Sunday, May 19, 2024

A little CB77, disguised as a Pink Panther

I really don’t go chasing after vintage Honda twins these days. There is so much work to do to get them cleaned up, especially when they have been off the road since 1977. That’s the case of the “Pink Panther” Super Hawk that was offered to me from the local SD Automotive Museum. I'd helped them out with a decent CB77 many years ago, which was sold for some small profit for the museum funds.

Here, years later, I get a text message from Jack at the museum saying… “Are you interested in a 1964 CB77 that was donated to us recently?” He forwarded some small photos of what appeared to be a mostly complete bike sporting a custom “Pink-ish” paint job that had swirly red and black drips and tiny metallic flakes embedded into the finish. It looked almost 3D, but putting a hand across the finish, it was quite smooth. Obviously, someone with great skill and imagination painted it long ago.

I drove down to National City just to have a look, a few days later. Apart from the bobbed front fender, the other changes were a set of CL72 exhaust pipes installed, some CB350 rear shocks, the centerstand had been deleted and the optional side stand bolted up to the chassis. The pipes were tight up against the left side cover, so the heat from the pipes and proximity left a burn spot on the cover.

                                                In the beginning.....

The original photo set showed the starter motor attached, but no starter chain connected. When I saw the bike, apparently Jack had decided to remove the starter motor, which is held on with 4 bolts and the long top right side bolt snapped off, flush with the case surface….

The worst part of the bike’s condition, apart from the layer of rust and corrosion all over the chrome parts, was the kickstarter cover. This was a 1964 bike with engine number 6750, so has the early, first-generation kickstarter cover, which was prone to breakage and damage to the kickstarter shaft bushing and hole. This hole was elongated so much that it would take a monumental task to weld back up and find the original hole center again. That one would go on the junk pile right away.

Despite the 19k miles showing on the speedometer, the meter needles were still in place with some fading to the face. If the engine was still original to the bike, I would expect a lot of worn parts inside, especially the kickstarter and transmission gears.

I had a CL77 project spread all over my work table, so I told them that I was interested but couldn’t find a place for it for a few weeks. If it was still available when I was ready, I would take a shot at bringing it back to life again, but it was going to be a pretty full-on revival.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and the bike was still available and I had space to park it out in the driveway under a cover for the moment. The biggest challenge I could foresee is that the front brake seemed to be locked up and the front tire didn’t hold air. Getting it loaded up into the Tacoma and then back off in the driveway was going to be a challenge to say the least.

Pickup… no worries

When I arrived at the Auto Museum warehouse, I brought a whole box of tools, a portable bike lift, ATV ramp, a new tire, tube and rim band and plenty of tie-downs to help get this bike off the floor and into the truck. Well, none of that happened, because my friend Jack had hoisted the bike up on the Harbor Freight bike stand and removed the front wheel, took the brake plate apart and lubed the brake cams. With the wheel already off, I was able to change the tire and we both guided the front wheel back onto the bike and got enough brake lever leverage to safely get the bike out of the shop and onto the Tacoma safely. I tucked all the spares away behind the front seats and on the floor of the passenger side seat and started for home. All during the drive home, I ruminated about how to handle this new project and how to keep the cost from going crazy.

Panther’s Anatomy…

It took about 2 hours to gingerly remove the engine from the chassis without the benefit of the centerstand. Ironically, I had the centerstand on the shopping list, but when I went to pick up the bike someone had come by and dropped off the centerstand for the bike, which had been mislaid somewhere in the garage. I’ll still need to round up some centerstand bolts, including the longer one for the side where the side stand bracket mounts up. It wasn’t mounted properly before and the whole bracket had a big bend/twist that will need a press to straighten out.

I had an adjustable rear axle stand, so propped up the chassis and went about removing the engine. It had been running stock air filters, all of which were dirty and tired, along with the air filter tubes. The Scrambler exhaust pipes had no baffles in the back, so that would need to be remedied or just replace them with David Silver Spare reproductions when available.

