1975 HONDA CB400F
By Sam Longo
Old Honda’s just seem to find me. Apparently my advancing age and (somewhat sketchy) reputation as a Honda guy, precludes any need to seek them out. I just sit at home in my little garage, minding my own business and before I realize what is happening another two wheeled treasure arrives, yearning for my attention. This little 400 Four is a classic example of that scenario. As usual I pleaded innocence with my long suffering wife Irene: “Sorry Honey, but it’s just not my fault!” (Note; this line of defense may not work for everyone and severe consequences may be experienced. Always wear a helmet!)
Safety warnings aside, a little history on this iconic machine is in order. Most seasoned riders know that 1969 was a watershed year for Honda with the release of their revolutionary CB750 Four. Always looking for innovation and new market share, Honda decided to cash in on the Café Racer craze leading into 1975, introducing an “F” range of motorcycles capitalizing on that fabulous phenomenon. There was a CB750F, CB550F and the CB400F, all evolving from previously released siblings. The CB400F was a fresh makeover of the CB350 Four, with slightly enhanced performance and a six speed transmission. The entire F range sported chrome “waterfall” 4 into 1 exhaust systems, revised bodywork with rear-set foot controls and lower handlebars. All the bikes sold well but the CB400F was destined to become the cult classic. Produced for three model years, the first year 1975 bikes are the most coveted of the breed.
Although being slightly modified, this Varnish Blue 1975 CB400F rolled off the Japanese assembly line in October of 1974. Some of the modifications were completed by previous owners while others were done by me due to a combination of esthetic preferences, cost constraints, necessary repairs or performance enhancements. Although some of these changes may decrease its potential resale value, in my opinion they greatly improve ride quality and visual appeal.
My interaction with this particular motorcycle began while helping a neighbour purchase a seventies era classic Honda. She was quite petite so the 400 Four was a perfect fit and a trusted friend had this one for sale. It wore its original blue paint, showing low mileage and although a little rough around the edges was a great runner. She rode it for 3 years while it shared shed space with her modern Suzuki TU250. During that time it was often over at my place for routine maintenance as well as ongoing discussions of future restoration plans. As fate would have it, despite loving the bike, she decided to sell and offered it to me. Needless to say, it was a fore gone conclusion that the bike would end up in my fleet. I had worked on the bike, knew its history and also enjoyed numerous test rides.
Over the next winter I went to work. The top end was stripped and new gaskets replaced the weeping originals. I had purchased a bin full of 400F parts through a chance encounter at the Paris swap meet and it was full of useful goodies including a new Dyna ignition. I cleaned and detailed the engine and frame, replacing and repairing bits as necessary. A previous owner had installed the beautiful billet engine hangers and the superbike era oil cooler. The cooler was completely unnecessary for a stock motor but was just too nicely executed to remove. It had the wrong headlight installed so I sourced a used one and fit it in place. For esthetics, I retro fitted the earlier, smaller, Honda turn signals, front and rear (essentially replicating the euro-version). The giant stock taillight also had to go, replaced by an early Triumph replica unit further streamlining the rear end. To improve suspension, I added preload shims to the front forks and installed Assault dual rate rear shocks to replace the originals. The final touch was new Varnish Blue paint applied by a friend in exchange for a surplus CB450 front end.
Visually the bike looks great as a slightly modified Café Racer. The Yoshimura style exhaust is significantly lighter and sounds superb compared to the horrendously expensive, whisper quiet, Honda original, the downside being the loss of center stand.
Riding the bike is an absolute joy. Its 37 HP requires maximum revs to make any serious headway but fortunately the whooping exhaust and furious shifting reward with a smile-per-mile quotient that is hard to beat. The bikes nimble handling makes it a preferred choice for spirited urban excursions. It truly is a remarkable phenomenon. A random Honda weasels its way into your life, through no apparent fault of your own and suddenly becomes your favourite. The CB400F is just that kind of motorcycle magic.