Benelli's Big Problems: An Editorial

I've received countless e-mails and calls about Benelli, some characterizing them as the best $500 shotgun you can buy for $1600, others singing their praises. Some feel that if they didn't waste so much money on ridiculous ad-brags, they might actually be affordable to those who feel that they currently are not. Benelli is facing the same issues as Browning was, in 1948, with a twist.

The Browning Automatic-Five had no competition in the marketplace for well over forty years, until 1948 came along. With the Browning patents expiring, the long recoil action was anyone's to make. It was 1948 that saw the Remington 11-48 and the Franchi 48-AL appear, both cheaper versions of the Automatic-Five that required no licensing fees to F.N. Neither was remotely as well-made or desirable. Though the Remington 11-48 was offered in 28 gauge and .410 bore, combined with 12, 16, and 20 gauge it sold 450,000 units or so. When the 11-48 ceased production in 1968, the Browning A-5 was still going strong and continued for another thirty years.

Franchi ceased operations as a family-owned company in 1987, when it was acquired by Società Costruzioni Industriali Milano which went on to bankruptcy in 1993. The brand was then gobbled up by Beretta and that is where it has been ever since.

The Benelli Brothers made motorcycles, and seeking to enter the firearms business, bought the Bruno Civolani patent of 1967 (what is now called the inertia action) and started making shotguns in 1969. Benelli apparently did quite well in the firearms business, but facing bankruptcy the motorcycle business in Benelli was acquired by Argentinian industrialist Alejandro de Tomaso in 1973. It is now owned by the Chinese Group Qianjiang. Beretta Group ended up with Benelli in 1983, and apparently as part of the acquisition Benelli was forced to use Beretta barrels.


When the Browning Automatic-Five patents had run, Browning did not compete directly with itself. Though now, anyone who wants to make inertia guns certainly can and has. The new Browning A5 Kinematic, Girsan MC312, ATA Neo, and Caesar Guerini Roman are all current production examples. Benelli, however, competes with itself constantly. The 47 year old design of Bruno Civolani is anything but new at this juncture. After all, it came about only a few years after the Remington 1100.

Benelli brand has to compete with Stoeger inertia guns, Franchi inertia guns from itself as well as all the other inertia guns coming out. A very unhappy Tom Knapp finished his career with CZ, telling me on many occasions that Benelli shafted him. Benelli presents Duck Commander went “Boom, Boom, Boom,” to Mossberg. The value of those prior associations seems to be at approximately zero. Benelli also had (and has) an excellent design in the M4. For whatever the reasons, they didn't do much with it for the mainstream consumer, hunter, or target enthusiast. While they ignored it, Remington bought a patented, improved version of the action: it became the Versa Max.

Now, it is largely a case of which part of Beretta can tell the greatest whoppers. Which Italian brand has the most effective lies? While the marketers of Benelli try to claim less recoil, so does Beretta. While Benelli struggles to tell you their guns are the fastest cycling, the Beretta Blink action is claimed by Beretta to be 36% faster. Benelli claims to be the softest-kicking, but Beretta didn't get the memo. Beretta says “Beretta's new Kick-Off hydraulic dampening reduction system reduces recoil an astounding 44% more than its closest rival.” If nothing else, it is astounding.

Benelli says its Crio barrels put 13.2% more pellets on target. Every single clays championship in the world has been won by a gun other than Benelli. It should shock the known world that the top shooters of all time win despite this 13.2% handicap. What is even more amazing is that Benelli loudly brags of "denser, more effective patterns" in its various "Performance Shop" models, that don't use Crio chokes.

The Crio system is so good, that Beretta just can't be bothered with it. Instead, Beretta says “The best ballistic performance” is from their Steelium barrels. Further, Beretta publishes that their Steelium Pro barrels have “reduced perceived muzzle rise, increase in shooting stability, increased penetration and target breakage,” and “Quicker first shot and second shot acquisition.” That is really, really something: a shotgun barrel that actually gives you faster first shot acquisition.

It does look a lot like a family of pathological liars trying to set themselves on fire. And some gun companies actually wonder why most people don't believe their imaginary claims? It may not be “The Boy That Cried Wolf,” but it is the affliction of the boys that perpetually cry recoil, reliability, cycle-speed, and patterns. The only noticeable pattern is that the same steaming dish of deceit, served annually. If you want to try to buy a shotgun, you really need a good sense of humor. Or, you'll have to be patient enough to wait for the shotgun-peddlers to beam themselves back to the Mother Ship.

The pickle that Benelli is in has evoked a bit of sympathy from friends of mine in the industry. What is it like to have the company that actually owns you spend a pile of money to try to convince folks that your brand is inferior? That seems to be exactly the case, for Benelli's kick at least 44% more than Beretta's, according to Beretta, and Beretta's are 36% faster as well . . . again, according to Beretta. The protection of a unique action associated with Benelli is now gone, though, and that further complicates the situation. Benelli can no longer try to charge a large premium for an action that is made by several other companies.

In the end, it should be good for the consumer. It means competitively-priced Benelli product, or appealing innovation (Vinci, perhaps the Ethos) that justifies the cost of admission. It is hard to shake the feeling that Beretta Holding is puzzled about how to continue and that some of the strongest competition is the beast that lies within their own parent company. The Franchi label has been restored, to a point. Yet, it was Beretta who discarded it in the first place. Let's hope they have a better gameplan for Benelli. No wonder consumers are either bewildered or disgusted. Beretta has three full lines of inertia guns, including Franchi that says "The Inertia Driven® System harnesses the law of inertia to power the world’s fastest, simplest, and most reliable semi-auto shotguns. Newton’s first law of physics is consistent and unchanging. And we put it to work for you in the best system ever devised." Of course, Newton's first law of motion has nothing to do with the Franchi or Benelli action any more than any other autoloading shotgun action. It is stated as "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force."

Beretta still keeps trying to tell everyone that its own namesake branded autoloading shotguns are far superior, faster, more reliable, etc., then its own various lines of hoary inertia actions. It is a continuing puzzlement. The better Franchi's get, the more over-priced the Benelli brand looks. The more affordable Franchi's get, the less appealing the crude Stoeger version appears. While Beretta declares war on itself, every one else can make the same action, and more and more are.


Pure opinion by Randy Wakeman.


Copyright 2014 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

Custom Search