Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Grime and Punishment…


I’ll be the first to admit that I HATE to clean old motor parts, especially scraping baked-on asbestos gaskets on the old 250-305 engine series. I have spent about 10 hours of my life in those pursuits just in the past few weeks and I am TIRED OF IT!

After completing a CB77 engine recently, which was favored with a vapor blasting job, I reluctantly agreed to do ONE MORE engine overhaul on a 1964 CL72 engine. It was delivered on a homemade engine stand, which was handy for initial tasks that included tear-down of the top end and loosening some engine case bolts. The entire engine was basically an abused mud-ball of clay dirt, baked and sealed into the open aluminum pores which are so prevalent on the many sand-cast engine pieces. This turned out to be one of the most challenging engine rebuilds I have ever done, due to the outside grime and the inside baked-on varnish, which only comes off with physical scraping. It was awful….

At least it turned over, but getting many of the screws out was a test of patience and endurance. The engine task included a total of three engines from which to choose the best parts for the rebuild. The customer told me that it would need a good cylinder, due to fin damage and probably a cylinder head, as well. Not until I got the head off that the magnitude of a previous attempt to remove the head made itself known.

The owner’s “helper” attempted to remove the head without disconnecting the camchain, apparently thinking that the engine was a push-rod twin, perhaps. When the engine was viewed from the right rear, it was obvious that someone had broken several of the fins in a misguided effort to pull the head off. When I disconnected the camchain and removed the head, I discovered huge gouges in the edges of the cylinder head surface and the top of the cylinder block. That damage was fresh, but it became obvious that the top end had been rebuilt once before, as there were .25 over-sized pistons installed. Apparently, the correct 54mm head gasket was not readily available at the time of the engine build, so the previous mechanic just placed a 61mm 305cc head gasket on the cylinders and put it back together again. The baked-on varnish, a result of years of sitting on the internal parts after being severely overheated were so gummy that the transmission shift forks wouldn’t move because of the varnish build-up between the two forks on the shift drum.

A reconstruction would require a good replacement head and cylinders from another 250cc engine. Fortunately, my friend, Ron Smith, happened to have a spare CL72 engine that had been an inhabitant in his garage for the better part of 10 years. We arranged to have me pick it up from Ron’s Pacific Beach home and the lump was deposited in the rear of the shop area awaiting the needs of the customer engine.

Both of the CL72 engines were packed with mud, hardened old grease and varnished innards due to lack of engine changes and/or engine overheating of the oil back in its history. The customer engine’s internals appeared to be fairly clean and unworn as far as the cams and rocker arms were concerned. Once the head was disassembled, the cam sprocket showed signs of loosening rivets, however, so that would either have to be welded or replaced with a known good part.

Ron’s engine was pretty much fried inside, with well-worn camshaft lobes, rockers and a lot of varnish inside. Apart from one cracked fin on the cylinder head, the head and cylinder block were sound, but filthy full of dirt and grease. Wouldn’t you know that the “last one” would be the worst one to clean.

The customer engine also had a chunk missing out of the bottom case, back below where the countershaft sprocket is located. I still had the remains of a 1962 CB77 bitsa engine, which had a good bottom case, so that engine was cracked open to donate a few parts, including the bottom engine case half. Some ill-advised mechanic had put the engine together with orange RTV silicon sealer, which adhered to everything, requiring patient residue removal efforts.

The customer engine showed signs of some bottom-end work, judging from the condition and type of fasteners used. Careful inspection showed that someone had swapped in an earlier model transmission gear, which used straight-cut gear dogs instead of the later type, that used back-cut, angled gear dogs. The whole low gear bushing had the separating ring worn off and the kickstarter pawl was severely worn down, where it contacts the inside of low gear.

The gear dogs were worn on the drive side due to a lack of proper gear dog overlap which caused the transmission to jump out of 2nd gear. Signs of its struggle were also seen on the high point of the shift drum where it engages the fork that drives 2nd gear. Offset gear cotters were installed, along with new 14mm shaft bushings on both ends of the layshaft. One end bushing was severely worn where the kickstarter pawl was digging into the bushing for many miles. The other end bushing which helps to contain the rollers had a crack in the edge. That was a very unusual part to suffer damage from my experience.

Fortunately, I have a storage bin full of used transmission parts, so sifting through the pile turned up just what I needed to put a good transmission back together again. The last little trick was to X the gears, which closes up the gear gap jump from 1st to 2nd gear. The 250 engines respond to this modification well, as they lack the grunt and power of the 305 models.

The customer engine came without anything installed in the kickstarter cover, so I had to dig out a kickstarter arm and pin from my stash, a knuckle, clutch lifter/adjuster and return spring setup from Ron’s engine. The remaining parts came from eBay which came to about $35 for just a handful of clips, springs and a ball bearing.

The engine casings and top-end parts were repeatedly cleaned in various solutions, including a pass with some oven cleaner, but much of the embedded dirt needed direct removal using a combination of rifle brushes, rotary brushes, stainless steel wire brushes and small pointed metal tools to get down into the nooks and crannies of these complex engine castings. I generally do not paint these engines, apart from the clutch covers and kickstarter covers, but I am probably going to make an exception to my usual practices, in order to brighten up this grubby little motor. 

Unfortunately, both of my “cleaning” resources were unavailable, so I wound up spending over an hour on each one, just to get them close to presentable. I had to clean two different clutch covers before I was able to use one with confidence, but that one needed some JB-Weld repairs for a small dent just below the oil filter cover area. Even the outer filter cover got a patch to cover some road damage. Every one of the filter covers I had in stock was damaged almost exactly the same way and place. The right side dyno covers are also NLA these days, but the solution was a $95 billet cover made on a CNC machine.

The cylinder head from Ron’s spare engine received all new valves, once the seats were cleaned and cut fresh to make a good valve seal. I was surprised to discover one VERY loose fitting intake valve in the head due to a worn valve guide. I have had valve guides floating around in my spares for years, as they seldom go bad, but I really needed one this time! Once I coaxed the new guide in, I had to clean it up with a valve stem reamer, then re-cut the seats again to match up with the new valves.

