By Eric Bess
Edited by Kallie Reed
Restorations and the idea of breathing new life into an old machine fills me with equal parts elation and dread. I find it a challenge because you are forced to use countless mechanical abilities and almost zero creativity. There is room for neither interpterion nor adaptation, just pure nose-to-the-grindstone labor. Cleaning, polishing, prepping, painting, coating…it’s a wildly stressful process of meeting expectations versus not losing your ass financially. Perhaps it sounds like I get no satisfaction from this, and you would be mostly right in that assumption; however, in that final moment when the bike is finished, and the customer finally lays eyes on dulcet steel for the first time, all the drudgery is made worthwhile. It’s rare to see a grown man’s face light up like a child on Christmas day, but that’s exactly what you hope for when the final product is complete. This 1976 Honda CB400/4 was no exception.
About a year prior to the time of this article’s writing, the owner walked into the shop asking about restoring the little Honda. He and his wife went on their first date aboard this bike, so it understandably has significant sentimental value to both. Like most shops, we were busy with service work through the summer months, but as we entered fall, it was time to get moving on more involved projects. Everything on the bike was disassembled and categorized. Missing or damaged parts were noted for replacement. While we were forced to use several aftermarket/reproduction parts, any usable items were either reconditioned or replaced with Honda OEM parts. Both wheels received fresh rims and spokes laced onto original hub housings, with new bearings and seals. The rebuilt forks were saved by new stanchions from Forking by Frank. The lowers were sanded, polished, and a clear coat was applied to match the factory finish. The brakes were fitted with new lines, pads/shoes, and resurfaced drums/rotors. The frame was bead blasted and powder coated gloss black along with the swingarm.
The motor and carburetors turned out to be our biggest challenge. The motor had several stuck rings and an expected amount of sludge in the bottom end. We stripped the motor down and vapor blasted to prep the cases for paint. Once everything was thoroughly cleaned and new rings were added, we lapped all the gasket surfaces. We polished most of the stock Honda hardware and replaced all the seals and gaskets.
The carbs, on the other hand, were a bit more challenging. Past ham-handed mechanics had broken all but one of the float pin towers, leaving us without usable carburation—this is the part of the story where having a plethora of old motorcycles parts comes into play—we just happened to source a very nice set of CB400 carbs that were in far better shape. Once those were vapor blasted, run through the ultrasonic, and rebuilt, they got fitted to the fresh motor. A replacement harness and new coils sent sparks to the NGKs spark plugs as everything was synched and adjusted to make the bike purr as it had when new. Our buddy Darrin from Liquid Illusions laid the stock Honda red on the tank and side covers.
As a mechanic, you trust your skill set and know that you took all the steps needed to achieve the desired result. But old motorcycles can be—and often are—fickle creatures. The bike ran so well when finished, that even we were pleasantly surprised. Although I was only five years old when this bike originally sat on the showroom floor, I cannot help but be transported back to the days of yore with little but a twist of the right grip.