Words and images by Phil Aynsley
One of the more interesting features of classic Italian motorcycles is that occasionally models are made in both 2-stroke and 4-stroke versions. The Parilla Slughi was one, the Benelli Leoncino another.
The Leoncino (Lion Cub) was the company’s first post WW II product (Benelli is the oldest European motorcycle manufacturer still in operation, being established in 1911) with production starting in 1951 with a 125cc 2-stroke featuring very distinctive egg shaped crankcases inclined at 45 degrees. A nice touch was the aluminium lion ‘mascot’ mounted on the front mudguard. The 2-stroke was good for 5.5hp at 5,500rpm. A Benelli Leoncino, ridden by Leopoldo Tartarini, won the inaugural 1953 Motogiro d’Italia, beating the 175 MV Agusta in the process.
The 4-stroke version, also a 125cc, was released in 1956 and retained the same shaped crankcases but now the look was enhanced by the prominent alloy cover over the cascade of gears driving the single OHC. It was available in Normale (6hp with a 90kph top speed) and Sport (7hp / 105kph) versions originally but eventually 13 different models, including scramblers, were offered. In 1959 the OHC motor was replaced by a cheaper OHV model. Over 72,000 of all versions were manufactured over a twelve year period.