The customer cams and rockers were reused and the best of a couple of sets of valve springs put back into the engine. I have found that you have to check the valve springs carefully, as one had the end broken off. A near-new cam sprocket was discovered in the parts bins, which had matching spline patterns which took care of the problem of the loose rivets and floppy return springs.

All new chains will be installed, including primary chain, oil filter chain and camchain. I get the primary chains and oil filter chains from a vendor in the UK, which is great because the OEM parts are NLA and extremely expensive if you do happen upon any of them now. I replaced the camchain guide roller with one from CMSNL, which reproduced them recently.

The most expensive part of the engine build would have been a $200 NOS camchain tensioner, which seems to be one of the last remaining ones on the planet. With some digging, I was able to purchase a usable camchain tensioner for $15 on eBay, so the new one will be resold or swapped for something else, perhaps. I had a NOS D.I.D. endless camchain in stock, so decided to assemble the engine with that. 

Ron’s cylinder block was still on STD bore, but there was some rust in the cylinders, which required a first overbore to match some pistons that I had left in stock. Stock CB72 pistons, used in the CL72 engines have a pretty high dome anyway, even in the lower 8.5:1 compression versions. My spares are the 9.5:1 versions, which will give it a little extra kick.

It seems like my self-inflicted punishment for not stopping the rebuild process, after the last CB77 completion, is being tethered to a solvent bucket and scrub-brushes to clean the grime from all these parts, one piece at a time by hand, which is a most unpleasant task at my age. After this one is complete, I declare “Enough!”

Bill “MrHonda” Silver 8/2019
                                                              DONE!








Sunday, July 28, 2019

Stuff I’ve seen… stuff I haven’t seen


In my current (and hopefully last) Honda 250 engine build, I am in the middle of piecing one good engine from 3 engines in total. Two of the three engines are CL72 250cc twins from 1964-5 and a 1962 CB77 engine that was leftover from the last 305 engine build.

In the middle of all the current mess, I received a message from a SoCal CL72 owner who was having difficulties in getting the kickstarter to operate correctly. He had a local shop tear down the bottom end to have a look and this is what they found…


In all my days of dealing with the 250-305 engine group I have never seen a kickstarter shaft snapped off like this one was. More damage photos followed:


Low gear bushing ground away inside and the shift shaft splines twisted at the end… on a bike that had 5k miles, according to the owner. Wow! The parts bill for everything he needed was $350 alone.



Fishing through the three engines, here in the shop, revealed more disasters in the making. The 1962 CB77 engine didn’t come with a primary chain tensioner, but this one had a lower case change to include that feature. The bottom engine cases are mostly interchangeable, so fitting a 1963-on lower crankcase half was a good idea. The REALLY sad part of this engine was that it was fully assembled with orange RTV sealer on all gasket surfaces and the engine case halves! For those who think this is a good idea, I just have to say NO, NO, a THOUSAND TIMES NO!





In dividing the various transmission shafts up for inspection, I found a low gear bushing with the center ring floating inside low gear, a kickstarter pawl with ground down ratchet surface and the substitution of an early 2nd gear, which has straight cut gear dogs installed to mesh with a gear that had backcut gear dogs. I can’t say that I have seen this bushing cracked like this, either.




The hat-shaped 14mm end bushing had deep gouges in the surface from the kickstarter pawl contact and the gear dog overlap was less than 10%, with wear showing on the edges of the gear dogs from jumping in and out of 2nd gear. The shift forks were worn and old varnish deposits caused the shift drum to hang up inside the shift forks, preventing easy shifting of gears. The shift drum retainer plate had cracks in both screw holes and the forward kickstarter shaft bushing had a crack along the trailing edge.


Based upon general observations in the past 30 years of working on these engines, I would put the suggested parts lists to include:
*Low gear bushing, especially of the center ring is worn loose, as above!
*Kickstarter pawl, including the spring and plunger
*Kickstart shaft, if the roller bearing surface is damaged or the splines are twisted
*14mm end bushing
*Offset gear cotters ( 2 or all 4)
*Shift forks (reuse good ones)
*Shift drum (reuse good ones)
*Shift fork Roller bolt locking tab washers 2x
*Crankshaft locking tab washer
*6mm sealing washer for that long nut on the bottom case.

If the transmission has been jumping out of 2nd gear, then make sure you match the correct gear(s) for the rest of your transmission’s requirements.

If you look inside the top of the clutch cover and see a small shiny spot worn into the case housing, then the primary chain has worn beyond limits. If the primary chain is worn, probably the oil filter drive chain is also worn excessively. Replace both items. Aftermarket replacements are available from UK vendors.

Be aware that most of the basic return gearshift transmissions all use the same basic shifting selector parts, so you can go fishing for what’s needed outside of whatever model you have now. There are differences in the old/new CB/CL transmissions, including a late 1966 change in the spline depth. Dream transmissions had very few changes, but you can’t intermix Dream and CB/CL transmission gears.


Shift drum roller, locked up in above photo, lead to wear on the roller and arm just below the roller rivet pin.

Remember that all the transmission and shift selector repairs can be done with the bottom end of the cases split. You don’t have to tear down the whole engine to do lower end work. 


While you are in there, check the condition of the neutral switch. Many have broken wire connections or all full of dirt/grease and can’t make the required ground connection to turn on the neutral light. Check function of the switch before you put the kickstarter cover back on.

Bill "MrHonda" Silver 7-19




Thursday, July 18, 2019

And so it begins again… will the CL90 circle be unbroken?


