The story of Benelli Motorcycles goes back to just past the turn of the 20th century. Six brothers, one story. Six men for a legend to become reality. It was the spring of 1911 when Teresa Benelli, widowed, invested all her family’s money to establish a workshop, hoping to ensure a stable job for her six sons, Giuseppe, Giovanni, Filippo, Francesco, Domenico and Antonio “Tonino” Benelli. At the beginning it was only a service garage, where spare parts for cars and motorcycles were made. But the six Benelli brothers had a much higher ambition, building motorcycles. Eight years later, in 1919, the first engine was born, a two stroke 75cc applied to a bicycle frame, but this did not produce satisfying results. In December 1921 the first real Benelli motorcycle appeared, the “Velomotore”, 98cc two stroke lightweight bike presented in two models, Touring and Sport (125cc), followed in 1923 by a 147 cc version. This is the version Tonino Benelli started to win races on, which made the Pesaro company renown throughout Europe. In 1926 Giuseppe Benelli designed a new motorcycle, a 175cc 4-stroke with an innovative 4-gear driven overhead camshaft. Its performance was equal or superior to motorcycles of larger displacement, which would lead to countless triumphs. Tonino Benelli became Italian champion in 1927, 1928, 1930 and 1931. Production increased (the 175cc was produced in different models until 1933) and sales success lead to enlargement of the Benelli factory when in 1932 the Benelli brothers bought the pavilions of the sawmill in Molaroni, which is now in ‘Viale Mameli’. Two years later Benelli introduced two new racing bikes, a 250cc twin cam and a 500cc. In 1940 Benelli launched a 500cc with side valves and a fantastic racing bike (a 4-cylinder with double overhead camshaft and supercharger that would never be used on the track) but the outbreak of the war forced the company to produce only military motorcycles.
Benelli was at the height of success (800 employees worked in the factory) when the factory was destroyed during the Second World War. The allied bombing and spoliation by the Nazis reduced this large company to a pile of rubble and empty sheds. The Benelli brothers did not lose heart, retrieving machinery and equipment from the rubble, they converted about 1000 military motorcycles left in the battlefields by the allies into bikes for civilian use. In 1947, racing activities were resumed. 1948 was a milestone for Benelli. The company hired motorcycle racer Dario Ambrosini and on October 14th, the Benelli brothers announced their decision to continue producing motorcycles. The racing success of the new Benelli culminated in Ambrosini winning the 250cc class World Championship in 1950.
At the end of 40’s Giuseppe Benelli, due to disagreements with his brothers, left the company. It was the beginning of Motobi, with classic 2 and 4-stroke egg-shaped engines of small and medium displacement. These new bikes were a sales and race success with more than 1000 racing victories in the 50’s and 60’s. The manufacturing activity at Benelli continued in 1951 with the introduction of the ‘Leoncino’ whose great sales success was at its peak when Benelli won the first ‘Motogiro d’Italia’ in 1953 with the racer Tartarini. In 1961, Benelli celebrated its first 50 years and the following year, the two brands Benelli and Motobi were merged back into one.
This was the historic time of Provini and Pasolini, on 4-cylinder 250cc’s and of Benelli’s second world title in 1969 with the Australian racer Kelvin Carruthers. A wide range of models characterized the production Benelli-Motobi’s in the 60’s, from scooters to the ‘Tornado’, a maxi bike 2-cylinder 650cc. The Tornado was the last original creation of Benelli. In 1972 the company was bought by the Argentinean entrepreneur Alejandro De Tomaso. The new owners re-launched and enlarged the product range presenting multi-cylinder motorcycles and a prestigious 750cc 6-cylinder (the first 6-stroke motorcycle produced in series available for purchase by the general public) while building a new and modern factory.
In the late 60’s -70’s, competition from Japan started building increasingly innovative and technically advanced motorcycles. The decline was slow and yet inevitable. In 1988 Benelli was brought to its knees. The industrial tycoon Mr. Giancarlo Selci, owner of the Biesse group, saved the formerly glorious company from an uncertain future and bought Benelli on October 23th, 1989. The company targeted the scooter market with 2 models, the Devil and Scooty. It seemed that a new time of prosperity had begun, but after the first moments of success, the prospects became uncertain again. In 1995, the Merloni Group of Fabriano purchased the majority stake of the historical brand. Andrea Merloni, the son of Vittorio, was the leader of the new company and the fresh start arrived with the aggressive 491 scooter. They took on new ambitious projects, including scooters and even sports bikes. The Tornado 900cc three-cylinder competed in the World Superbike Championship and the TnT 1130cc was a modern superbike for the street. Unfortunately Benelli had to face a new crisis of ownership for a time. However, in December 2005 Benelli became part of the Qjian Jiang Group, winner of the award for best motorcycle exporter of the year. Qjian Jiang (QJ) has 670,000 sq. meters of production area equipped with sophisticated parts manufacturing machinery imported from Germany, Italy and the USA.
The QJ company, with capital of more than 750 million US$, has been listed on the Chinese stock exchange since 1999 and also produces quads, electric bicycles, lawnmowers, golf carts, generators, pumps and other gardening equipment. 20% of its production is exported abroad, including to the Americas and Europe. Qjian Jiang is focused on quality and has held the internationally recognized ISO 9001 certification since 1997. With the new capital and synergy between Italy and China, Benelli Q.J. is currently working on multiple new bike projects, and focused on re-launching Benelli to the world markets including the United States. In 2011, Benelli successfully celebrated its first centenary.