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Imitation as flattery

Not many people realise it, but all De Tomaso era four-stroke Benellis such as this 504 were built in the Moto Guzzi factory on Lake Como. They were even occasionally sold as MotoBis, and at least one Sei carried Moto Guzzi badges. The two-stroke 125s and 250s were built at the Benelli plant much further south, in Pesaro, regardless of whether they carried Benelli or Moto Guzzi branding.

When the original Benelli 500 Quattro was launched in 1973 it raised many questions, the first of which was surely, “do they have a licence to build the Honda 500/4?” Despite Alejandro De Tomaso’s protestations, the engine was clearly a bolt-for-bolt replica, and Honda parts fitted straight on. As did Yoshimura tuning parts intended for the Honda. This meant the Quattro was raced with some success, including at the TT. British importers Agratti secured the services of Joey Dunlop for the 1978 F2 race, where he managed a remarkable fifth.

The Quattro was launched with a huge double sided Grimeca drum brake between the front forks, but this soon gave way to the more fashionable Brembo disc. Handling and braking were in a different league to the Japanese, and reliability wasn’t far behind. Surprisingly the marketing men made little or nothing of Benelli’s famous racing fours, and there was never the option of the historic green and silver race paint.

The 504 Sport of 1979 – just like this one - brought fresher and faster (looking) styling, with triple discs, a Le Mans flyscreen and clip-ons, but by now the Japanese competition was not only more sophisticated but also a lot quicker. And much cheaper, so a 10 year old Honda in a party frock soon became the showroom wallflower. In 1988 Benelli disappeared and the factory in Pesaro, which had been home since 1911, was sold. It’s now owned by the Chinese and doing very well, bargain prices on offer now that the bikes are built in China.


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