It was my very first motorcycle; a 1967 Honda CL90 Scrambler 90, which turned up at a local used car lot, apparently traded in by a local serviceman. I don’t recall how I got the money, but I think the price was about $350 and suddenly it was MINE!
You may have read the saga of my 1500 mile journey on the little Scrambler 90 in just 3 days. I began in San Diego, riding up the Hwy 395 eventually to Reno, then back over the mountains, out the I-80 to Sacramento and San Francisco then down the PCH until I hit Playa Del Rey, CA.
The bike seemed capable of somewhere around 60 mph and it was ridden at pretty much full-throttle for the whole trip. I stopped every 100 miles and put in ONE gallon of gasoline, then off I went again. I did virtually no maintenance to it, apart from keeping the oil level topped off. It just ran and ran and ran…
Having run through something like 400 cars and bikes in the past 50 years, I have seen a few decent examples of the little Scrambler, but most were in a rather poor condition with worn or missing parts and generally lacked decent care. I don’t actively seek out my “first bike” these days, but one pretty good example came my way via a phone referral from nearby Carlsbad, CA.

I was puzzled, at first, in that the bike had most of the CL90 parts, however, it had a S90 fuel tank mounted up in place of the little Silver Scrambler tank that one usually sees on a CL90. The message sender came back with “I liked the looks of the S90 tank, so I put one on the bike. I still have the original CL90 gas tank, though!”
The bike appears to be a 1968-69 edition, which featured chromed fenders, turn signals and the little front fender reflector, unlike my plain-Jane 1967 machine, which probably came from Okinawa. The bike didn’t have any turn signals and the fenders were painted Cloud Silver, just like the tank. Honda 90s were no strangers to change, although the main CL90 chassis appears to be interchangeable with an S90, there were CL90-specific parts used to differentiate the two models. The fenders, seat, muffler, fuel tank, and handlebars were the principal differences. Mechanically, the two were mostly the same beneath the cosmetics.
I happened to be in that part of the county, last week, so arranged to see the bike and perhaps take it home…
In all of its “glory,” the bike sat at the opening of the 2 car garage, awaiting inspection and/or purchase. It’s funny how the first impressions, felt in the gut, will give you a feeling of attraction or repulsion and unfortunately, the latter came into full force almost immediately. The list of deficiencies ran long, right from the beginning. Most all of the chrome was pitted to some extent and the bike hadn’t been started for quite a while. A lithium battery was installed and had enough charge to light up the neutral light, but a few kicks gave no joy. A check of the fuel tank revealed nothing inside. I did bring a compression gauge and got readings of 150 psi, which was hopeful. The miles showing were about 1500 and appeared to be original.
Among the missing were: chain guard, battery cover and center stand. The original CL90 fuel tank was in a separate box and there were telltale dents on both sides at the front edges. That usually only means one thing… steering stops on the frame sheared off from a crash. The end of the throttle grip was torn and the rear brake pedal was bent upwards beyond the footpeg, all indicating some forceful damage due to a crash at some point in its life. The bike had an original CA “Black plate” which are revered in the Golden State as being original to the bike and seen on all cars until about 1969. Unfortunately, the bike had never been registered to the seller since he took ownership sometime back in the 1970s.
Right before I left (Sorry, I have to pass on this one), I checked the serial numbers and discovered that the 2XXXXX numbers on the frame were not backed up by the engine numbers, which were 1XXXXX instead. There were a lot of Allen screws installed in place of the normal Phillips head screws, so someone had been doing some kind of repairs or just installed a different engine. Both were CL90 series though, instead of an S90 engine transplant which is often more commonly seen in situations like this.
With only the one photo to go from, I couldn’t tell just what the “value” might be. The seller put out a feeler at $1,000 initially. In an ideal situation with a near mint bike, the price might have been supported, however, this one was far away from that kind of price range. I felt that something in the $400-500 range might be more appropriate, given the condition and the many needs of this little Scrambler. I offered to help him sell it and posted photos on Facebook forums that evening.
I forwarded three potential buyers to him and one apparently showed up and paid $700 for the bike and was excited at the prospect of getting it going and maybe doing some level of restoration to it over time.
So, in the end, it was not my time to revisit the “first bike” scenario again and that was probably a really good thing, as my time would be sucked up in a fruitless labor of love, which would reduce my customer repair time, where I actually do make a little money these days.
Well, no doubt, there is something else waiting in the wings for me and my little envelope of cash leftover from the sale of the Honda Reflex scooter. In the meantime, the “Unique CB400F” bike featured in previous posts is getting revamped back towards stock again, but with a few little twists to make it a little more “cool.” Stay tuned for that update.
Bill “MrHonda” Silver
07-19
PS/// Same bike showed up on CL for $1500 asking 2 days later...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The JDMs in my life…

In more than 50 years of Honda motorcycle ownership, bikes of all sizes and histories have come my way, with the bulk of them “normal” US-spec models. I have owned more than a few JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) Hondas, which have mostly just showed up unexpectedly. It is an interesting mix, starting with the oldest ones… a 1954 90cc J model Benly and an F Cub, the Honda 2-stroke powered bicycle and they just kept coming…

I turned up the J Benly at a local salvage yard, which was sitting for many years before I extricated it, more out of curiosity than anything. It was rough, but mostly there, but the kickstarter cover had been split and re-welded once. I disassembled the engine just to see what was inside and did a valve job on the cylinder head, using a CB750 valve guide.

Ownership of this bike actually started my involvement with the VJMC, as I was trying to contact others who knew anything about this model at all. I sold the bike, locally, to a friend who sold it to Brian Slark (Barber museum wrangler) and it wound up in St. Louis for a number of years. Mike Buttinger contacted me looking for an “old Honda” and I put them together. The bike was shipped to the UK where it underwent a 100% stunning restoration, subsequently winning a “Best of Show” award at Staffordshire. I did, briefly, own a JC58 Benly, back in the 1990s, but sold it off before it was running again.

