After missing a 70’s Honda CL350 at auction, due to lack of nerve bidding over the £1000 mark, a craft beer induced eBay hunt resulted in a 1966 CL77 305cc being delivered 3 days later. Fresh from the USA, non-running, rattle can painted, this was to be my first classic bike. I thought a bit of diesel down the diminutive bores for a week would loosen things up and I could get going, no! This was to be my first ever restoration and eventually first ‘custom build’.
Stripping the bike it became clear that the 832 miles on the clock were genuine and a crash had rendered the bike useless until somebody had straightened it out and spread filler all over the tank before painting it a weird sunset peachy orange red. Yuk! Good for identification though, as a tinterweb search found my bike in a 30 lot CL and CB auction in Appleton, Wisconsinn from the year before. I felt compelled to restore the CL to it’s former glory as it was already in pretty good, rust free condition but the voice in my head kept saying “Desert Sled, bigger shocks, lightweight, Flattrack, knobbly tyres, clean lines, fancy colour, trick bits”. So, six months of evenings, weekends, knuckle flesh, flames and multi-lingual swearing went into what you see here.
To be fair, most of you out there could probably bang one of these out in a fortnight but first I needed to learn how to rebuild an engine, weld aluminium, braze, use a lathe, roll metal, make cables, and trickiest of all, learn to read American. CL77s didn’t make it to the UK (apart from six CL72s that disappeared from the docks in ’62) so parts and knowledge had to come from across the pond.
The engine was stripped and vapour blasted before being bored 1.00 over as the rings had completely rusted to the cylinder liner on the left side. Valve seats were re-cut and lapped, the guides and valves themselves were good so remained. The ports were given a light polish but I didn’t trust the castings so avoided trying to gas flow the head (plus I didn’t know what the f*&k I was doing). Genuine Honda pistons and rings went in but gudgeon pins (wrist pins for American readers) were tricky to come by so I ordered a longer set, CB750 if I remember, and turned them down, very, very slowly to avoid upsetting the heat treatment. On reflection I should have ordered the full Wiseco rebuild kit from Classic Honda Restoration for ease. The big end was mint so left alone.
The plastic intake tubes are standard and improve low end running with foam filters from a 1953 HWM F2 car cable tied over the ends. I tried K&N style pods but they strangled the engine and it wouldn’t rev out so were flung off during a ‘high’ speed test on the bypass. The Type 1 Honda 305cc is canted forward and sounds great with the 180 degree crank, howling to 9000 rpm, but vibey is one hell of an understatement. Wheels & Waves will be an interesting ride in June.
Just when the engine was ready to go back in I looked at the frame and thought, “If you’re going to be a bear, be a Grizzly”. Off for blasting went the tank, side panels, frame and swingarm, the latter two going for black powder coat also. The tank returned with huge chunks of filler showing so these were hacked out and the panel beating practice started, then the brazing to cover the hole I’d made!! While there I cut out the filler neck and silver soldered in a brass threaded neck to take the Monza cap (acquired from a 1930’s Grand Prix car that was residing nearby, sshhh).
While waiting for the painter to hurry the f*&k up and do his thing I fashioned a McGyver special fuel tank from an old oil tin and got ready for the inaugural fire up. With the exhausts off and forgetting I had just cleaned the engine with lashings of brake cleaner, I leant on the kickstarter, boom! The brake cleaner ignited and 3ft flames licked the front of the bike. I’m not sure which would have provided more entertainment, the pyrotechnics or watching me on my knees trying to blow out the flames with both jazz hands on fire! Never mind, nobody saw so technically it doesn’t count and I’m still cool. On the second attempt the engine fired, the correct type, with the first kick and roared into life, the 180 degree crank giving an awesome howl. Just enough running-in revs to drown out my fist pumping, self congratulatory “Yeeeeehaaah!!!”
With enthusiasm at a high the exhausts were shoehorned into a sand blasting cabinet, the chrome was in good condition but I am not a fan of shiny stuff so it was lightly tickled before a good rub down with 3M scouring pads and lots of GT85. The original Snuff-or-Nots worked and I liked the gimmick so kept them. These were Honda’s attempt to reduce noise with a butterfly valve, essentially a washer with a hole in it. With them twisted closed, back pressure is too much and the engine feels smothered, handy though if it were 1966 and you were 16, sneaking off to see a hot girl late at night. In ’67 giant pressed steel mufflers were added, and the hot girl was probably dating a Harley rider.
Next was the seat. The original one weighed half a ton so was cast aside. Much as I like the current trend of super slim Brat seats, I wanted to make something with all-day, green lane comfort with some resemblance to the original. I rolled aluminium sheet to a size and shape just big enough to hide the underseat gubbins, ribbed it for strength and welded on the sides. Plywood strips were grafted to the underside giving the upholsterer something to staple to. A local man-in-a-shed stocked hundreds of hides so we waded through them, literally, and the dark brown was chosen. The chap repaired sofas but also rides bikes so I figured he was good news. I’m pretty pleased with the result, it should wear well and is just big enough for two, but not big enough for two dudes, or chicks with a large cubic capacity.
