Alejandro de Tomaso divides opinions like no-one else in the Italian motor industry, I wrote in Benzina 2, as part of a Benelli story. What I didn’t add was I’m a fan. Aged 13 I was persuaded to join a new Air Training Corps detached flight by friends who had RAF connections. So on one Thursday evening in 1972 I arrived at the Wyvern Centre on Devizes Green to have my head turned forever. Casually parked outside was a lime green De Tomaso Pantera. I knew this because it was written in big, bold lettering along the sills. This was a time when most of the households in our village didn’t have a car and it was legitimate to boast about my dad’s Ford Cortina GT.
Turned out the Pantera belonged my new CO, who in real life was an antiques dealer from Bath. Alejandro de Tomaso was rather more interesting. He’d own Maserati and Ghia, the latter flogged to Ford to use as a badge on spec'd up Dagenham dullness. He bought Moto Guzzi and Benelli and set about giving the Japanese a bloody nose. Challenged by a cheeky journo on the similarity of his range of Benelli multis to Honda’s sohc fours he fair exploded. He pointed out Benelli were first to the four cylinder party (a surprise to FN and Gilera I’d guess) and that “charges of plagiarism should be directed at Japan, not Benelli”.
And this comment popped unbidden into my head when looking for an engine number on the ex-Tarquinio Provini Benelli 250 four at Bonhams Summer Sale in August. At the front, behind the magneto, was a finned oil chamber with take offs for an oil cooler. The chamber was held on by a single central bolt, just like the oil filter housing in my old Honda 400 Four that had an aftermarket oil cooler from a feed just behind the oil filter. Just like this Benelli racer. So De Tomaso had a point.
The motorcycle was a wonder in every detail, in that way only the finest racing motorcycles can manage. No wonder it achieved a world record £149,500, the most ever paid for a Benelli. Having seen it at close quarters I can only say I wish I had that sort of money.
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