The “F Cub” might have actually been older, perhaps a 1952-3 edition, which I purchased off of eBay right after I moved to Hawaii! The bike was shipped in a bicycle box and arrived safely, from many thousands of miles away. It was a fascinating look into Honda’s first in-house engine building efforts, but wasn’t going to be practical for the Islands, so it was re-sold on eBay to someone in TX, who flipped it again, not too long afterwards.

My first ever motorcycle was perhaps a version of a JDM, probably from Okinawa. It was a 1967 Honda CL90 Scrambler. It was brought into the country by a local sailor, I think and traded in for a car at a used car lot. It was definitely the only one in town, as even the local Honda dealer had no idea of its existence. They were released in the US a few months later. That bike is the one that I drove 1500 miles in 3 days, going from San Diego to Reno, NV, to SFO and then back to LA, getting 100 mpg all the way.

The only JDM that I went to fetch in Japan, was an early SS50 Sports 50, featuring a 5-speed gearbox connected to a 11,000 rpm motor. That bike went 60 mph right out of the box. I was in the USAF and flew from my base in Sacramento to Yokota AFB in Japan, visiting Curly’s Honda, just outside the base entrance. I picked out a cute red SS50, paid $175 for it and was told to come back later. Upon my return, I found the bike had been turned into a neat pile of perfectly wrapped parts, suitable for shipment back on the C135 jet plane, as I returned back to Sacto, via Fairbanks AK.

After my stint in the USAF, I returned to San Diego and bought/sold a lot of Honda bikes. In the late 1970s, I happened to be in the UK, when Honda released the 1977 CB125T twin to the local market. I had been roadracing on and off since 1974, in the 125 Production class, so thought that this bike would be more competitive than my series of CB 125S models, which were all that was available in the US. The CB125T was another out-of-the-box terror… 80mph at 12k rpms in totally stock condition. The bike was raced successfully at several tracks, including Ontario Motor Speedway where it hit 88 mph at 13k rpms drafting a 175cc class bike.



I went back to the UK a few years later and discovered the new 1980 CB250RS street bike, based upon an XL250 chassis/engine, but with alloy rims, disc front brake, improved engine and a tiny quarter fairing. That bike would run up to about 90 mph and got 90 mpg at the Craig Vetter Gas Mileage run in 1980. I sold the bike to buy a new VF750F Interceptor. About 30 years later, the same CB250RS showed up on Craigslist, here in San Diego.  It had about 28k miles on it and was still owned by the same woman who bought it in 1983. It needed waking up, but it ran fine after a bit of work. The engine had never been opened up, wasn’t using oil and didn’t leak.

A rare CBM72 250cc Super Hawk (Type 2 engine with 360 crankshaft) showed up on a local Cycle Trader listing in the mid-1980s, which was the first of that type I had ever seen. I also pieced together a Type 2 CB77 domestic bike, during that time which had a lot of CYB racing parts installed on the chassis. I sold that bike in 1988 and wound up buying it back from the estate of the owner in 2017.

In the late 1990s I came across a CP450 for sale in the Mid-West. Apart from an oversized windshield and a dual seat, the bike had most of the CP parts still on it. I was able to purchase it and have my local wholesale friends grab it for me and haul it back to San Clemente, where I lived from 1996-2001. I was able to buy a NOS solo seat and rear rack directly from Honda. There were only 25 of the all-white 4-speed Black Bomber models brought into the country and Honda did inventory parts for them. 

Through a rather complicated purchase and swap, I did wind up with a rare CYP77 Honda 305 Police bike, all in bits. They were never offered in the US (some CP450s came over in 1965), but a few were sprinkled around in Canada, which is where this particular bike was sourced. I found an ad, somewhere on the Internet, I think, where two were being offered. I gave the information to a friend in TX, who was seeking a project like that and a year or so later, the first one was finished to perfection. Enough parts had been rounded up to do the second one, but his enthusiasm waned. After sharing photos of the first one, I asked about bike #2 and he offered it up for trade wanting a CB92 project instead of cash.

I had just moved to New Mexico, but had been in contact with a man who had an unidentified “Benly” out in the desert that he wanted to sell cheaply. It turned out to be a CB92 with a unfinished CB160 engine wedged into the chassis. The bike came with the original engine, YB racing parts for the Benly and a YB seat for a CB77, too. I had to make a 1400 mile round trip over the weekend to fetch it all and return to NM. On Thanksgiving Day weekend, my friend drove up from Houston with the CYP77 and a running 1967 CB77 to swap for the CB92 project. I built the CYP77 in about 3 months and then sold it to CMSNL in Holland, prior to moving to Hawaii in 2002.

In 2017, an avalanche of JDM bikes came to me in convoluted ways… First a CB77-styled domestic CB350 went up for sale in PA, but the bike had been partially restored by a friend in NoCal, a few years earlier. I bought the bike and had it shipped here in SoCal, where I brought it back to life, but discovered numerous issues that needed a lot of TLC. At the same time, a 1997 Honda Dream 50 street bike came on the market, in Indiana, from a good friend and enthusiast, who had a lot of experience with Honda 350 twins and we wound up swapping bikes back and forth to the Mid-West. The domestic CB350 had gone from N. Cal to PA to CA and back to IN, in the space of a year.

In the meantime, the man who transported the domestic CB350 to me also had brought in 24 JDM-UK bikes from England, earlier in the year, including a 1988 CBR250R 250-four cylinder bike, which has a redline at 18k rpms. On the way back to CA, while bringing in the 350, he picked up the 250-4 from his warehouse in Oakland and brought both bikes down to me. The CBR250R was a little bit rough, but ran well and was great fun to drive. I had just gotten it registered in CA when ANOTHER 1988 CBR250 showed up on eBay auctions. The bike had been brought in from Japan by a dealer in Utah. That bike only had 310km on it… about 185 original miles and had been serviced and titled in UT. The first CBR250 was sold to an enthusiast in LA and the “new” bike remains with me today with about 1200 miles on it now.

