EXCESS 650

Long Ago by Sam Longo

The first motorcycle that I ever crashed was a red 1971 Yamaha XS650. Accelerating out of a corner, I hit a patch of sand and low-sided my friend John’s bike. I wasn’t traveling very fast and the parking lot was empty so both bike and rider emerged relatively unscathed. Needless to say, John was not amused. That was back in 1975, and like a lover scorned, I’ve always had a soft spot for Yamaha’s big four-stroke parallel twin.

In the sixties, Yamaha was best known for their blindingly quick, well made, two-strokes   but a special project began in 1967 that would forever change the course of their motorcycle building future. A small group of engineers borrowed two cylinders from a Toyota car engine and utilizing the computer in the musical instrument division, designed an appropriate crank and camshaft. Once their cobbled-together experimental engine was complete, they stuffed it into a YR-1 350 frame, and the concept was complete. Five prototypes later, the 653cc XS-1 debuted at the 1969 Tokyo Motor Show. Designed to look and sound like a Triumph or BSA, it has often been described as the best British twin the Japanese ever made!

However, being considerably heavier than a 650 Triumph, at 430 lbs (wet), it never quite matched the Bonneville’s handling or acceleration. What it did have to counter those shortfalls was a well-engineered oil-tight engine, coupled with car-like electrical reliability and a slick shifting five-speed transmission. The 360 degree, unit construction, overhead cam engine had horizontally split crankcases, utilizing roller bearings for both the crankshaft and cam. Fuel was metered via 2 Mikuni 38mm CV carbs, with the early higher compression motors cranking out a respectable 53hp at 7000 RPM.

Launched at the dawn of the Japanese inline four assault, looking back, it is hard to believe that the XS650 managed such a lengthy production run. Having been produced from 1970 until 1985, over a quarter of a million of these robust twins rolled off the assembly line. Triumph and BSA may have won the early races, but Yamaha clearly won the war. Often highly modified for dirt track racing and sidecar use the engines remained bulletproof and frequently hauled many racers (including a young Kenny Roberts) into the winner’s circle.

As sales for the twin softened in the late seventies, new life was given to the XS650 line by introducing the 1978 SE model. Instrumental in launching the “Factory Custom Cruiser” craze, Yamaha reinvented the wheel, tarting up the old design with fat mag wheels, stepped seats and pull back bars, soldiering on to yet another successful sales story.

For 1979 Yamaha added electronic ignition and began to further detune the design by lowering compression and changing to smaller 34mm Mikuni’s. Eventually switching to 34mm Hitachi carbs in 1981 until the end of production came in 1985.

Riding the early XS650 is very much like riding a British twin of the same era. Straddle the bike and rev the engine with your eyes closed and you could be on anything from a Norton to an AJS. Click it into gear, let the clutch out and the grunt is immediately apparent. Torque is what these engines are all about. The Yamaha’s vibration can get excessive at higher revs, but fortunately there is no real need to redline the engine. Just roll on the throttle in any gear at any reasonable speed and it pulls with a satisfying melodic consistency. The ideal scenario for these bikes is cruising secondary two-lane highways, rolling along at 90 to 100K in fifth gear. The revs are low and the engine is smooth, with quick passes a mere throttle twist away.

The bikes handling is quite adequate provided your due diligence maintenance includes, tapered roller steering bearings, quality aftermarket swing arm bushes and shocks. The earlier 650’s weak ignition (by today’s standards) can be easily remedied by installing a Boyer Electronic Ignition and modern coils. Fortunately the aftermarket supplies for this model are plentiful, with everything from big bore kits to flat track replicas, to café racers and every conceivable chopper part known to man. In addition there is an abundance of used parts available due to the sheer numbers of bikes produced.   

The XS 650 has a strong cult following with dedicated clubs spanning the globe from Australia to Finland. The early drum braked XS-1 and XS-1B’s are the most collectable, consequently fetching the highest prices but standard model 1973-1978’s can still be purchased for a song. With aluminum spoke rims and a standard seating position they are an excellent starting point for building a fun affordable café racer. In the end, the “British Bike” that Yamaha built outlasted all of its real British competition, survived the onslaught of the inline fours and evolved with the changing market to become a true classic in its own right. All things considered, it was a remarkable feat of excessive success.

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HANGAR RIDES

By Sam Longo AME A&P

For most Aircraft Mechanics, getting to work continues to be a mundane routine reality. Over the years, however, being a diehard gear-head often made my Hangar commute slightly more enjoyable. The destinations remained the same but the diversity of vehicles always seemed to enhance the journey.

