Argentinean entrepreneur, Alejandro de Tomaso harbored a hatred of the Japanese and their copying ways. With Honda having borrowed heavily from the Italians during the 50’s and 60’s on their way to world dominance, he swore to get revenge, once stating “He who steals from a thief, is a thousand times forgiven”. De Tomaso set about this task using the newly acquired Benelli brand, but did he bite off considerably more than even this formidable man could chew?
The Benelli deserves a mention if only because it was the last time the Italians actually gave in to the ways of the Japanese, they tried, and failed, never to repeat the exercise again. It mimicked the “Ultimate Japanese Motorcycle” of the 70’s in many ways and yet still remained every bit the Latin beast, unique looking and feeling, while still handling far better than any production machine from that decade had any right to do. The problem, initial idea apart, is the design was dated from the outset and trying to make the machine live on through the 80’s was going to be a tough challenge.
However, it does stand as a testament to the Italian ethos, and the nations down right ingenuity when all around is falling; the back street machine shop mentality, able to produce sheer genius, is found within this machine. Power is nothing without control, and while the engine isn’t overly masterful, the chassis is sweet and all of the cycle parts more than capable of holding it all in check. Lino Tonti, the man behind many great Italian machines, including the Guzzi V7, designed the geometry and tube work and it shows. The Benelli Sei is a lesson in bolting the best parts available on to a well-designed frame to create a sweet handling machine. Brembo hydraulics, Marzocchi forks and rear suspension, albeit sometimes fitted with Sebac items too, add up to a bike that feels as if on rails with brakes akin to putting a steel bar through the font wheel spokes, despite the huge lump of an engine taking up most of the space available.
Of course all of this had a price, low production numbers, costly production techniques and the use of some of the best known names in the two wheel game make for hefty price tags when compared to the best of the rest. The finish, overall reliability issues allied to the state of the UK importers of the time, meant sales remained poor throughout the bikes lengthy shelf life.
The Benelli comes with a series of shocks and surprises, first of all the engine feels agricultural, and, although as smooth as a six should be, it remains mechanically noisy. The heavy fining and antiquated internals make for a real clatterbox of an engine, actually produced by Moto Guzzi, not made any better by the amount of things found whirring around inside. From the outset this is clearly a pure bred Italian machine of the 70’s and with it comes all that we have come to expect from such a machine. In particular, dodgy electrics that ruin reliability and switchgear that is poorly laid out and totally lacking in ergonomics.
On the outside is a wafer thin paint finish and similarly applied chrome work and yet this machine still attracts attention wherever it goes. There is just something about the total cheek of it all, besides which, once on the move the ride is a credible one. The handling is as good as such a machine could ever be, somehow something the Japanese were incapable of doing during the period and for some time following the Benelli’s launch. The tank is slim and generally the bike isn’t at all imposing, something that can’t be said of the other 6-cylinder machines that followed the Benelli. Instead of 6 separate carburettors, the engine is fed via Y shaped, alloy plenum chambers with one Dell’Orto unit feeding two cylinders at a time. It is basic thinking but it works and above all keeps the bit where the rider’s knees need to be a darn sight slimmer than it otherwise would be.
Squeezing the brake lever has the bike hauling up in an enviable manner while adding a touch of rear brake soon has the eyeballs choosing the “lets get out of here” option, due to the relationship with Moto Guzzi and the use of their linked brake system that sees the front brake using the right hand disk only and the rear stopper having the left hand caliper and the rear at its disposal.
Despite Benelli’s illustrious racing history, the Sei is a disappointment when it comes to power and the way it is developed. The need to rev the engine hard is immediately apparent, the lack of outright horsepower shows itself early on; the engine does pull smoothly from around 2000rpm, but soon runs out of steam, and gears too. The 5-speed box, actually a straight copy of the CB500, is barely up to the task, both mechanically and in use. A common cause of failure is the transmission, the tiny gear wheels failing under the power and due to its constant use up and down the ratios to keep the engine spinning and in the power. Having to keep the engine on the boil to get any kind of performance out of it in turn returns poor fuel consumption with the average being no higher than 30mpg, and the norm far lower if the upper speed range is investigated on a regular basis. This means an empty tank every 80 miles or so and some considerable planning too if long journeys are to be tackled on the Sei.
