A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


Frame no. CE 71166 
Engine no. C 74963

Invented in Italy immediately after W.W-2, and having its inception in the UK in 1953/4, 50cc racing had progressed sufficiently to merit its own World Championship by 1962. At this time the involvement of the major Japanese manufacturers had left the Italians emphatically outclassed, but that did not deter Shropshire-based rider/entrant Fron Purslow from importing one, or perhaps two, Benelli 50s from the factory, as did Eire Benelli distributor Joe Arnold.  Fratelli Benelli G, F, & C of Pesaro, began a production of 50cc race bikes from 1961. Initially only four racers of this model was produced, and a further twelve were scheduled. Only the first 4 original bikes can be traced. (This photograph was taken at the Isle of Man 2000 TT where the bike was being paraded by the then owner Luke Lawlor from Ireland)

Although prepared in the works racing department, the GP bikes drew heavily on the roadster version for parts, although the frames were specially constructed. Its pedals removed, the single-cylinder two-stroke engine was ported and fitted with a larger carburettor and a deafening megaphone exhaust (known to most as a "Cow Horn").

The four-speed gearbox was retained together with its unorthodox (for a racing motorcycle) twistgrip-operated gear change mechanism. This was mounted on the left-side clip-on.  Clad in a two-piece fairing wrapped tightly around it, the Benelli 50 was geared for a top speed of 75mph at 10,000 revs on the high-speed Isle of Man Mountain Circuit.

Three Benellis were entered in the historic first 50cc TT in the Isle of Man in 1962, although how many actually started is open to question. (Only 1 started and finished.  It was this one ridden by Ralph Bryans.  The other bikes, to be ridden by Alan Dougdale and T. J. Wood were non-starters. Editor.)  Entered by Jack Arnold, T J ‘Joe’ Wood (No. 29) had won the only two 50cc races in Ireland on the Benelli, the Temple 100 and the Magaberry short circuit, while Fron Purslow had entered himself (No. 50) and Alan Dugdale (No. 27). Alan was contesting the other four solo classes at the TT that year and had little time to practice on the Benelli. At Joe Wood’s suggestion, Purslow offered the ride to Ralph Bryans, and so in the race Bryans rode bike‘50’, The TT Program was not amended and Ralph was not identified in the entrants list.

001 is seen here after the TTRA Parade Lap at the 2000 Isle of man TT. You can see that the Megaphone exhaust was used through out the parade and could be heard from Creg-Ny-Baa to Signpost Corner. Out of interest Steve Bedford followed the Benelli in on his fathers three speed Itom, also with a megaphone exhaust, sounding like a wailing Banshee. The Benelli is parked next to the Mick Rawlings Itom.  This machine also has a three speed motor and it is housed in a Simmonds Frame.  The bike was ridden by Bill Ivy in some early races.

Ulsterman Ralph Bryans had won the Irish 200cc Championship in 1960, his first major success, and at a little over nine stone was the ideal build for a 50cc racer. He finished 15th in the race, an excellent result.

It is worth considering that there were nine works Honda entries, three entries from the Honda European agents, four works Suzukis, five works Kreidlers and three works Derbis. The race was won by Ernst Degner (Suzuki) from Luigi Taveri (Honda) at a speed of 75.12mph. 

 The Non-Ralph Bryans Benelli 50cc Racer.

TT Moped: 1961/62 Benelli 50cc Works Racer
Information and pictures from an American site
Some amendments by the Editor

This motorcycle is one of the other three 50cc Racing machines that Benelli produced for the European class.  It is included in this page as the photographs of the engine and cycle parts are pertinent to the Bryans machine above.

In 1961 Benelli built four 50cc motorcycles for its factory riders. The bikes were derived from production mopeds with some special race enhancements and at least one was entered in the then new 50cc class at the 1962 Isle of Man TT. The exact racing history of this particular bike is unclear and it would be great fun for the new owner to track down more details of its past. In recent years it’s passed through the hands of several prominent collectors and has not been started in some time. It is now in Long Island, New York.

Unfaired the motorcycle would do a reported 100 kph (68.2 mph) Geared for racing and fitted with the incredibly cool fairing, the bike had a top speed of 75 mph at 10,000 RPM. Good looks did not mean the bike was fast enough and the little Benellis were just not competitive at the highest level. In the 1962 TT one of the four ridden by Ralph Bryans, finished 15th with a Mountain Course two lap average speed of 58.9 MPH;  By way of an example Ernst Degner’s winning Suzuki came in at an  average of 75.12 MPH.

The big velocity-stacked Dell’Orto carb was one of the factory modifications to the original Benelli moped. So was the tiny open megaphone exhaust which, according to the great "Classic Racer" magazine article “Moped Racer,” had the little racer sounding “louder than a phalanx of Manx Nortons.” In addition to the performance modifications the moped’s pedals were removed for racing.

The two-stroke motor came directly from the production moped. It  is fitted with a 13-tooth front sprocket and had slots cut into the cases for cooling. The frame was custom built for the bikes and used Campagnolo bicycle headsets. There’s a four-speed (not standard-editor) gearbox operated by an unusual and uncomfortable twist-grip shifter, also taken from the production moped model. The owner reported that the twist grip gear changer is still in place. In at least one other example of the four that were built, the twist-grip shifter was hacked off by subsequent owners in an attempt to replace it with something easier to operate, like a foot change unit.

Though the squadron of 50cc racers didn’t work out for Benelli, around the same period they were having better results with small racing singles and fours. For an excellent overview of Benelli racing history, check out the terrifically researched post  “Benelli Four-Cylinder Racers” at the always superb Vintagent blog. For even more history and some extremely cool period racing photos see “Benelli’s Racing Fours” from Classic Racer magazine.

When this motorcycle came up for sale it was a great opportunity to own a rare and seemingly very complete example of a piece of racing history. At least one of the original bikes has had a total restoration; it would have been a shame for this one to get anything more than a sympathetic going-over. A big concern in riding older bikes are the wheels and here the original rims still look terrific. While perhaps not competitive from a speed perspective, this bike would be a rare sight for the coolest, and loudest, entry in a 50cc class Moto Giro or Classic parade.

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