Strange to say it, but sometimes Italian superbikes are all a much of a muchness…apart from this much-maligned machine.
The Benelli Tornado was an OTT masterpiece with an interesting back story. The bike itself takes its name from the original Benelli Tornado parallel twin from way back, but instead this machine is a triple, which was first seen as the Benelli Tornado Novecentro Tre broke way back in 1999.
The bike was born as an idea from Benelli’s then-new owner, Andrea Merloni, who also headed up the huge Indesit white goods company. Initially releasing a range of small-capacity scooters in the late 1990s, the hiring of Dr Riccardo Rosa (ex of the Cagiva 500cc GP team) showed that they wanted to build bigger-capacity machines.
The design itself came from British designer Adrian Morton, who previously worked under Massimo Tamburini at the Cagiva Research Centre, during development of the Ducati 916. While the Tornado was eye-catching, it wasn’t a 916 clone, instead it was a visual feast in silver and green.
The bike was powered by an 898cc liquid-cooled inline triple of 114bhp, designed by Riccardo Rosa and that narrow three-cylinder motor gave the Tre a slim head-on look to help the bike cut through the air. The chassis was also ‘different’, being a mix of bolted and glued cast parts and tubular frame rails allied to a curved ‘banana’ swingarm and upside-down forks fitted with Brembo brake calipers.
While the running gear was good, it was the bodywork’s aesthetics that really got your attention. This was an attractive mix of angles, curves and straight lines before you hit the big WOW factor of this machine: a pair of large yellow fans, buried in the seat unit which were to aid the cooling of the motor…
These fans weren’t just for show as this triple did run hot and Benelli claimed that putting the radiator under the seat also helped slim the bike down still further, as well as giving the machine much better weight distribution and a steeper steering head angle for super-quick steering.
If there was one thing that the Tre lacked, it was quality control and reliability. Early adopters of the model found poor dealer support and back-up which meant owners were often left in the lurch as the issues with the bike came out. These issues included clutch problems, leaky dashboards, a corroding middle spark plug (the air-box drain hole was right above it) starting issues and expensive servicing with associated cam-chain changes every 14k as well as checks at 6000 miles.
To help things, later on in the machine’s life the Benelli UK importers MotoGB would give each machine that came through their warehouse a thorough check to sort the air-box and clutch issues before they went out to the dealer network.
Benelli boss Merloni was a keen race fan, so the Tornado was going to go racing, but it found itself out of synch with the rules of World Superbikes.
The triple was originally designed to take advantage of the-then current World Superbike rules where triples of 900cc could compete against 750cc fours and 1000cc twins and noted Australian development rider/racer Pete Goddard did run the bike in ‘Indesit’ livery towards the end of 2001 (a best of two 13ths at Brands and Imola) and into 2002 with a best of 11th at Assen. For 2003 1000cc four-cylinder bikes were allowed, meaning that Benelli realised they were hamstrung and dipped out of the class.
On the road, the bike was impressive: even in that first 900cc format it produced enough power – even if four-cylinder superbikes were pumping out much more…The move to an 1130cc version (with a claimed 160bhp) in 2006 perhaps showed what they should have done – go big-bore and forgo racing – but by then it was too little too late.
For us used buyers it is a case of ‘buyer beware’ when it comes to the Tornado but some models are bargains: MotoGB were even selling the last 900 Tres for just £5999 in 2012. Around then, the LE – or ‘Limited Edition’ was going for £13,999 – this was the model the World Superbike machines were supposedly homologated from – and the 1130cc model for £10,999. Compare this to the launch price in 2001 of £9939 in November 2002 for the base model. Models released also included the 2004 RS, which had OZ wheels, Marzocchi forks, radial Brembos and more power from the motor.
If we had to choose we’d either go for a well-sorted early (and thus collectible) model or a much later machine which you can enjoy… Prices? Well, we’ve already seen them start to creep up. A year or so back you could get an original model for around £2500, but now these are starting at a shade under £3k: not a big difference, but it shows how things are moving. At that time MotoGB’s dealers were still offing the new LE models for £13k, but today a good one can be had for around £3500-£4000. OK, you could get a lot of Japanese superbike for that money, but nothing looks or sounds quite like the Benelli Tornado…
|Model||Tornado Novecentro Tre|
|Major changes||Engine mods to the 898cc triple and updates to improve reliability: models include the LE and RS. 2006-on the 900 was joined by the 1130cc model.|
|Price new||£9939 at launch|