All of this apart however and the Sei is a cracking machine, not foible free like many of its Japanese counter parts but full of character and rewarding too. Never happier than when speeding though sweeping bends, tracking true and rarely raising complaint, the Benelli could have been so much where it not perhaps for the full might of De Tomaso’s hatred of his opposition. A clear thinking mind may well have come up with a better engine and with it the near perfect motorcycle for its generation.
Benelli 900 Sei Model history
The Argentinean, former Formula One race driver and later business mogul, Alejandro De Tomaso, settled in Italy following his racing career, eventually acquired huge chunks of the Italian motor industry. He resented the Japanese and their tactics and vowed to create a motorcycle industry to parallel theirs.
Moto Guzzi and Benelli were bought by De Tomaso during the early 70’s and he quickly set about creating a range of machines to challenge the might of the Far East. In reality he failed in this task, openly mimicking the machines he claimed were originally copied from Italian designs, and yet falling short of the levels of finish and reliability the Japanese had made their own.
The first Benelli of note, following the take over was a blatant copy of the Honda 500-4, this enabled the Benelli label to get a machine out into the market place in double quick time with little development work needed, as most has already been carried out by Honda. In 1973 the 6-cylinder, 750cc version was released and initially received much acclaim, its sweeping lines and six exhaust pipes stealing the march on other machines of the time. Where the Benelli’s lacked however was in the build quality, with paintwork as well as engine internals often suffering. With the Sei series, the aim was to create a world beating Superbike and were it not for these issues, plus a dismal lack of outright performance, it may have been the case
De Tomaso succeeded with Guzzi turning, their fortunes around completely with the introduction of the sporty V7 model, but failed to do the same for Benelli, perhaps the similarity between that range and any of the cheaper Japanese machines was just too much, allowing a side by side comparison, whereas with Guzzi it was a little harder to define, so perhaps they slipped through the net of journalists hungry for manufacturers mistakes and errors to make headlines out of. Whatever the reason the Benelli Sei didn’t take off, too expensive and simply not good enough in its entirety to make it against the might of the Japanese. The 900 Sei was introduced in 1980, this bored and stroked version was slimmed down considerably, losing the array of exhaust pipes and gaining a small handlebar fairing. It too lacked the performance; producing a claimed 80bhp, although in reality far less, and producing a top speed well shy of 120mph, even though the speedo often read well above that figure, although did remain in production throughout the 80’s.
Benelli 900 Sei Timeline
The first 6-cylinder production motorcycle, the 750cc Sei is revealed
The Sei enters production-putting Benelli ahead of the Japanese, albeit it briefly as the bike fails to impress in tests
The 750cc engine is enlarged to 900 while the styling undergoes a make over
The merger of the two companies, to form Guzzi Benelli Moto S.P.A, meant the production of the Sei ceased completely although enough parts remained for several to be built as time allowed.
Benelli 900 Sei Specifications
- Engine – air-cooled 6-cylinder 4-stroke SOHC
- Capacity – 906cc
- Bore/stroke – 60 x 53.4mm
- Power – 80bhp @ 8400rpm (claimed)
- Torque – 42 ft-lb @ 5200rpm
- Carburation – 3 x 29mm Dell’Orto
- Transmission – 5-speed, dry clutch, hy-vo chain final drive
- Frame – steel twin cradle
- Suspension – 35mm Marzocchi telescopic forks. Twin Marzocchi/Sebac shocks rear adjustable spring pre load
- Brakes – 288mm discs 2-piston Brembo calipers. 250mm disc 2-piston Brembo caliper
- Wheels – 100/90 x 18, 120/90 x 18
- Weight – 220kgs
- Top speed – 118mph
- Wheelbase – 1425mm
- Fuel capacity – 22ltrs
Benelli 900Sei Gallery