With the engine on the bench, careful disassembly proceeded. At 19k miles, it had to have been apart before and there were certainly signs that someone had done just that. The stator wires were pushed though the crankcase drain hole instead of the hole with the rubber grommet. The starter clutch had 3 rollers but no springs or caps. One of the starter clutch hub screws was slotted instead of a Phillips screw. All of the clutch cover screws were roughed up from being reused from the last tear-down.

I noticed some evidence of water up inside the exhaust port on the right side, which corresponded to the corrosion on top of the right side piston. The pistons were.. .50 oversize, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of wear on the cylinder walls. A good hone job and new piston rings should work fine for this motor.

There were odd little grooves ground in the top edges of the rocker arms, as if to give clearance for them in a high lift camshaft application, but there was no signs of anything making contact around there. The right side rod end was a little bit burned, where it may have seized at one time. This is not uncommon as the right side ignition timing tends to lead the left when the ignition is statically tested and not re-checked running. This leads to a wrist pin hole that is a bit out of round and the pin rocks in the pin bore. If left as-is, there will be an audible clicking noise at part-throttle during normal riding operation. Unfortunately, the usual remedy is to have the crankshaft dismantled and the rod put in a mill for a clean-up pass and a thin bronze bushing installed and fitted to size.

The clutch was a Barnett racing clutch with no separator rings installed. It was stuck together but pried apart easily. Overall, the insides of the engine were pretty clean and no signs of metallic grinding of aluminum or steel or brass evident. The cylinder head combustion chambers showed a bit of soft carbon from burning oil over time.

The carburetors, were original round-bowl units and were surprisingly clean inside with #140 main jets vs the stock #135, probably due to the exhaust system being replaced with the uncorked Scrambler pipes. Honda used aluminum needles on early model carburetors, which usually hold up okay even after 60 years.

The next day, the whole chassis was torn down for powder-coating. The bike had some aftermarket Scrambler-style handlebars and longer cables installed. The handlebar switches had some OEM switches installed with longer wiring leads than what are usually seen with stock CB switches. Unfortunately, there were some poorly done wiring connections inside the headlight shell which will be remedied later. All the sheet metal parts were originally black painted and in surprisingly good condition. The fork seal holders are hard to remove, especially the first time. One side required some serious heat from my Mapp-gas torch to soften the o-rings grip on the fork slider. Luckily, the correct length fender stay bolts were installed, so the fork sliders were not damaged and the forks came apart easily.

I have about 20 lbs of Scarlet Red powder-coat leftover from a CL72 project that was done during the pandemic and I have been waiting for something to use it all on. For the moment, the black chassis will become red, but I am leaving the custom-painted parts intact to see how they will look on a red frame. I hate to ruin the artwork of the previous owner’s efforts, but in a worse case, the fenders will go back to silver and the tank will become red to match the chassis.


The tab on the powder-coating. was $600 for all of the chassis parts, apart from the tank, side covers and fenders. Despite having something close to 20k miles on the odometer, the frame and bodywork was undamaged and now looks new with the Scarlet Red finish. I had to order new centerstand bolts, including the proper 268-810 left side, which reaches through the side stand bracket to secure the centerstand properly. We were able to straighten out the old bracket on a 50t press, so it is usable once again.

                                                Coming along..... came up with an inexpensive tapered roller bearing kit for the steering stem, as well as gaskets, a seal kit, some 5.5mm fuel line, some replica CB400F handlebars, and some inexpensive mirrors. The stock 041 rectangular mirrors are useless on most 250-305s due to the head angle, which was designed for scooters not street bikes. came up with the other centerstand bolt, the rubber dust seals for the swing arm, Rubber cushions for the fork ears, plus misc nuts and bolts.

I took the engine cases to the local engine re-builder to have them hot-tanked and degreased before reassembly. Vapor blasting all of these parts generally runs about $350, so I may just paint the center cases with cast-aluminum paint and do the clutch cover and kickstarter cover in the Duplicolor paint that is close to the Cloud Silver colors. I am not going for a 100 pt show bike and plan to use it for local runs to the post office, so am trying to keep it on a reasonable budget. A big budget item would be the new stock style exhaust. The stock CL72 pipes are very loud, even with the Snuff-or-Nots installed, so something else will have to be considered, so I don’t get thrown out of the neighborhood.

