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Benelli tre

Future collectible – Benelli Tornado Tre 900

by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen

(October 2020)

Benelli tre

Triple Tornado

Benelli’s bold re-entry into the motorcycle market was a stunner, but they’re hard to find locally

There are times when you have to love the Italians. When Benelli announced a comeback and showed off the prototype of the Tornado Tre 900 at the Milan Show in 1999, it wasn’t simply an amalgam of conventional thinking with a pretty body – no, they went the full biscuit and turned at least some accepted thinking on its ear.

Benelli tre

Take a look at the twin exhaust fans (tinted bright yellow so you couldn’t possibly miss them) exiting under the tailpiece. What the…?

Before we go too far down that road, it’s worth unwrapping just a little Benelli history, because it’s both a great and sad story. Great because of its origins and sad because it should by rights be Italy’s oldest motorcycle continual manufacturer. (Moto Guzzi is, having started in 1921.)

My favourite part of the story is how the name entered into the bike world. In 1911 a Mrs Teresa Benelli lost her husband – we don’t know how. Clearly a woman not to be thrown by setbacks in life, she did two things: bought into a local garage and sent two of her six sons off to Switzerland to train as engineers.

Thus began the Benelli Garage which, after the conclusion of hostilities for World War I, produced its first motorcycle. That was 1919, using a proprietry engine. The following year they had developed their own powerplant, a 75cc two-stroke.


Of course racing loomed into the picture and the youngest scion, Antonio aka ‘Tonino the Terrible’, took to it like the proverbial duck to water. Riding an in-house 175 four-stroke (at first an SOHC and then finally a DOHC design – above) he won national championships in 1927, 1928, 1930 and 1931.

It survived another world war and by the late 1960s had really become a force. Some 550 employees were producing 300 motorcycles a day. Arguably its finest bike to this point was the 650 Tornado vertical twin, which was a strong competitor for the like of Triumph’s Bonneville in the performance stakes and aimed very much at the USA and UK markets.

Benelli 900 sei

In 1973 it was acquired by Alejandro de Tomaso and merged with Moto Guzzi. Benelli subsequently got into multis in an effort to compete with the growing competition from Japan, but ultimately this wasn’t a success. However there is one seventies series that’s highly prized among collectors – the jewel-like 750 and 900 Sei (above) straight sixes.

By the late seventies, the mighty Benelli was in strife again. It struggled on into the early eighties building small capacity machinery. After some corporate ducking and weaving over the years, businessman Andrea Merloni lead a consortium to buy the rights to the brand and eventually revive it into a manufacturing concern. That started in 1995 and resulted in the launch of the Tre.

The company is now owned Group Qianjiang of China. I wonder what Ma Benelli would make of all this…


Okay, back to the Tre. This was frankly a gob-smacking bit of design and incredibly ambitious for what was in reality an all-new manufacturer. We’re told the group took much of its inspiration from the revival of Triumph by John Bloor several years earlier. Perhaps they should have paid closer attention to his methods, as the launch and career of the Tre had plenty of wrinkles.

Benelli tre LE

First off the blocks was the Tre 900 LE (above and below) – yep, a limited edition available from 2001. Just 150 of these hand-assembled machines were built and their mission was two-fold. First they got people talking about the machine, even if they couldn’t actually afford one. Second it gave Benelli the numbers for world superbike homologation.

Benelli tre

And here, believe it or not, we find an Australian connection. Multi national superbike title-holder Peter Goddard was taken on both as development rider for the street bike and racer-in-residence for the 2001 and 2002 world superbike seasons. Neither year was a roaring success, with no-shows, breakdowns and lowly placings where the machine clearly wasn’t allowing Goddard’s considerable talent to shine.

Benelli tre

Finally, in 2003, a full production version of the Tre was released in three colours – the most famous green and silver, white and silver, and red. At its heart was an 898cc inline triple with four valves per pot, Sagem fuel injection and a fairly high 11:1 compression ratio. That was mated to a six-speed transmission through a wet clutch – the LE had a dry plate slipper version.

