Unless you’re one of those folks out there that’s a devout fan of the centerfire rifle (for all applications), you’ve probably noticed that Italians have a habit of making pretty nice shotguns. And I’m not just talking about the folks that have been at it for nearly five centuries. Benelli’s been at the scattergun game for just under 50 years —which still makes it something of a new kid on the block in this industry—but has more than made its mark on history. Everyone knows that the company invented the inertia-driven action … but do you know the rest of the story? We’ve assembled 10 lesser-known facts about that other Italian shotgun maker.
The information was put together with a little help from the kind folks at Benelli USA, among other sources. Feel free to post any little known facts that I may have missed in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Now, on with the show.
1. Let’s get this started with an easy one. Long before they started manufacturing firearms, the Benelli family produced motorcycles. The company originally opened its doors in 1911 and remains in operation today. Though the debate rolls on, the company’s age quite possibly makes it the oldest European motorcycle factory.
2. OK, so this one’s taken directly from “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Beretta,” but the two companies share some history. In the late 1940s, motorcycle designer Giuseppe Benelli partnered with Giuseppe Beretta and Luigi Castelbarco to design and manufacture automobiles. The prototype, known as the BBC (Beretta, Benelli, Castelbarco), was presented in 1948, with a Benelli engine. It would never enter full production.
3. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s time to get on with the gun talk. Though Benelli S.P.A. wouldn’t formally be founded until 1967, the idea of manufacturing firearms had been kicked around by the Benelli brothers, who were avid hunters, for some time. They decided to make a formal entry into the business after designer Bruno Civolani invented what would become the company’s trademark inertia-driven action.
4. Speaking of 1967 … While nowadays it feels like the industry’s full of upstart young companies, being just 48 years young and so well regarded is impressive, given Benelli’s competition. Parent company Beretta has been in business since 1526; Remington since 1816 and Browning since 1897. Benelli made its name—quickly—in a market dominated by titans.
5. In 1969, Benelli rolled out the gun that would jump-start the company: the Benelli 121. The figurative father of every shotgun that the company would go on to produce, the 121 helped pave the way toward a new generation of semi-automatic scatterguns.
6. Though most waterfowlers undoubtedly know it, others may not, so here it goes: Benelli’s Super Black Eagle was the first semi-auto shotgun in the industry that was designed to regularly cycle 3½-inch 12-gauge shotshells. That attribute is now a staple for wingshooters and turkey hunters alike, but in 1992, it was revolutionary.
7. Benelli is obviously known in the American market for its shotguns, but the company manufactures more than just scatterguns. But, hey, give the U.S. consumers a little credit: the wares I’m talking about don’t even make the Benelli USA website. For niche markets, the company also produces a line of competition pistols, including the Benelli Kite airgun, which has seen action in the Olympic Games.
8. American consumers do have access to the company’s R1 series of hunting rifles, which Benelli first rolled out in 2002. Designed with big game in mind, the R1 series is chambered in .30-06 Sprg., .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Win. Mag.
9. Going green for the environment isn’t exactly a new trend, but it’s certainly one that’s picked up steam in recent years. And given that, as hunters, we have a lot of stock in the environment, I can’t complain. Benelli’s been on the forefront of green technology for years. The company was the first firearms manufacturer to receive an ISO 14001 Certificate for Environmental Management. They’re producing fine shotguns, and doing so responsibly.
10. In 1983, Benelli announced that a gifted engineer named Luigi Moretti would be its Managing Director. The fancy title didn’t dissuade Luigi from his previous pursuits. More than 30 years later, he’d be the man behind the design of the company’s latest innovation, the new 828U.