Saturday, April 17, 2021

“Master Go” and “Grasshopper” have a CB77 adventure together

 Chapter ONE

My friend Scott called last week to say that he has heard from a guy who is new to San Diego and recently found an abandoned 1966 CB77, alongside of a neighbor’s house. The lady owner, whose husband had died over 30 years ago, gave the bike to him for nothing. Photos of a derelict looking, black, high-bar equipped Super Hawk are forwarded to me and it looks pretty grim, as it sits. Tall weeds and vines had grown through the chassis, the tires are flat, but the bike is supposed to be ALL original with only 144 miles showing on the speedometer! Yikes! Can it be true? Scott says that the new owner is excited to get the bike going again and had purchased two of my old print books, covering the Super Hawks and my Engine Repair Guide.

The new owner had contacted Scott for two reasons: One, through Linked-In, he discovered that they are both in the same high-end home theater and sound system industry and Scott's mini-bio also noted that he was a vintage motorcycle enthusiast. Having previously seen Scott’s name in the credits of one of my books, the new owner called Scott to see if he was one and the same person; audiophile and vintage bike guy, and then tells him the story of how he found the bike, while combing the neighborhood looking for his missing cat! Thanks to the cat, he finds the bike in a lady’s yard and winds up pushing it home as a project. (And yes, he also found the cat.)

Chapter TWO

During the conversation with Scott, the CB77 owner mentions that he has my books and has torn down the engine using them as a reference. He’s quoting passages of the book to Scott, as if reciting a great Shakespearian play. Scott then mentions that “MrHonda” lives 10 miles away, here in San Diego and probably could be persuaded to have a look at the motor and give some advice or assistance in the reassembly of it. The CB77 owner is EXCITED by the prospect of having the “Honda 305 guru" as an advisor for his engine repair project. Scott questions whether the bike really has 144 miles on it, as indicated on the speedometer. More photos provided of the OEM original Bridgestone tires and other details indicate original low-miles status, despite its rough-looking condition.

The neighbor lady related that she and her husband bought the bike in New York, just before moving out to California. For some reason, he was unable to register it in California and wound up just riding it around the block, every so often and just starting it up in the garage, periodically, thus the lack of driving miles. So, the “gift” bike comes without any paperwork or key, as the widow lost track of all that stuff many years ago. The story makes sense and seems plausible in light of the observed details of the bike.

Chapter THREE

I can’t remember the number of times when I have used the words, “Patience, Grasshopper, patience” with some over-eager vintage Honda fans who try to rush the process of finding parts and making repairs or completing a restoration. It has been a funny exchange between several of my “devotees” over the years as the “Master” and “Grasshopper” relationship continued in some way. Imagine being able to use that line with someone who was directly connected to the source of it. For those of you who are old enough to have watched the series, “Kung-Fu” with David Carradine, as “Kwai Chang Caine” in the 1972-75 TV series "Kung Fu." In the series, a “young Kwai Chang Caine” was played by an actor named Radames Pera. In the series, Caine's teacher, “Master Po,” called him "Grasshopper" as a child while in training at the Shaolin Temple. When young Caine was impatient or acting out, Master Po would say, “Patience, Grasshopper, Patience,” which became a famous phrase around the world.

Pera also played writer/poet John Jr. (and fiancé of Mary Ingalls) on "Little House on the Prairie" in its first three seasons and in numerous TV and movie productions from the 1970s to the mid '80s. He left Hollywood and show business after that, to start his own home audio installation business in 1988, which continues to this day.

So, what is the connection to the Honda CB77 story?

Well, Radames Pera, aka “Grasshopper” is the new owner of the CB77 project! On Valentine’s Day, we met and he brought the disassembled CB77 engine along for evaluation and eventual reassembly. He is definitely excited about learning more about the bike and engine details, so he will be watching over my shoulder while we make it go back together again, this month. We have already spoken about tempering his enthusiasm to get it finished and if he gets out of line, he has agreed that I can say “Patience, Grasshopper, patience,” if warranted. Funny, isn’t it?