When Nordair in Montreal hired me in 1975, it was time to buy a car. In a last minute flurry of activity I received the insurance money from my recently demolished 1971 Honda 750 (that’s another story!) and hastily purchased a 1969 Mustang Mach 1. It was the day before my departure and despite the cars good looks and 351 cubic inch V8 it proved to be a rather poor choice. On that first run to Montreal its fuel and oil consumption were tied for first place. It soon became clear that beneath the gleaming chrome and shiny paint was just another clapped out, well abused, muscle car. That winter I recall walking to work…a lot! Fortunately I had an apartment on Dorval Ave. so it wasn’t far to “snowshoe” to the Nordair hangar.

In the spring of 1976, after returning from Frobisher Bay, I purchased a beautiful, low mileage, 1974 MGB. The Mustang at this point had a rebuilt engine and still proved to be a clanking, cantankerous beast, so I sold it. Two weeks later it threw a rod. I felt bad and gave the new owner most of his money back and told him to keep the damn car. I never wanted to see it again.

Fortunately the MGB proved to be a real gem. With optional electric overdrive, it was a joy to drive. On one memorable trip, after working all night followed by an equally busy morning in Dorval, I headed to Toronto. I was tired but figured if I kept the roof down the windblast would help to keep me awake. I suddenly awoke at the wheel with the sound of gravel under the wheels. The electric overdrive was doing a fine job and the speedometer was reading 95 MPH. I was gently fishtailing on the soft shoulder of the 401. I cautiously nudged the car back on to the asphalt and the subsequent adrenalin rush kept me wide-awake for the balance of my journey.

When I started work at DeHavilland I still had the MGB. Its two small six-volt batteries buried behind the seats was the cars one “Achilles heel”. To remedy this issue I extended the cables into the trunk connecting them to a very large 12-volt battery. I took great delight in the cold dead of winter, boosting stranded Chevy’s and Fords from the “boot” of my British sports car!

The MG was sold to purchase my current Honda CB750, which still resides in my garage. I then purchased a 1969 Semi-Automatic VW Beetle as a winter beater for $300. I always wore a full snowsuit and carried an ice scraper while driving in winter due to its rotted out heater channels, but it never let me down. I was constantly getting pulled over by the cops due to its different colored fenders, so on a hot sunny day I painted it with a gallon of gloss-black Tremclad using a quality brush. It looked great, and after three years of faithful service I sold it for $295 to a fellow mechanic at Air Canada.

Air Canada’s improved paychecks finally allowed me the luxury of another sports car, so I purchased a 1973 Datsun 240Z. I installed fiberglass fenders, an Ansa exhaust and had it painted Ferrari red. It was a terrific car despite its ongoing corrosion issues. Before its fall from grace I also installed stainless steel floor panels, severely testing my somewhat rusty sheet-metal skills.

Next came a pristine 1979 Ford Mustang, “Cobra Edition”. In contrast to my earlier bad luck, this Pony Car proved to be a reliable steed so long as it never saw snow. I subsequently sold it to a good friend to finance a 1985 Lotus Super Seven replica. The Super Seven was a Canadian built hybrid with a Toyota 1600 Twin Cam engine, utilizing twin Solex carburetors and a 5-speed transmission. The little Seven was a blast to drive but could only be used in perfect weather, so once again I went shopping for a winter beater. A succession of mid seventies Honda Civics got me through the next three winters. They were all cheap, rusty and reliable, with the added luxury of working heat.

The Lotus was eventually sold to the foreman of Air Canada’s Engine Overhaul shop in Montreal. On a sunny dry November day I bundled up and after a very long cold ride parked it in his immaculate garage. I was still shivering after flying home to Toronto on a company pass.

All of these cars were good fun and trigger great memories of my days working in the industry. As for that original Mustang, I got a call long after I sold it from the RCMP. Apparently it was involved in some kind of bank robbery. I sure hope it wasn’t their only getaway car because it rarely got me to work! I guess its true what they say about men and boys. The only real difference is the price of their toys. Fortunately, growing old may be mandatory, but growing up is still optional.     

Memories Of A Wet Christmas

By Sam Longo AME A&P

One of the bleak realities of working for the airlines is never ending shift work. Full coverage, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year means that for most employees, Christmas is just another workday.