And all back together again…

I have squirreled away CB77 parts whenever I came across them over the years, perhaps hoping that that one last Super Hawk would come my way and the shiny bits could be put into use. I did have a set of re-chromed fork seal holders available, which brightened up the forks. Other little bits like a side-stand return spring and good used chassis parts all were put into use for this project. The chassis came back together fairly quickly, but the engine languished on the bench as competing project bikes took up time and space. A CL77 project took up 2 months on the bike bench while bits were re-chromed, powder-coated, polished and finally all reassembled. Once the CL77 was completed, a CL160 took its place for a week or so, then finally the CB got it’s place on the stand.

The CB400F bars had a nice bend and height to them, but the wiring holes for the switches were a little far in to allow for the grips and lever brackets to all group together, so I had to lop off an inch or two of the ends to make everything fit up again.

I took time to grind off powder-coat from various locations on the frame so that the rear fender would have a good ground path to the frame. Otherwise, the tail light wiring does weird things without a proper chassis ground. I was able to reuse the main wiring harness and the ignition switch. I even put the original rectifier back onto the frame mount after cleaning off the powder-coat on the tabs.

Apart from a little short circuit in the dimmer switch, the rest of the wiring all went back together properly and the headlight bulb was still functional on both filaments.

Once the new rings were received, the pistons were scrubbed up and ready for installation. I did have my machine shop do a fast hone job to break the glaze, but aside from a few little marks, the bores should be fine to seat in the new rings. I lapped in the old valves and seats together and put a little bit more tension on the camsprocket return weights to help the spark timing return properly. There is inherent slop in the whole mechanism, so you can only do what you can with them. My friend Tim Miller down in TX can take them apart and rebuild them with a different advance curve that is more engine-friendly, but this one was good enough. I actually had several used units, so picked out the best one.

I did decide to install the endless camchain while the cases were split, so that always adds some consideration when reassembling the top end. You have to install the inner ball bearings in the head, then feed the camshafts in from both sides while you hold the camsprocket up with the chain, all the while watching that the crankshaft stays at TDC during the assembly.

I always plane the gasket surfaces off with a big, flat single-cut file to knock down the high spots on the cylinders, cylinder head and clutch cover gasket surfaces to minimize any leaks. I decided to use an inexpensive Allen (hex) bolt kit for the fasteners to assemble the engine. The only other challenge was to figure out what to do with the clutch setup. The Barnett clutch plates were the old Kevlar units, and there was no place to install the retainer wires to keep the plates from moving as a unit instead of spreading apart during disengagement. I wound up using a hybrid clutch setup using some original 6 plate clutch components interspersed with some of the later metal backed -020 plates from a 5 plate clutch setup. Interestingly the whole clutch outer was a billet unit, apparently from Barnett made years ago.

I replaced the low gear bushing, kickstarter pawl and installed some offset gear cotters to maintain good gear engagement while the transmission was apart. For a bike with 20k miles, most of the internals were still pretty nice.

I did have to extract the broken off starter motor mount bolt from the engine case. The starter chain was missing, so I cut down the old camchain and put a link in it to get the starter motor all setup. Only after the bike was pretty much together did I discover that the starter motor had no armature inside! So that lead to a appeal for a working starter motor, which was fulfilled by a vintage Honda friend in Los Angeles who sent one to me for free. My friend Jack Stein gifted me with a good used kickstarter cover, which was rebuilt with the parts from the original bike, plus a NOS clutch adjuster that had been in safe-keeping for the last few years. Little by little, it all started coming together.

Instead of the Snuff-or-Nots for the Scrambler pipes, I bought a pair of $11 each VW Bug exhaust tips and with a bit of fiddling around got them to fit into the stock pipes with a bit of hammering with my plastic mallet. These do take some of the exhaust note bite out and makes the bike look a bit more interesting with some extra long pipes now.