Synchronicity has come into play on several levels, as my daily driver bike is a red 1989 NT650 Hawk GT, which happens to have been Radames’ first motorcycle and we both share a love for other vintage Hondas. Additionally, as I intend to wind down my motorcycle repair work further this year, I need to release extra parts in stock, so this bike is probably going to receive a lot of my spares as it comes back to life. I already have put a new battery, transmission cover, seal kit and other small parts aside for his bike and hopefully more extra parts can find new homes with this project. Radames will continue to do the chassis work on his own and after the motor comes together, the bike will rise like the Phoenix.

Chapter FOUR

Well, the engine had one stuck piston, which Radames was able to coax out of the cylinder without damaging anything. That piston had stuck piston rings in the ring lands and was of course still on STD bore. I hauled the machine shop for a wet honing and check of the bores. The “good side” was perfect, of course, but the stuck side had some staining and discoloration above the piston line, where it sat unmoved for over 35-years. Despite the look of the staining area, there was nothing that could be felt by a fingertip check, so the current plan is to reuse the cylinders, as-is and see what happens. I was able to free the stuck rings from the piston, breaking them out in small chunks. It occurred to me that I could clean the gummed-up ring lands with sparing use of a hacksaw, which worked extremely well and took only a few moments vs. spending a half-hour with a broken ring section scraping the carbon and varnish deposits from the piston grooves.

In cleaning the engine cases I was quite disturbed to find that the same “mistake” made by numerous unqualified mechanics during assembly was in fact performed at the factory! That pesky little crankshaft locating pin, which locates the roller main bearing, was indeed pushed into the cases by Honda assemblers! I had to do the same repairs on this factory-assembled engine that I have done to about 3 previous engines in the past year or so. What’s SO HARD about paying attention to the main bearing location when putting the cases together? Apparently, it is more of a challenge than I thought. I guess I will just keep fixing them, when I find them, as long as I continue repair work this year.

Radames had cleaned most of the engine parts, all of which arrived in a couple of boxes with well-marked Zip-Lock baggies. I figured that this was going to be my only chance to be able to see a near-new 305 engine as it came from the factory, all apart.

As mentioned, I discovered the misaligned bearing/pin issue which needed attention, first thing. Once that repair was completed, I could turn my attention to setting up the top case with a properly installed crankshaft and transmission gearsets. Radames wanted to watch as the reassembly process unfolded, so I waited until his arrival, then went to work describing the process and then taking him through the steps of “X-ing” the gearbox to move the gear spacing closer together for the 1-2 and 2-3 shift steps. Remember that this is an engine with 144 original miles on it, so any wear should be at an absolute minimum. That said, the gear dog overlap on one set of gears was probably about 30%; a likely candidate for premature “2nd gear jumping” conditions as the miles accumulated. I installed a pair of the .040” offset cotters, which increased engagement depth to about 60%, from my dwindling stock of these much-needed pieces. After changing the transmission shaft seals, including the pushrod seal, I inspected the end of the pushrod, which is generally dished out on the end where the ball bearing rides up against the shaft end surface. This one barely had a mark on it.

With the crankshaft sitting properly on its locating pins and the transmission mods completed, it was time to button up the crankcase halves. I have some 3-Bond equivalent sealer from the local auto parts store and painted up the bottom case half, then dropped it over the top, taking time to check all the affected seals so that they hadn’t moved out of their designated locations, flush with the engine case surfaces. I replaced the soft, aluminum sealing washer for the special 6mm nut on the bottom case, otherwise reusing all the original fasteners which had been recently removed. Radames was a great assistant, cleaning peripheral engine castings and nuts/bolts/washers on the nearby bench grinder’s soft wire brush wheel. This is one of the few times in my life where I had some company during an engine build and it made the time go by quickly, although it was slowed a little when I took some time to explain an assembly step. Radames is a very congenial and polite guy and as we had this chance to share stories, it was plain that he was a real “Honda guy” (as in, you meet the nicest people on a Honda).