This interest in more modern JDM models lead me to bid on a 1989 Honda NC30, which is the 400cc V-4 version of the fabled RC30 750ss Sport bikes, which are now fetching $25-50k. I didn’t realize it, but the seller was the same guy I bought the first CBR250 from! It took him a few weeks to bring the bike out to SoCal and unfortunately there were numerous problems that were not disclosed in the auction, including having the original carburetors replaced by some “parts bike” carbs of a different series that had damage and missing parts. The fork seal on one side was leaking a lot and the bike tried to bend a rod by trying to compress a cylinder full of raw gasoline that had leaked into the cylinder through the vacuum hose attached to the vacuum operated petcock.

A new OEM Honda petcock diaphragm kit fixed the tank problem and I learned to turn the engine backwards to purge out the gasoline back into the exhaust system. I’m not sure why it didn’t catch fire and/or blow up once the cylinder was cleared and the engine fired up for the first time. I did get one ride in on the bike for about 75 miles before tearing into it, in an effort to salvage the carburetors. With 60+ horsepower and wet weight of about 400 lbs, the bike is quite entertaining to ride, once it clears its throat. I am hoping for good things from it, but it is going to take a lot more time and $$ to get it close to right again. I actually sold it on eBay to a guy in Hawaii, so the bike resides over there now.

I think that this will be the last of the JDM Hondas to come my way, but as you know, life is just FULL of surprises.
Bill Silver

Thursday, July 11, 2019

And so it begins again… will the CL90 circle be unbroken?



It was my very first motorcycle; a 1967 Honda CL90 Scrambler 90, which turned up at a local used car lot, apparently traded in by a local serviceman. I don’t recall how I got the money, but I think the price was about $350 and suddenly it was MINE!

You may have read the saga of my 1500 mile journey on the little Scrambler 90 in just 3 days. I began in San Diego, riding up the Hwy 395 eventually to Reno, then back over the mountains, out the I-80 to Sacramento and San Francisco then down the PCH until I hit Playa Del Rey, CA.
The bike seemed capable of somewhere around 60 mph and it was ridden at pretty much full-throttle for the whole trip. I stopped every 100 miles and put in ONE gallon of gasoline, then off I went again. I did virtually no maintenance to it, apart from keeping the oil level topped off. It just ran and ran and ran…

Having run through something like 400 cars and bikes in the past 50 years, I have seen a few decent examples of the little Scrambler, but most were in rather poor condition with worn or missing parts and generally lacked decent care. I don’t actively seek out my “first bike” these days, but one pretty good example came my way via a phone referral from nearby Carlsbad, CA. Or so I thought...


I was puzzled, at first, in that the bike had most of the CL90 parts, however it had a S90 fuel tank mounted up in place of the little Silver Scrambler tank that one usually sees on a CL90. The message sender came back with “I liked the looks of the S90 tank, so I put one on the bike. I still have the original CL90 gas tank, though!”

The bike appears to be a 1968-69 edition, which featured chromed fenders, turn signals and the little front fender reflector, unlike my plain-Jane 1967 machine, which probably came from Okinawa. The bike didn’t have any turn signals and the fenders were painted Cloud Silver, just like the tank.  Honda 90s were no strangers to change, although the main CL90 chassis appears to be interchangeable with an S90, there were CL90-specific parts used to differentiate the two models. The fenders, seat, muffler, fuel tank, and handlebars were the principle differences.  Mechanically, the two were mostly the same beneath the cosmetics.

I happened to be in that part of the county, last week, so I arranged to see the bike and perhaps take it home…

In all of its “glory,” the bike sat at the opening of the 2 car garage, awaiting inspection and/or purchase. It’s funny how the first impressions, felt in the gut, will give you a feeling of attraction or repulsion and unfortunately, the latter came into full force almost immediately.  The list of deficiencies ran long, right from the beginning. Most all of the chrome was pitted to some extent and the bike hadn’t been started for quite awhile. A lithium battery was installed and had enough charge to light up the neutral light, but a few kicks gave no joy. A check of the fuel tank revealed nothing inside. I did bring a compression gauge and got readings of 150 psi, which was hopeful. The miles showing were about 1500 and appeared to be original.

Among the missing were: chain guard, battery cover and center stand. The original CL90 fuel tank was in a separate box and there were telltale dents on both sides at the front edges. That usually only means one thing… steering stops on the frame sheared off from a crash. The end of the throttle grip was torn and the rear brake pedal was bent upwards beyond the footpeg, all indicating some forceful damage due to a crash at some point in its life. The bike had an original CA “Black plate” which are revered in the Golden State as being original to the bike and seen on all cars until about 1969. Unfortunately, the bike had never been registered to the seller since he took ownership sometime back in the 1970s.

Right before I left (Sorry, I have to pass on this one), I checked the serial numbers and discovered that the 2XXXXX numbers on the frame were not backed up by the engine numbers, which were 1XXXXX instead. There were a lot of Allen screws installed in place of the normal Phillips head screws, so someone had been doing some kind of repairs or just installed a different engine. Both were CL90 series though, instead of an S90 engine transplant which is often more commonly seen in situations like this.

With only the one photo to go from, I couldn’t tell just what the “value” might be. The seller put out a feeler at $1,000 initially. In an ideal situation with a near mint bike, the price might have been supported, however this one was far away from that kind of price range. I felt that something in the $400-500 range might be more appropriate, given the condition and the many needs of this little Scrambler. I offered to help him sell it and posted photos on Facebook forums that evening.
I forwarded three potential buyers to him and one apparently showed up and paid $700 for the bike and was excited at the prospect of getting it going and maybe doing some level of restoration to it over time.

So, in the end, it was not my time to revisit the “first bike” scenario again and that was probably a really good thing, as my time would be sucked up in a fruitless labor of love, which would reduce my customer repair time, where I actually do make a little money these days.

