Friday, November 10, 2023

It’s a DADs bike… 1973 CB350F revisited-Part 1

Part 1.

I have owned a few of these bikes, including one that I bought, brand new, in partnership with my step-dad, Ray. I got out of the USAF in 1971 and had a few odd bikes afterward. Dad got started riding when my Mom bought him a 125cc Wards Riverside 2-stroke single that was on sale for a couple of hundred dollars brand new. He rode it sparingly and then somewhere bought an orange and white CL350 paint shaker Scrambler to ride to work. When the CB350F was released in 1973, we decided that this was the bike for us. The bikes came in sparkly Red and Green paint schemes. We chose the red one.

We shared riding it for a while, then he picked up a green 1976 CB750A. He switched the oil to a synthetic brand and noticed that the bike ran cooler and maybe a little quieter. They are a heavy bike, so after I had bought a new 1978 CX500 and rode it for a few thousand miles, he bought that one from me and enjoyed the low-maintenance ride. But, back to the CB350F.

We wrangled a deal with the local Honda dealer, for something like $1400. They were lighter and smoother than any of the previous bikes we had experienced, but it was kind of slow compared to the CB/CL350 twins of the time. The CL350s were geared a little lower than the CB350s and that just made them shake even worse. Out with the twin and in with the Four!

I borrowed it one weekend and drove it all the way into LA to see my girlfriend who I met before I went into the service in 1967. We kept in touch over the years and she invited me up to visit for the weekend. The freeways were a little tamer back then and I didn’t give much thought to running the bike up 100 miles each way.

After not too long, those cute little four-pipe mufflers started to corrode from the inside, so the “fix” at the time was to saw off the header pipes at the muffler weld joint and install the slip-on 4:2 RamFlow mufflers, which were noisier and probably didn’t do much for the power output. But, they were cheaper than buying a full set of OEM mufflers at the time, so that is what happened.

When the CB400F came out, a quick test ride made the CB350F obsolete immediately, despite the same engine architecture, but the new 6-speed transmission and the 4into1 exhaust system were too seductive to ignore. So, I bought a new CB400F and Dad kept riding the CB350F for a few years.

When I was road racing, back in the 1970s, the AFM club sponsored a 6-hour endurance race at Ontario Motor Speedway. The first one was in 1978. I had been racing 125s, having won the 125 Production Championship on a CB125S1. I had raced the CB400F for a few races, then sold it to my brother who put over 30k miles on it. So, at the time, I didn’t have anything to ride in the 6-hour until I happened upon a running, but somewhat sad CB350F for sale at $500. I still had a Yoshimura R&T camshaft, an electronic ignition that came from my CB400F. I had Rob North roll up a reverse-cone megaphone to fit onto the aftermarket 4into1 exhaust pipe. I added a new pair of Dunlop K70 tires and put it all together just in time to sign up for the race.

It was probably the slowest bike in the entire field, but when the race began, it started to rain! The bike, not having a lot of power and fresh tires stayed on the track without difficulties while others were sliding off under power in the tight turns. Even with all of the speed goodies installed, the bike still wouldn’t go over about 95 mph. It did get about 30+ mpg under race conditions, so we only had to stop for fuel about every 100 miles. Eventually, the track dried out and we carried on, eventually getting a top 10 result in our 350cc class with the slow, but reliable CB350 Four.

I have several friends who currently own CB350F bikes. One bought up one of the $1600 sets of reproduction mufflers from CMSNL about 5-6 years ago when they were available and I installed them on his bike. They really sound lovely, when the mufflers are all intact and certainly look the part of a performance machine.

My other friend picked up a 4-pipe CB350F from Mecum auctions in 2022, but stored it in his storage unit without ever riding it at all. There is a story on my blog page about that bike and its problems with carburetors and an electronic ignition failure.

Truthfully, I have watched the auction prices skyrocket lately on these bikes when they come up with stock pipes, especially. Most of the ones I have seen for sale, locally, were in sad shape with faded paint, cracked or missing side covers, aftermarket exhaust pipes and a round or two of road-rash from crashes in the past. With all I have going on lately; the CM185 Twinstar twins and a CL77 engine rebuild (story coming), I really don’t go hunting for CB350 Fours. Then, Facebook Marketplace posted one that was too good to be true.. or was it?

Seller's Description

1973 Honda 350 Four. Has new battery. Comes with new exhaust pipes still in the box. Starts up and runs but leaks oil. I have to many other projects going on so I don't have the time to spend on it. 

                                                CB350F after the new pipes were installed.

Well, that caught my attention, so I sent a message on Messenger asking if I could set an appointment time to come up and buy the bike. The bike had been listed for 12 hours and I figured that the seller would be swamped with messages and offers to buy it. Perhaps, one of the detractions was that the bike was in Murrieta, CA which is about 75 miles away from me down in Spring Valley. It’s a good 1.5-hour drive each way if you are lucky to miss the afternoon traffic crunch going northward.

To my surprise, the seller replied from work and said that he could meet me at 2pm. I told him that I was coming with cash and a truck and I didn’t have to ask permission from a wife or other significant other. He laughed and said come on up! He even sent photos of the mufflers still in the boxes, to confirm that they were part of the package and not some aftermarket system. Well, I couldn’t get up there quick enough!

The backstory for the bike was it belonged to his Dad, who had passed away recently. Dad had a Mustang Convertible, and a Baja Bug, both of which had been sold, and this shiny red 1973 CB350F left to sell. I had mentioned that I had owned one when they were new, along with my Dad and that made him feel happy that the bike was going to a good home. He did research my name on FB and knew that I knew what I was doing and that I could make it come back to life again.

The bike shows a serious oil leak, seemingly at the head gasket area, which had been drooling down the middle of the engine and onto the bottom of the crash bar. Beyond that, you could see the mufflers blowing out from corrosion, but the gas tank was super clean inside, the paint was like new and the chrome was in really great condition. And yes, there were actual new reproduction mufflers, three of which were still in their original boxes. Included were a couple of old helmets, a mint sales brochure, the owner’s manual in the tool tray, and a new in-the-package 3x5 Honda flag! As an extra bonus, the name Soichiro was applied just below the Honda tank badge.

We completed the transaction, loaded up the truck and I turned around at 2pm for the return leg back to San Diego. It had been spitting rain intermittently but the traffic was not as bad going south as it was for the late commuters going northbound on the I-15. I was very happy to have landed this great bike, even with some leaky bits that will need attention. The title was clear, registration paid to Feb 2024 and I had a good feeling that this bike might be with me for a good while.

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