In the midst of cleaning the oil pump screen, he accidentally caught the brass screen mesh with the spinning wire wheel, shredding it in a couple of spots. He came to me, sheepishly, to ask if it could be fixed or okay to use with the damage recently inflicted. I assured him that it was NOT okay to use and that it couldn’t be easily fixed, so we put in a call to Scott Sylvester, who graciously provided a near-new part at no cost. We all mused about what other purpose you could find for damaged oil pump screen; perhaps an ashtray or pen holder for the desk…

Once the cases were assembled, we were ready to install pistons and cylinders next. Radames had brought the two STD bore pistons to me and one had very stuck rings in the top two ring lands. He had soaked the pistons in solvent for a couple of days, but there was no apparent change in their condition. Before he arrived the following day, I took the piston and worked a small-tipped scribe into the tiny end gap of the rings, then tapped on the tool with a small tack hammer, angling the tool towards one open end of the ring. After a few hard raps, the end of the ring began to move back and slightly outwards. I squirted in some penetrating oil and kept tapping on the ring end, until it moved out enough to grab with a pair of duckbill pliers. The ring snapped off about 1” in, but gave me more of a cross-section to use as leverage to keep the process going. Little-by-little, the rings came off in small chunks until I had the piston clear of ring debris. As previously described, I used a hacksaw to clear the varnish/rust/corrosion in the ring lands and dressed up a few nicks on the piston itself. Radames had procured some STD piston rings from an aftermarket source, which appeared to be made of steel, instead of cast iron, including a nice 3-piece oil ring set. The rings easily installed on the pistons and we proceeded to lube up the wrist pins and marry the parts together again. Another indicator of the original mileage of the engine was that the wrist pin bores on the rods were absolutely flawless inside. There was none of the usual scoring and wear marks, which is normally seen on high-mileage motors. This engine was definitely as advertised; a 144-mile original.

With freshly honed cylinders, we lightly lubed up the parts and coaxed the cylinders down over the pistons/rings. When the cylinders are at STD bore, the bottom chamfers of the liners have a full width on the beveled edge to help guide the rings into the piston ring lands with greater ease. With pistons and cylinders all installed, we pulled the head out of the box for inspection. There was just a bit of some water/rust spots on the backside of the left intake valve stem and valve head, so I decided that we better remove all the valves and clean the heads, stems and ports of any corrosion or debris. It was great to have an extra set of hands holding the valve spring compressor and/or head while I fished out the keepers and later re-installed them on the newly-cleaned valves. There was just a little bit of some scoring on a few locations of the cam lobes, otherwise the top end parts looked like new inside. Once we finished the valve cleanup I reinstalled the rocker arms and pins, then dropped the whole assembly over the waiting cylinder studs and head gasket. We verified the camshaft timing with crankshaft and camshaft marks, reusing the camchain with a new master link clip from my spares stock.

Radames cleaned up the top cylinder head cover with the wire-wheel brushes and I buttoned down the top end to 15 ft. lbs. on all eight stud nuts. This was a motor where Honda began to use copper washers on the outer studs and flat steel washers on the inner four locations. The camchain guide wheel was replaced, mostly due to some hardness and a series of camchain marks left in the surface from sitting for over 30 years in the same spot. The camchain tensioner wheel seemed to be pliable and was reused without concern.

On to the clutch side, where I had already installed the clutch outer and primary chain/sprocket set on the shafts. Even though he had been reading an older version of my Rebuild Manual, which mistakenly advised to discard them, Radames had removed the clutch plate retainer wires carefully and hung on to them "for some strange reason, mostly because they were so pristine and he figured they were part of the original engineering." Surprisingly, there were no signs of the dreaded “stuck clutch” syndrome, although there were a few impressions of the friction plates left behind, mostly as stain marks. I checked all the parts over and then just reassembled it as it was. The primary chain still had minimal chain stretch and everything continued to look “fresh” inside. We cleaned the oil filter body and cap, installed a new o-ring between the two and set the assembly up on the motor with the drive chain installed and the thrust washer located next to the index pin on the filter shaft.

The motor build is winding down, with just the oil pump to install and carbs to rebuild. Even though the outside engine castings are still scaly, dark and have corrosion in the nooks and crannies, this motor should be a quiet and easy runner well into the distant future.

I am enjoying my new friendship with “Grasshopper” who now calls me “Master Go” (a take-off on “Master Po”) for my ability to reanimate and revive dead and dying vintage Hondas and make them GO once again. This has been a refreshingly fun CB77 project.

Bill “MrHonda” Silver

aka “Master Go”

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