Well, no doubt, there is something else waiting in the wings for me and my little envelope of cash leftover from the sale of the Honda Reflex scooter. In the meantime, the “Unique CB400F” bike featured in previous posts is getting revamped back towards stock again, but with a few little twists to make it a little more “cool.” Stay tuned for that update.
Bill “MrHonda” Silver
07-19

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Duplicating Hondas… again!


It seems very odd that vintage Hondas show up in my shop and in life in pairs. I generally don’t buy two of the same bike, but lately one shows up for repairs and then I find one like it for sale. Like my creampuff 1995 Cougar XR7 (80k original miles), I seem to get involved with niche market models of cars and bikes.  Consider the previously reported Tracy-bodied CB400F which had a stock, red CB400F partner come down from Orange County for a repair visit. Before that, there was a pair of CB77 Super Hawks, which showed up not long after a brace of CB92s came through Casa de Honda.

So, it wasn’t surprising that a blue version of the just-repaired orange CB400A showed up on Craigslist at an attractive price. It was a 90-mile round trip to go see and buy it, but the previous owners had been enjoying the bike for the previous 10 years, so it seemed like a reliable mount. When I arrived, I found a used, but not abused CB400A with 12k miles showing on the odometer.  The fuel tank had a small dent and the petcock had a tendency to weep if you put the lever in the full ON position. The oil needed changing and the drive chain hadn’t been adjusted for quite awhile. After a quick run down the block, I made a deal with the sellers and loaded it up in the Tacoma for the return home.



Once it was unloaded from the truck, a closer look for maintenance items seemed to indicate that perhaps the balancer shaft adjustment had never been done. I drained the oil and filter, which allowed for somewhat easier work on the torque converter covers. It is a messy job with oil coming out of the converter and from within the outer case covers.  The balancer adjustment required moving the adjustment arm one spline to get it set properly.  Fortunately, the gaskets came off clean, so everything was put back together without any new parts.

When the seat was removed from the chassis, an odd thing was noticed in that the little tray for the tool kit had been hacked off, perhaps to enhance air flow to the air cleaner inlet. A decent replacement was purchased from an eBay seller, but the swap continues to be delayed, as it appears to require rear wheel removal at the least. It is a deep, complicated piece that forms the forward portion of the rear fender.

One of the cautions from the seller, during the purchase, was that the countershaft seal was weeping oil, so new seals were ordered. After a couple of days, the 4into1 parts order arrived and work was undertaken to fix the seal issue. There are two seals shown in the parts book illustrations, but it wasn’t clear as to how they both worked together on the output shaft. One seal was mounted on a thick steel washer and the OD was larger than the actual countershaft seal outside diameter.

The first seal was stubborn and took a good 15 minutes to extract from the engine case. Behind it was the steel back seal, which I attempted to remove, but quickly discovered that it was actually sitting inside a groove in the cases. The only way to properly change it is to split the cases! I spent over an hour grinding, drilling and working on the seal extraction, which was required now that the seal lips had been damaged during the initial removal attempt. Drilling holes 180 degrees apart on the sides of the seal base allowed for it to kind of fold over and eventually be removed. All of the physical exertion in the outer seal removal left gouges in the engine case seal opening edges. Most of these were cleaned up using a rotary tool, but one deeper gouge into the seal housing surface lead to an immediate oil leak when the engine was restarted.

With the countershaft sprocket removed, it was easy to see that the oil was leaking out of the channel that was created by errant drilling. Removing the new seal to inspect the damaged area caused irreparable harm to the seal, so it was discarded and 2 new ones ordered in hopes that one would finally hold oil pressure once the case damage was repaired.  It wasn’t a good day at the office…

Part of the reason for being interested in an automatic is that I had ankle surgery last year, plus a flare-up of a left wrist pain that seemed to linger, so I have been looking at other 2-wheeled options that don’t necessarily require a manual clutch and a lot of rear brake action. My stepfather had both the CB400A and CB750A versions, back in the 1980s and was happy to troll around on them. The 750 proved to be a little too ungainly for him, so we backed him off to a 400, but added an “E” economy model fuel tank, which held another half gallon or so.

The first generation 400A models had some kind of factory glitch that caused the stators to fail and apparently every one built will need a new stator, according to a Honda service rep. This bike was a “wife’s bike” which had been purchased 10 years ago with about 8,000 miles on it then. After 40 years, it is difficult to know the bike’s history and if the stator has been changed or not. Fingers crossed and hope that it remains functional.

Having just done one of these bikes, I learned that re-jetting the carburetors yielded benefits to overcome their inherent lean conditions, built in at the factory in order to pass emission controls. New carb kits with the standard CB400T jetting were ordered and installed to improve drivability and performance.

It wasn’t a happy thought, but it became obvious that the engine had to come out for new seal installation. The wraparound exhaust system had headers that came out with some nudging, but the rear separate mufflers seemed to be unwilling to loosen for removal. Eventually, the rear brake pedal linkages was removed at the rear wheel, allowing the pedal to move downwards sufficiently to create space for the power chamber/mufflers to be slipped out of the chassis.

A floor jack was placed beneath the motor and it slid down and pirouetted out onto a waiting plastic tub, which was meant to contain the oil drooling from the internals, as the disassembly continued. The torque converter side covers were removed along with the other hardware for the shift linkage, while the rotor and stator mounting plate was pulled from the opposite side.

The cases seemed to be very reluctant to part with a few screwdrivers wedged in between the outer edges until the overlooked 6mm (by 105mm) bolt was discovered to have been hiding under some grease. Loosening the bolt without taking the wedges out resulted in a loud BANG; with the bottom engine case jumping up and the remaining bolt shearing off at the threads in the upper case.  I went online to locate what appeared to be the last 6x105 flange bolt in the Honda system and ordered it immediately.  Man, these “senior moments” can take a toll sometimes, but it could have been worse.

The engine internals were quite clean, but the transmission shaft seal shoulder was nicked from the previous seal replacement attempts. Another trip to eBay came up with a complete transmission for $20, plus $15 shipping! New seals from 4into1.com came in along with a gasket kit. Somehow, all the jacking of the big engine case hadn’t damaged the sealing edges, so with new engine seals installed in place, the lower case half was reattached successfully.