Teething problems, of course…

I rolled the bike out to take a few photos and noticed that the new tire and tube were flat on the rear wheel. I aired up the tire to 34 psi and then spit on the end of the valve stem to check for leaks.. and it was leaking. I removed the old core and replaced it with another one.. aired back up to 34 psi and it was still leaking! I cranked down on the cap and it has held up some, but obviously that isn’t the final solution.

I had cleaned the tank with Metal Rescue leaving the petcock in place. I added a couple of gallons of gasoline to the tank, put on Reserve just to be safe and the bike stalled out on me 3 blocks away! I pushed/rolled it back to the driveway and pulled off a fuel line. Nothing on RESERVE, but it was flowing in ON! Duh! I drained the tank, removed the petcock and cleaned out the reserve hole and passage into the 4-hole gasket. Refilled and it was good to go again.. except when I throttled it up under load, the “hybrid” clutch started slipping! Arrrgh.

I went online and someone had a NOS late-style clutch hub (shallow splines) for sale at $45 and then I got a set of new aftermarket -020 metal friction plates for $35. So, I’ll wait until next week and replace the clutch plates with something fresh. Maybe I’ll put in some heavier springs, as well.

(Update: While sifting through my old engine parts bins, I discovered the late-style shallow-spline clutch hub for a 5-plate clutch. I had a stack of used 268-020 metal-backed friction plates, so I removed the whole hybrid clutch setup and replaced it with a good used 5-plate clutch assembly. It works fine now!)

Oh, to begin with, the left side carburetor (of course, right behind the exhaust pipes) had a bit of a fuel weep around the float bowl gasket. The bowl gasket was original. Despite looking pretty nice, it was hard as a rock and needed to be chipped out painstakingly a little at a time. I replaced the original round bowl float with the new aftermarket square bowl floats which give plenty of room around the float inside the chamber, well away from the gasket edges.

So far, the carburetor is not weeping and the bike usually starts up with little or no choke at all. It’s running #140 main jets and #38 idle jets and seems to be pretty crisp.

I have found that those original gray plastic spark plug caps that all the restorers seem to want to use on their restorations are now checking in at 8-11k ohms, instead of 5k ohms or less. So both of those were replaced and I readjusted the Pro-Trigger electronic ignition system after a few miles or run-in. One of the several problems with the 250-305 point cam design is that when you install new oil seals in the point side cover, there is quite a bit of friction on the point cam, so it is slower to retard when the engine is returned to idle Once the seal has been run-in for a few hours, it usually relaxes its grip on the point shaft, allowing a smoother advance and return to idle speed.

Today (3/25/24) my Google photos sent back a few memories from 8 years ago and that was the time that I had built another one-off CB77, aka the “Silver Special” which was a completely silver powdercoated bike. And today, we have the Pink Panther equivalent. I really didn’t want to disturb the original “artwork” paint job from the 1970s, so it is what it is….Swirly pink paint and a Scarlet Red chassis.

I began the DMV/CHP odyssey, waiting 45 minutes just to get the bike verified at DMV only to have them immediately refer me to CHP without even looking at the numbers. I have to wait until April 10 just to get an appointment for CHP to inspect the bike to verify the serial numbers. I already have an appointment to have the CB1100R verified, so hopefully they both can be seen at the same visit. After that, it is BACK to DMV again to submit all the paperwork and finally in an additional week or two, the DMV in Sacramento will issue clean titles for both bikes.

(UPDATE: The cooperative officer at the CHP verified my CB1100R which was in the back of the truck. When I called earlier, he said he couldn’t do both bikes at once and gave me an appointment another month away! On a hunch, I brought the paperwork for the CB77 and with photos in my phone, he decided to spend an additional ½ hour and finalized my paperwork for that bike.)

I’m hoping to ride the Panther bike to the Distinguished Gentleman’s ride in May, close to my birthday on the 24th. There are always a lot of cool bikes and riders at these events, but I doubt that they will overlook the Pink Panther CB77 this year.

                                                            DGR .... MADE IT!

Bill Silver

aka MrHonda


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