Continuing the lightweight theme, the steel mudguards were binned in favour of an aluminium pair destined for a Royal Enfield Bullet. These were cut down to give some practicality whilst trying to keep the look minimal. A steel fork brace/guard mount was fabricated to stiffen up the front end, and my god does it need some help! 4.00 x 19 Trials tyres front and back don’t allow much clearance so mud is going to be an issue, but I love the beefy front tyre look. I’m not sure if the rubber used is derived from banana or cheese but the movement from the soft knobbles ensures you’re always concentrating. Modified shin ripping footpegs make sure boots stay where they should be when things get squiffy.
With the new ‘fenders’ in place the rear end looked a bit low and not Desert Sled-ish so the enclosed shocks were replaced with a pair from a CB550, giving a bit more length, and everyone likes that. Unfortunately the mountings were different so lathe school 101 was utilised to turn down some top hat bushes and sleeves. The top frame mounts were cut off and re-fabricated along with the aluminium indicator brackets. All great but the extended swingarm angle causes the chain to rub slightly on the pivot point. A chain slider from a pit bike sorted this and isn’t noticeable enough to look too modern. Whilst doing the springy bits the forks seals were replaced along with thicker oil, which would undoubtedly improve handling, should I find myself wide open on the way to Baja.
The original Honda tool roll was present complete with all tools, my colleagues thought this too drab and had a new one made from tan and red goat skin, as a leaving present. Apparently the laser engraver came back with C**T as he felt it too rude to drop a C-bomb in his factory. He was duly told to f*&k off and do it again, properly. It makes me feel all warm inside that they think so highly of me, or perhaps it was to ensure I didn’t come back!
The tank and side panels arrived back, resplendent in Mercedes-Benz 904 Dunkelblau. I had so many choices on colour but wanted to keep in line with period and after hours and hours boring the shit out of anyone who would listen, or couldn’t run away, I went for something that resembled the blue and raw aluminium of a big fat WW2 bomber parked at Duxford Museum. I could change my mind a million times over but am pretty pleased with the depth of blue and luckily there is no purple hue. ‘George The Lathe’ wouldn’t let me near the knurling machine so he kindly knocked up, sorry, expertly crafted, the ignition barrel lockring to secure the right hand side panel. Again in aluminium and way better than a plastic repro replacement.
With the end in sight I set off to the land of skinny jeans, razor rationing and stupid bicycles, Shoreditch. In a corner, under a railway arch on a sunny May weekend I found my church, The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club. This is exactly what I’d been looking for. 25 years erased, I wandered like a child in awe of the amazing machinery on show, I was hooked, inspired and couldn’t wait to finish the Honda and join the tribe.
Just the electrics left to finish. A Motobat gel battery provides the poke (great warranty department FYI – I melted one when the regulator rattled off) and although the loom was in good shape I cut off the old plastic sheath and wrapped in cloth tape with all new connections behind the headlight. Proper soldered and heatshrink, no corner cutting crimps here. Motogadget produce an amazing flasher relay, punchy though, thirty flipping quid! But its the size of a piece of Extra chewing gum and flashes all four indicators with one wire. Rear indicators were a contentious issue as I thought I needed them for an MOT, pre-1973 you don’t, so I fitted a pair of LED brake lights with integrated indicators. They work really well and save having a brake light on the mudguard but it is the part of the bike I am least happy with. The modern, clear lenses just look odd. Tinting them could be an option but could make the problem worse. To be continued.
- Update – The Highsider combo brake/indicators were replaced by a thin LED strip under the seat and small indicator plugs that cap-off the subframe rails, where the grab rail used to fit.
As the ’66 CL didn’t come with indicators I sourced a clutch lever and switch unit from a later Honda CB-something. But to be honest I just poke my arms out and shout at people (the horn is pathetic). Again, indicators are hard to place so the fronts were taken care of by a set of M10 black-anodised aluminium bolts which incorporate an amber LED. These are the headlight mounting bolts and very nearly disappear, probably from the MOT inspector or Rozzers too, but it’s the thought that counts.
The headlight brackets were made by cutting an aluminium tube, welding threaded bosses to one side to provide a clamp and then welding the supports. Simple, lightweight and effective but then so would ordering a pair off eBay had been and saving half a day of dicking about blowing holes in things with a TiG welder. While up front the wonky and high-rise bars were ditched in favour of a lower, flatter and wider pair, with a Venhill quick action throttle bolted to the end. This was blasted and rumbled to make it look less box fresh. Grips are the originals, and not very grippy but do a good job of reducing white finger from the extremely buzzy engine.
MOT’d, registered with the DVLA and insured I was ready to hit the road, literally as I changed jobs and had to move back to London. I was lucky to have a great ‘shed’ available to me for a limited time and found this build one of the most enjoyable, satisfying and relaxing endeavors of my life. As if that weren’t enough, Dutch and Vikki of the BSMC kindly let me exhibit the CL at the Bike Shed’s second show.
Including buying the bike, and getting it to where it is now has left me with change from £2000, perhaps only enough for a half a pint of craft beer though. Obviously no value is placed on the gazillion hours it took but I’ve learned loads, met some awesome people and cant wait to start the next build. I have the disease and apparently there is no cure, I’m fine with that.
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