While waiting for incoming parts, the carbs were unhooked from their cables and new CB400T kit jets were installed, hopefully, to give the engine a bit more fuel to compensate for the alcohol in the gasoline which tends to lean older engines out. Main jets were moved up to 110 from 105 and the primary mains changed from 72 to 75. These bikes were notorious for being cold-blooded due to EPA requirements which were just coming into play during the mid-1970s.
Eventually, all the parts were received and the engine reinstalled into the chassis. The bottom of the engine doesn’t have much of a large flat pad to use for lifting by a jack, but a combination of tools, lifting back and forth, plus the hydraulic assist eventually got the big lump back into the frame successfully.

The engine fired back up without the troublesome oil leaks at the counter-shaft, which was a great relief. One of the carb mods backfired on me, as the shim beneath the needle locked it into the slide which subsequently seized up partially when running.  Removing the shims freed up the slides correctly and the engine performance improved back to normal, once again.

Returning from a long Sunday drive resulted in a horrifying sight of oil drooling off the engine, once again, but the cause turned out to be a little too much oil in the crankcase, plus I forgot to reconnect the breather tube back to the valve cover after the last carb removal session! Senior moments, indeed!
Subsequent testing did not reveal any further major issues, although some black oil was coming off the countershaft area, which turned out to be old chain lube which had been superheated by the 25-mile freeway run and flung off the chain onto the engine case cavity. A quick recheck beneath the left side cover showed no signs of fresh engine oil to be present, so I think the case can be closed now. Whew!

Riding these bikes is a lesson in relearning how to ride a bike without the usual engine compression braking when throttling down in gear. The bike feels like it is coasting when not under power, which it is with the torque converter functioning as they normally do.  If you aren’t in a hurry, the bike can be left in “2” and just throttled off a stop like a scooter. There is more oomph if you start in “1” but it tops out at 50 mph. Top speed doesn’t seem to be more than about 80 mph on the flats or downhill. Pulling the new spark plugs for a mixture reading showed very white electrodes, so a little more jetting might be helpful to increase performance and keep it off of detonation.  The engines are 360-degree firing, like an old Honda Dream, but have a chain-driven balancer shaft system to negate much of the vibrations normally felt in an engine of this configuration.

The Honda-matic versions of the 400T are pretty good at local commuting but feel woefully underpowered going up long grades at freeway speeds. The carburetors are 6mm smaller than those on the manual clutch models and the cam timing is configured for torque not super-high revs. The standard versions of these bikes are pretty quick for their size, however, and magazine articles praised the whole bike lineup as revolutionary and compelling overall… except for the CB400A!

Having recently sold my 2002 Honda Reflex 250 scooter, it is hard to tell the performance difference between the two machines, as the scooter was capable of 80 mph as well.  As my ankle continues to recover and the wrist problem responded well to treatment, the need for the automatic seems to be waning now, so when the title shows up, the bike will go out and find a happy home for someone who can appreciate its features, just the way it is.

Bill “MrHonda” Silver 7-2019

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Honda CB400F... coming in pairs now


With the last Tracy-bodied CB400F acquisition pretty much done (as far as I am going to take it), another low-miles, all stock, red, 1975 CB400F turned up on the local Craigslist posts, although the bike was actually in Temecula, CA. The photos looked promising and seller claimed to have had to buy 3 different exhaust systems before he could cobble together an all-OEM unit. Miles were in the 10k range, so it should be in decent shape overall, at least mechanically.

A friend, Michael, who lives up in OC, had contacted me looking for a nice vintage bike for his buddy to ride. He initially attached a 1969 CB450K2 listing from Craigslist, but it was up in Central CA. The bike looked decent enough but parts for the 450s are getting scarce on the ground and they aren’t my favorite model anyway. After imparting those thoughts, Michael sent back a link to the red 1975 CB400, which had been posted up in OC, after the one in San Diego had expired. Asking price was $4600, including a bunch of spares, including a nice fuel tank. I opined that if the price was closer to $4k, it would be a good deal, all things considered.  Next thing I know the deal was done, apparently at $4k and the bike was brought down to its new home in Mission Viejo. A day or so later, after Michael had taken it out for a test run, he sent back a message stating:

1.  Most important, it has an oil leak, that looks like from the head gasket just under were the pipe connects. Is this simple fix… do we just need to torque the head bolts?
2.       One of the 4 float bowl gas needle valves leaks
3.       The clutch slips a little when pulling high RPMs.

Unfortunately, for many of the inline Fours from the 1970s, the head gaskets tend to leak out around the o-ring seal, where the oil is channeled up from the pump through the cylinders. This is common for 350-400-500-550 and 650 Fours and not unheard of on the SOHC 750s, starting back in 1969. For a mechanic, the good news is that most all of the “small” Fours have enough room around the frame to remove the cylinder head with the engine still in the chassis.

A good webpage overview covering a restoration procedure is http://www.dotheton.com/forum/index.php?topic=59484.0

In this case, once the cylinder head is removed, then the “fun” begins…

The valves must be removed and new valve stem seals installed. The head needs to be checked for any high spots or warpage. All the valves and combustion chambers need to be de-carboned and cleaned. Camchain guides and end bumpers should be checked and replaced if needed. All the cylinder head hardware and fasteners must be cleaned and inspected before reuse. Securing the cylinders to the crankcase before any engine rotation has begun can prevent the necessity of pulling the cylinders and scraping off a LOT of factory gasket material from the base of the cylinders and the upper crankcase. Once the cylinders break the gasket bond between the cylinder base and crankcase, you are in for another couple of hours of labor.

