Andrea Merloni (pictured), the man responsible for reviving Italy’s historic Benelli motorcycle brand, suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Milan on 9 November. He was 53 years old at the time of his death.
A minted playboy and keen bike racer, Merloni bought the defunct Benelli business in 1995. The purchase and subsequent relaunch was bankrolled by his billionaire father Vittorio Merloni’s Indesit white goods empire — which also included formerly British household appliance manufacturer Hotpoint in its portfolio.
Initially, Merloni got Benelli back on the road with a scooter range. But then he rolled out the Tornado Tre superbike in 2001, powered by a Ricardo-designed 900cc triple. Inevitably, promotion focused on top-level motorcycle sport.
Team Benelli fielded gritty Australian veteran Peter Goddard in the WSBK championship for two seasons. However, Tornado street derivatives never achieved anything remotely approaching commercial success.
To pressurise his son into taking a senior managerial role at Indesit, Vittorio Merloni eventually blocked further funding. Andrea Merloni was forced to sell the struggling Benelli concern to China’s Qianjiang Group in 2005. Benelli’s HQ has since remained in Italy but all bike production transferred to Chinese plants.
Following the death of Vittorio in 2016, the Merloni family sold Indesit to US white goods giant Whirlpool. Andrea, by then Indesit chief executive, opposed the decision. He nevertheless acquired a huge personal fortune from this disposal. The final years of his life were primarily spent cruising the Mediterranean on a superyacht and amassing a classic motorcycle collection.