.  The lineup of racers on the 1939 TT confirmed a evident technological hole between Continental and English machines, as well-developed supercharged, multi-cylinder bikes from Europe had turn into dependable sufficient to significantly problem the strong, good-handling English single-cylinders.  Within the 250cc race, the blown Moto Guzzis and DKWs have been quickest, however the Benelli was no slouch, and its reliability proved the decisive asset which assured a win for Ted Mellors.

Ted Mellors on the 1939 Isle of Man Light-weight TT (observe bronze-head Velo mk4KTT within the background, in street trim). [The Vintagent Archive]

Benelli had seen the long run in 1938, and begun experimenting with a supercharger on their 250cc single, which gave 45hp and 125mph.  This was good, however higher could be a four-cylinder engine of their very own; a 250cc with a supercharger and twin overhead cams.  Giovanni Benelli designed the brand new ‘4’ in 1938, it was inbuilt ’39, proving extremely quick; pumping out 52.5hp at 10,000rpm, it rocketed to 146mph; 16mph quicker than their nearest rival, the Moto Guzzi.  The machine was prepared by 1940, however worldwide racing was strictly between bullets by then, and the brothers Benelli, fearing the worst, hid their four-cylinder engine in a dry effectively within the countryside, and scattered their racing singles in barns and cellar throughout northern Italy.

Epic shot of Ted Mellors in 1939; moist circumstances on the Isle of Man dampened speeds. [The Vintagent Archive]

The manufacturing unit was utterly destroyed within the struggle, and their machine instruments stolen by retreating German forces.  When the smoke cleared, it was the sons of fratelli Benelli who had the power to start once more, tracked down a few of their tooling in Germany and Austria.  Their first post-war machines have been modified ex-military Harleys, Matchlesses, and BSAs, to which they match swingarm rear suspension.  Inside two years, Benelli have been once more making their very own bikes, largely utilitarian lightweights.  And racing!  Sufficient of their prewar racing singles survived to kind a Works staff, and rider Dario Ambrosini chalked up win after win in 1948 and ’49.  The FIM created the primary World Championship collection in 1949, and Benelli determined to put money into a bid to win for 1950, sending Ambrosini overseas to battle rival Moto Guzzi, who shared their ambition.

The extremely quick 250cc four-cylinder supercharged Benelli racer of 1940…146mph! [The Vintagent Archive]

Dario Ambrosini had by no means raced on the Isle of Man TT, however proved a quick learner, shaving 66 seconds from his lap time between rounds 2 and three, in the course of the race!  His win on the 1950 Light-weight, plus Monza and the Swiss GP, gave Benelli their first World Championship.  Hopes for a repeat in ’51 have been dashed when Ambrosini was killed throughout follow on the Albi GP in France.  Shocked by their victor’s demise, and with no different rider of their staff, Benelli withdrew from racing for just a few years.

Dario Ambrosini on the 1950 model of the Benelli 250cc single cylinder racer. [The Vintagent Archive]

They returned to racing in 1959, constructing simply 4 machines, a recent design of unit building short-stroke 250cc DOHC singles.  Benelli’s rivals, Ducati and MV Agusta, used high-revving twin-cylinder racers within the 250cc class, and whereas Geoff Duke gained the Swiss GP in ’59, his was the one victory for these final single-cylinder racers. The brand new racer was quick and dependable, however as with 1939, it was clear extra cylinders held the important thing to GP victory, and having as soon as tasted a World Championship, Benelli was in it for the massive prize.

Dario Ambrosini’s 1951 250cc machine, now with telescopic entrance forks and a swingarm rear suspension. [The Vintagent Archive]

In 1960, Benelli’s Ingeniere Savelli took inspiration from the 1940 four-cylinder racer, and created a brand new 250cc ‘4’.  You may learn extra about these in our article about Benelli’s four-cylinder racers.

Magnificence is as magnificence does; the sculptural timing gear case is certainly a factor to behold. [Paul d’Orleans]
The 1959 250cc last-series Benelli racer on the Workforce Out of date HQ; this machine is now in England – a good friend purchased it! [Paul d’Orleans]




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