I have to admit that I’ve avoided the Retro 51 Tornados for years. They always seemed overpriced, gimmicky, and large to me. During an occupational pilgrimage to Apple in California, I stopped by the Apple Store on campus and couldn’t resist the Apple edition of the Retro 51 Tornado Slim. The pen was made with the same finish as the MacBook Pro’s at the time, and the slim design was much more comfortable to hold than its thicker counterparts.
I loved the pen, using it daily for a year or two, until it mysteriously vanished (ok, I likely left it somewhere). I was heartbroken and immediately began searching for a replacement.
I wasn’t thrilled with the limited choices in the Tornado Slim line, so I decided to give the full-sized pens a try. I stumbled upon the Retro 51 Torando Dr. Gray, a part of the Vintage Metalsmith line. While its stonewashed metal trim gives it a beautiful antique finish, the real star of the show is the pen’s barrel. A representation of the skeletal system, complete with labels, wraps around the white barrel. Dr. Gray references the well-known Henry Gray, author of the Gray’s Anatomy textbook (and yes, the show Grey’s Anatomy also references that actual Dr. Gray). The barrel also glows in the dark, and the effect is pretty slick when combined with the intricate skeletal system.
The Retro 51 Tornado uses a twist mechanism to expose the pen tip. The knurled design provides a grippy surface to twist, and the design visibly sets the Retro 51s apart from other pens. The writing experience is superb and, although I’m not an expert on rollerball or ballpoint pens, the Tornado refills are easily the best that I’ve ever used.
If there’s one complaint that I have with the pen, it’s that it comes with the rollerball refill - REF5P-B. Although it’s a great refill, I much prefer the Easy Flow 9000 ballpoint refill - REF71-B, but it’s very easy to swap them. There’s just something about the ballpoint refill that ticks all of the right boxes for me and makes me miss my long lost Apple Tornado Slim. That said, the rollerball refill is still incredibly smooth but it tends to be a bit wetter and scratchier—counterintuitive, I know—than the Easy Flow 9000.
The Retro 51 Torando Dr. Gray is my favorite non-fountain pen, and it’s easily the most-used pen in my pen case. Even when I don’t have my case with me, Dr. Gray is always in my pocket or on my desk. The design is whimsical, and the pen itself is incredibly sturdy and a consistent writer. Unfortunately, as of this writing, it looks like the Vintage Metalsmith Tornados are in short supply. Both Pen Chalet and Amazon have them in stock, but I’m not sure for how much longer. I wanted to post this review before they go out of stock, so if you’re at all interested, take a look soon!