It was always the luck of the draw, working in a union environment, whether you worked the holidays or got them off. Booking off vacation time was out of the question unless you had close to 100 years seniority. Unfortunately in the early ‘80’s I had about five whole years under my belt, so I was destined to work whatever schedule I was assigned. In those days, Line Maintenance worked a six/three rotation, of six days, six evenings and six midnights, each separated by three days off. Not exactly designed for a happy, stable, circadian rhythm, but hey, that was part of the deal, while working for the nations airline.

Over the course of my ten year stay at Air Canada, as luck would have it, I worked seven Christmases, most of which were uneventful regular workdays, however there was one particular year that I will never forget. I was of course scheduled to work the midnight shift, and was planning to join my family for Christmas morning festivities right after work at my parents’ place.

It had been abnormally mild that year in Toronto leading up to the Christmas season, and as I drove to work the rain was coming down with a foreboding fury. With temperatures hovering just above the freezing mark I secretly hoped for a warm secure night in the heated hangar, with perhaps a short nap thrown in late in the shift as a comfy Christmas bonus. Unfortunately fate was not planning a festive fairy tale, but rather a nasty numbing nightmare.

As often happened at Christmas, the Air Canada base in Montreal decided to give Toronto its usual Yuletide gift, diverting as many aircraft as possible to YYZ for overnight storage. With three times the usual number of aircraft on station we were swamped, with airplanes parked in every nook and cranny of the ramp. The shift foreman rapidly fired off the names encompassing most of the mechanics on our crew and sent us packing for our “ramp in the damp” evening entertainment.

It was a long cold wet night, with the thought of the warm hangar a distant memory, as we worked on aircraft in the freezing rain ensuring that they were repaired, inspected, heated and cared for in preparation for their morning departures. Returning to ramp headquarters at gate 91 towards the end of our shift, three of us were summoned and assigned a last minute tow job from the hangar to the ramp. We reluctantly climbed into the maintenance van for the ride back to the hangar and subsequently hooked up a Boeing 727 dragging it back with us to the already overflowing ramp. Jubilant that our ordeal for the night was finally over we hopped into the tow tractor and headed back to the hangar for our 8:30 departure. As we roared down Golf taxiway bound for freedom we were met head on by a company DC8 under tow. In his haste for our imminent departure, our driver, wet, tired, soggy and groggy decided to go around on the tarmacs grassy edge to clear the DC8’s wingtip and within seconds was instantly cognizant of his error in judgment. The heavy tug, weighing many thousands of pounds, was instantly buried right up to it axles and going nowhere fast.

We were now working overtime as we slogged through the mud to the edge of the taxiway. Cold and fed up we flagged down a ramp truck and hitched a ride back to the hangar. Then, after securing some heavy-duty tow chains and another tug, we returned to the scene of the crime to retrieve our crippled sunken treasure. By the time our rescue attempt was complete, after spending yet another hour in the unrelenting rain, we returned to the hangar, too cold, tired and muddy to care. We didn’t even bother to claim any overtime. As we cleaned ourselves up and changed in the now deserted locker room, someone miraculously produced a bottle of Brandy. We each downed a healthy shot of the fiery hot liquid, instantly warming our frozen innards, while toasting to a very Merry Christmas. Later that day, thoroughly exhausted, I fell into a deep sleep after feasting on turkey with family and friends.

Now that I am retired, that “ramp in the damp” ordeal is but a distant memory. Still, I can’t seem to forget that cold miserable Christmas night in YYZ and often think of the thousands of other airline employee’s still out there working 365 days and nights of the year, so that we might fly away to visit the people we love. As the Holiday Season approaches, I raise my glass to each and every one of those workers. May your midnight snags be few, and all your Christmases warm and dry! Cheers.             

I Love Motorcycles, She loves Dogs!

 (Hondigity Dog) Globe & Mail

Oct.2009

Being an avid motorcyclist, it is not uncommon in social circles for the topic to gravitate towards bikes.  Consequently, group conversations often touch on the subject of motorcycle ownership.  I am always amazed when some guy spills the beans and says: “I’d love to have a motorcycle but my wife won’t let me.”  I usually bite my tongue, but my thought response is always the same, “Man, you obviously married the wrong woman.”  That may sound harsh, but there is definitely some truth in it. 

Many years ago, when my wife Irene and I were dating, I had three motorcycles in my fifth floor apartment.  A beautifully restored 1965 Honda CB160 was parked strategically in my dining room.  My tidy enclosed solarium balcony housed two additional vintage bikes. We are not talking greasy Harley engines in the bathtub here.  The point is, she really knew what she was getting into, and it was highly unlikely, at age 34, that I would change much.