The chassis used a steel trellis for the main section and alloy rear subframe, with an upside-down Marzocchi fork and a high-end rear shock by Extreme Technology. Brakes were by, of course, Brembo.

Benelli Tornado Tre 900

All up the package weighed a claimed 198kg dry with 100kW (134 horses). Not exceptional numbers, but enough to be lively.

Ah yes, what about the fans? This was the weird part of the design. The Benelli crew saw the shifting of the radiator to underneath the tailpiece as a way to get more room up front in the frame, and locate the engine further forward. Because the airflow is obviously lower at that end of the bike, two electric fans were employed to keep it happy.

Benelli tre

In Australia, these were expensive bits of kit. We’re talking over $24,000 in 2003, rising to over $27,000 in 2005. To use my standard benchmark, a Honda CBR900RR Fireblade in 2003 would have cost around $13,000, while the 1000 version in 2005 was closer to $17,000. A gap of around $10k.

Not surprisingly, they didn’t sell in huge numbers. The looks were a little divisive. Most people loved them, though it had critics, while the name and technology wasn’t proven.

There were some early issues. The injection was criticised for being a little snatchy, while various oil seals were known to weep. That wasn’t such a drama, but getting parts was. The back-up at the time was poor. Hard-used examples were also known to develop clutch and transmission problems and there was a question mark over some aspects of the original design needing further refinement.

Most and possibly all those problems were solved on the run, and by the second year of production (2004) seemed to have largely disappeared.

Benelli tre

What were they like to ride? A lot of fun. A punchy triple is always a good thing and the second version of the injection civilised it.

Handling and braking were very good and a real highlight of the machine. The seating position was unquestionably sporty, placing a fair bit of weight on the wrists, but this really wasn’t something you’d seriously consider going touring with.

This is one of those machines I’d look at buying as a curiosity with an historic name behind it. You take it for the occasional Sunday ride. It’s definitely not something you’d use on a regular basis, even if it was a later version with all the issues sorted.

You might also want to keep an eye out for the LE plus the RS (above). The latter was a short-run model with a few add-ons that added about $1000 to the price.

What are they worth? Buggered if I know. Seriously! They come up very rarely on the local market and I suspect the few people who own them are hanging on.

I did find several for sale in Europe for around Au$8000-10,000, which seems cheap given its potential collectability. Local prices may be higher. Meanwhile a very low-mile example in the USA recently sold at auction with Iconic for Au$I5,000 (US$11,000, GB£8400). At the time of publishing, there was also an 1130 Tre on Bikesales for Au$15,000.

I have to say, from a collector point of view, one of 900s (and preferably the LE) in the green and silver colour schemes would be the one to have. That said, they're all pretty rare and you would hope they'd gain some interest over time. It's unlikely you'll ever make a fortune with one of these, but hopefully you'll have a fun toy to ride that should hold its value.

If you have one, consider yourself lucky, as it’s a truly fascinating piece of motorcycle history.


Benelli tre 1130

A bigger Tornado
In 2004 Benelli punched out the capacity of the triple to 1130 (above), raising the horsepower to 120kW (160hp). That engine went on to power several more models over the years and variants are still in use today.

Benelli tre


Historic importance

Not so good
Uncertain longevity
Spares support

Benelli Tornado Tre 900 (2003-2005)


TYPE: Liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder, inline triple


BORE & STROKE: 88 x 49.2mm


FUEL SYSTEM: Sagem fuel injection


TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: Trellis steel main with alloy rear subframe

FRONT SUSPENSION: Marzocchi USD 43 fork, full adjustment
REAR SUSPENSION: Exteme Technology single shock, full adjustment
FRONT BRAKE: Brembo 320mm discs with 4-piston caliper

REAR BRAKE: 240mm disc with 2-piston caliper





FRONT: Brembo cast alloy 120/65-17 tyre
REAR: Brembo cast alloy 180/55-17 tyre


POWER: 100kW
@ 11,000rpm
TORQUE: 96Nm @ 8500rpm

PRICE NEW: $24,300 plus ORC (2003)


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