After shedding the exhaust system, before mounting the bike on my bike work rack, the rest of the task is just a slow and easy disassembly of the top end components. ONE of the 8mm cylinder head nuts, which are one of two that are exposed to the elements, needed a fork tube slid over the end of my 3/8ths drive ratchet in order to break it loose. When the top cam cover/cylinder head cover was lifted off, I could see remnants of a previous attempt to seal up the cover to the head using some liquid gasket material, instead of just replacing the elongated o-ring packing.

The cam and rocker arms all looked well lubricated, but the tensioner blade on the back was getting some ridges in the face, so was changed.  The valves were taken out one cylinder at a time, de-carboned and the stem seals changed on the inlet side. The gasket kit came with 8 seals, so apparently these early engines only had seals on the inlet side. Checking current parts lists show a different exhaust valve guide part number, which can accept a stem seal, but the cylinder head part number was a 377-000, the original part number to the bike, which takes only 4 seals on the inlet sides.
There was a build-up of soft carbon on the back sides of the intake valves, indicating worn stem seals. Soft carbon deposits covered the combustion chambers and tops of the piston crowns, but the color on the exhaust valves seemed to indicate pretty good burning even with stock jets.


The whole intake system was intact with all the proper clamps and components in place, indicating that the carb rack might never have been off the bike. The carbs came apart without drama and all of the o-rings that seal the main jets and float valves showed definite signs of age. New carb kits were ordered from my friends at 4into1.com, along with a couple of sets of over-sized jets, fork seals, spark plug caps and other repair items needed for the bike. The owner supplied a gasket kit, but it was one of the Athena aftermarket kits, not a more desired OEM Honda kit. Hopefully, the head gasket will withstand the heat and pressure of the engine for the immediate future.

The bike apparently lived much of its life in Wisconsin or somewhere in the Mid-West and there was a general sprinkling of corrosion on the chrome and alloy parts that was consistent with its early days outside of California. Michael wanted the outer engine covers repainted, as they showed signs of corrosion that had worked beneath the original coatings. After the generator side cover was removed, I was surprised to see signs of the rotor rubbing on the inside of the field coil and a bit on the outside too. Given the fixed nature of these components, which never should contact each other, one must assume that the bike was crashed down on the left side and the case deformed enough to allow contact between the rotor and field coil. When the cover was stripped of all the components, it was clear that the cover had been impacted enough to deform the outer edges of the cover casting. This could be a used cover that was installed after the original crash had occurred.


I have been raiding the leftover parts of my friend Scott, who restored a couple of CB400Fs back about 10 years ago. Of all the odd parts that he still had was one NOS CB350-400F rotor! I made a quick 22 mile round-trip on my newly-acquired 2002 Honda Reflex scooter and brought back the prize for installation. The engine was spun over to check for any deformity on the end of the crankshaft, but the rotor runs true with no wobble or run-out.  The dented area of the cover was worked a bit with a big brass drift and checked for any uneven heights of the screw standoffs.  The field coil checked in with 4.5 ohms and the stator windings were all connected to each other, but not to ground, so it should all work well, once the components are all reinstalled. I did notice a different flange nut holding the rectifier onto the frame and closer inspection revealed that the bracket had been re-welded at some point in time.

Checking the forks for weeping seals, it appeared that they had been replaced at least once before and they didn’t seem to be wet when the dust boots were pried up for inspection. What did show up were some fine wear lines on the fork tubes, equal on both sides.  A bit of test riding will be needed to confirm any leaks, but it may not be the fault of the seals in this case.

Michael reported an oil leak beneath the engine on the right side, as well. Apparently the galley plug cap was leaking slightly past the o-ring, so that will be addressed when the clutch cover, on the same side is removed for the clutch inspection and necessary repairs. Later a second galley plug, just behind the oil filter housing was also weeping some oil passed the o-ring. Both were replaced with the desired results.

The clutch cover was removed and the clutch disassembled to check for signs of slipping. I have never had a CB400F that slipped its clutch, even during racing conditions, so wasn’t surprised to find no signs of wear or slipping on the plate sets. The bike came with a complete set of plates and springs, so they were installed anyway. The springs were an optional 323 code spring from the CB500 Fours, so the clutch lever has a bit more tension when disengaging the clutch now. The cover was cleaned and painted, along with installation of a new kickstarter shaft seal.

A new set of exhaust flanges were available from 4into1.com so for a reasonable price, the exhaust system got a bit of extra bling. The exhaust collars had been painted over the old rust, so were stripped again for another coat of high-temperature engine silver.

The carbs were setup with #78 main jets, instead of the stock #75 sized jets, in order to compensate for the alcohol-based fuels we have to use in SoCal. The bike pulled strongly through the gears, once the engine was running again, but the plugs came out on the white side, so a bump up in the jetting to #80s might be in order. Speaking of spark plugs… the original plug caps all showed between 9 and 10k ohms, which is out of spec for resistor caps, which are set at 5k ohms of resistance.

The last stop in this journey was to re-seal the spare fuel tank that came with the bike deal. The tank was straight and the paint in decent condition, but a thin coating of surface rust was seen and felt in the roof of the fuel tank. A flush with phosphoric acid, followed by a rinse and dry preceded the installation of the 2-part Caswell epoxy sealer. A new OEM fuel filter kit was installed after the petcock was disassembled and cleaned.

Riding the bike is a bit of a time travel, as it is about as stock a bike as I have ridden for quite awhile. I bought one new in 1975 and have the muscle memory of that bike still ingrained in my psyche. There is still a bit of a lean stumble at part-throttle, consistent with just about every 350-400 Four that I have ridden, but once it clears that little glitch the engine winds out cleanly and with a pleasant roar from the intake and exhaust muffler. The single piston brake requires a strong pull to haul the bike down from speed, with an assist from the rear drum stopper. They are pleasant bikes with classic café styling that has aged well over the past 44 years.

Wrapping up this revival project would seem to end the 2x2 of the same bike combos that keep coming my way. Next up, not one but at least 2 CB72-77 engines for rebuilding…. One is very “stuck.”
Bill “MrHonda” Silver