Owner: Dan Noah
Bike: 1976 Honda CB400F
Builder: Flying Tiger Motorcycles
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 a ton of mechanical abilities and almost zero creativity. There is no room for interpretation 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 lay eyes on dulcet steel for the first time makes all the drudgery worthwhile. It’s rare to see a grown man’s face light-up like a child on Christmas day, and that’s exactly what you hope for when that day comes. This 1976 Honda CB400/4 was no exception.
About a year prior to the time of this articles 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 and understandably, it 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 to more involved projects. Everything 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 we either reconditioned or replaced with Honda OEM parts.
With our parts inventoried we moved forward with the project starting from the ground up. First we had both wheels rebuilt with fresh rims and spokes laced, and onto original hub housing, each with new bearings and seals. The rebuilt forks were saved by new stanchions from Forking by Frank. The lowers were sanded, polished, and clear-coated 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 swing-arm.
While we faced a number challenges along the way, the motor and carburetors turned out to be our biggest. Internally, we had to mitigate several stuck rings and an expected amount of sludge in the bottom-end. The motor was stripped down and vapor blasted to prep the cases for later painting. Once everything was thoroughly cleaned and new rings added, we lapped all the gasket surfaces. Most of the stock Honda hardware was polished in favor of replacing. All the seals and gaskets were scraped and replaced with OE Honda pieces.
Here is the part of the story where having a plethora of old motorcycles and parts shoved away in corners, worked amazingly in our favor. Previous ham-handed mechanics had broken all but one of the float pin towers leaving us without usable carburation. We just happened to source a very nice set of CB400 carbs that were in far better shape from a donor bike which had been abandoned in our garage. Once the newer carbs were vapor blasted, ran through the ultrasonic parts cleaner, and rebuilt, they were fitted to the freshly built motor. A replacement wiring harness was routed to new ignition coils, and spark sent to a fresh row of NGK plugs. As everything mechanical was being synced and adjusted to make the bike purr as it had when new, our buddy Darrin from Liquid Illusions paint shop laid the stock Honda color on the tank and side covers.
As a mechanic, you trust your skill set, knowing that you took all the steps needed to achieve a desired result, but old motorcycles can be – and often are – fickle creatures. This bike, despite its age, previous condition, and the few snags we ran into during its Resurrection, ran so well when finished that even we were pleasantly surprised. And although I was only 5 years old when this bike sat new on the Honda showroom floor, I cannot help but be transported back to the days of yore with little but a twist of the right grip.