50 years without Mr. Benelli, an icon of two wheels who seduced and amazed the world

This year marks the anniversary of the half-century without the engineer, one of the 6 brothers who created and carried on the Casa del Leone, one of the most prestigious brands in Italian motorcycling.

Massimo Falcioni

Fifty years ago, on November 12, 1971, Giovanni Benelli, one of the “magnificent” six brothers from Pesaro who founded in 1911, under the guidance of his mother Teresa Boni, left the legendary Casa del Leone at the age of 91. Benelli was one of the most significant and prestigious brands of Italian and world motorcycling both in series production and in competitions, still present on the international market. In its 110 years of existence, Benelli has had, after the first 60 years, several changes of ownership: in 1972 to the De Tomaso Group, then in 1988 to the Biesse Group, in 1995 to the Merloni Group and from 2005 to the Qianjiang industrial group (controlled by Geely Holding Group, a colossus of over 120,000 employees), the first in China in terms of size and production capacity in the motorcycle sector.

Brothers knives

Even in its first half century and with extraordinary successes in the market and in racing, in the House of the Lion there has always been a rush among the six male brothers, in particular between the two “engineers”: Giuseppe, the eldest, and the second son Giovanni . This was due to character issues and divergences on the strategy and business management in relation to the ‘what to do’ which, however, found a unitary synthesis thanks to the pulse of mother Teresa and then on the races, on the racing cars to be designed and built, in particular at the beginning on the support to be to give to the youngest of the brothers, Tonino, the rider who has triumphed everywhere since 1923 on the saddle of the extraordinary home-made motorcycles, promoting the Pesaro-based company throughout Europe and beyond.

The mind Joseph

Giuseppe has always been considered the design mind of Benelli (the first masterpiece is the 175 racing for Tonino: single-cylinder 4-stroke with cascade gear distribution and overhead camshaft) but it will be him, after the worsening of family disagreements , to set up on his own, founding the BBC auto in 1946 with the partners Pietro Beretta (weapons) and Count Guglielmo Castelbarco Albani (three prototypes were built but the project to produce utility cars jumps due to the veto placed by the president of Fiat Vittorio Valletta) and then in 1949 by starting the new MotoBI factory, “the aristocratic among motorcycles” with the “egg” engine and the horizontal cylinder that will characterize all models up to the 1970s, winning on the market and on the track. But on November 9, 1957, Giuseppe Benelli died at the age of 68. The two companies from Pesaro, a few hundred meters away from each other, return to dialogue, then to collaborate and, in 1962, to join with the burden of business management on Giovanni Benelli’s shoulders. To tell the truth, Giovanni, less exuberant and less inclined to expose himself to the outside world than his brother Giuseppe, was also a valuable designer and a well-rounded business captain. Tireless and attentive to the evolution of the markets, after close discussions with his brothers and his closest collaborators, he jotted down engine and motorcycle projects on paper, then taking care of their realization from the first pieces in the foundry, the development and development, in particular for the racing department, which he considered to be a flagship, a heritage of Benelli.

Central role

Since the 1920s, Benelli has played a central role in national and international competitions, in all displacements, with racing cars of all kinds. Decades and decades of different racing bikes in all displacements, in all categories, always protagonists, often winning: the pre-war single-cylinder; the 250 4-cylinder compressor tested during the years of the Second World War; then in the 1950s the triumphs of the “Gran Fondo” (Giro d’Italia and Milan-Taranto) with the 2-stroke Leoncino; the triumphs of the Tourist Trophy of 1939 with Ted Mellors; the 250 world championship in 1950 won with Dario Ambrosini; the great return to the track in the grand prix since 1959 with the single-cylinder 250 twin shaft (Silvio Grassetti) after the farewell to the death races in Albi of the champion ace from Cesena; then from 1962 the 4-cylinder 250, 350 and 500 (the start of the 250 8-cylinder project) with the pilots Grassetti, Dale, Duke, Minter, Spaggiari, Provini, Pasolini, Lazzarini, Ballestrieri, Villa, Parlotti, Read, Hailwood, Saarinen; again the iris 250 (and the triumphal bis at the English TT) in 1969 with the 4-cylinder entrusted to the Australian Kel Carruthers.

The Benelli Armi

With the same talent and the same entrepreneurial intuition, in 1967 Giovanni founded Benelli Armi (as a young, passionate hunter, in 1921 he had designed and built an unprecedented “shotgun” with external dogs), immediately among the world’s leading companies in the production rifles for hunting use but also revolvers for military use and more. In this sector the masterpiece is a revolutionary automatic shotgun, the “fastest in the world” capable of firing “five shots in less than a second”. Until the sale of the company to De Tomaso, the Benelli deus ex machina was, therefore, Giovanni, able even in the turbulent years of ’68 to keep the bar straight, in balance between company interests and the rights and needs of workers its employees. “Sor G’Van”, as he was called by the workforce, commanded respect also for his austere bearing and his stern gaze, but everyone could turn to him for advice, even personal and for family matters, certain of being listened to and even helped, not just in words.


In short, the engineer Giovanni had great personality and humanity and for this reason he was respected and well-liked by all. Giovanni, at least twice a day – in the morning as soon as the factory siren sounded and sometimes also during the night shift – came out of his office as president located inside the factory in Viale Mameli, got on his black Bianchi bicycle fully dressed in gray double-breasted with the inseparable Borsalino on his head, he walked along the tree-lined side of the state road next to the company track – with a high curve above – of the motorcycle tests (including racing ones), entered the large gate on the north side heading towards the racing department from which he left after half an hour. There were always people in front of that gate: either a small group of aficionados or a crowd, when the race bikes were expected to be tested on the track with the current champion on the saddle. There, in that small group of people that tens of times a year became a crowd that blocked the ‘national’ (including the truck drivers who, attracted by the roar of the “4 cylinders”, stopped their vehicles to attend the event), there was a passion. Upon the arrival of Eng. Benelli on his bike, everyone became “small”, freeing him the way. He didn’t stop, pulling straight with a nod. But just on the days close to the Christmas holidays, the engineer made an exception to his morning tour, stopping in the middle of the group of aficionados and saying affably, with a half smile: “We are working on the new racing bike. Soon you will see it spinning. here on the track. Season’s greetings “. That was the charge for all those present, projected towards the new season that would begin on March 19th, with the international race at the Modena circuit. There, on the Emilian Ghirlandina circuit, in the Benelli garage, “Sor G’Van” would direct the operations of his team, with his black Borsalino on his head and his chronometer in hand, obviously with hands.

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50 years without Mr. Benelli, an icon of two wheels who seduced and amazed the world

Moustache Brothers