Time has marched on and we have now been happily married for nearly 19 years.  I still own five motorcycles. One of the reasons we are happily married is that we respect and support each other’s interests. One Christmas, she even bought me a rare, Honda CB450 “Black Bomber” motorcycle to restore. I found it in very rough shape and negotiated a purchase price of $250 and she insisted on buying it for me as my gift. That’s when I realized, wow, I married the right girl.  Which brings to mind an old miner’s saying; “Once you strike gold, you stop digging.”

It wasn’t just the bike purchase; she also got her motorcycle license when I was a motorcycle safety instructor.  This was not an easy task for her.  She did not pass right away, nor did she give up.  She persevered and practiced until she was successful.  It was   obvious to me at that moment just how committed she was to our success as a couple.

Obviously there are two sides to this relationship business, and so I also have to be respectful and supportive of her interests.  As a licensed aircraft mechanic my passions all have engines attached to them, motorcycles, cars and aircraft.  Hers are a little more eclectic, gardening, live theatre and animals.  For the record, when I say animals here, I am referring primarily to cats and dogs. 

Here is a good example of how it works.  A few years ago, we traveled on vacation to England.  I took her to tour a few aviation museums, and she took me on a couple of garden tours.  The beauty of this exchange is that she now recognizes the difference between a Rolls Royce Merlin and an Anzani Radial aircraft engine, and I appreciate the difference between a rose and a rhododendron.  She took me to see Shakespeare at Stratford and I took her to Paris (Ontario…for the vintage bike rally!)  We both support each other’s interest and in the process expand our own horizons.

Of course we are married, so this scenario can at times push us each to the very boundary of our limits.  Irene grew up on a farm with lots of cats and dogs running around. Consequently, her need for a dog was intense, but not just any dog.  It had to be a Dachshund; you know the long legless type, the dog world’s version of a “low rider”. This particular breed captured her heart, due to Fritz, a beloved Dachshund from her past. I had always promised her that when I retired she would have another, and sure enough she called my bluff. Little Lola recently entered our lives, much to the surprise of Blue, our slightly used, low mileage cat.  Irene is over the moon with her new baby Dachshund. 

We still attend Woofstock and various Dachshund Rescue picnics in an attempt to keep her “additional” cravings at bay.  Still I know it is only a matter of time before we collect both Honda’s and Dachshunds.  Perhaps, when we are both retired we can set up a joint business venture…Sam’s Vintage Honda’s and Reenie’s Weenies.  Sales slogan:  Get ‘em while they’re hot! 

In any case, I often wonder about those guys with wives that won’t allow them to have a motorcycle.  Do the guys then get to deny their wives some unique passion like tennis or shopping, or is it just a one-way street?  “Ok, honey I won’t get a motorcycle, but no more designer stilettos for you…ok?”  I mean, let’s face it, they can both be extremely dangerous, in the wrong hands! Husbands take note; this kind of brash statement can result in lengthy amounts of couch time and/or serious injury.  So remember always wear a helmet!

I guess the bottom line is, when it comes to relationships, it really boils down to give and take to keep everyone happy.  Currently our little urban jungle consists of one cat and one dog. They seem to get along just fine and so do we. At least for now, all is well, with no additional Dachshunds in our immediate future. Thank goodness, despite my ongoing commitment to relationship compromise, I have never been a big fan of motorcycle sidecars. Especially when one sidecar could potentially carry dozens of Dachshunds!

The Enzo Escapade

The Enzo Escapade

By Sam Longo

1967 Honda CB77 Super Hawk

It all started out so innocently. I was simply looking for a few missing bits required to complete my own 305 Super Hawk restoration. That is when my good friend Enzo invited me to rummage through his enormous stash of parts. Knee deep in his basement was a treasure trove of vintage 60’s Honda parts. He allowed me to fish out a few much needed gems and then refused to take any compensation for the items. Just another swell vintage motorcycle guy looking to help out a fellow enthusiast, I thought. Seems you really do meet the nicest people “on” a Honda or apparently, even while foraging through their rusty recycled remains.

Then came Enzo’s question; “How would you feel about building a motor for me?” Well you can immediately see my dilemma, how could I refuse after he had been so generous?  And so the winter long journey of the Enzo Escapade began.

Building a motor in itself was not a big problem. I had done quite a few by that point for myself and others. My small 800 square foot shop, housing my own fleet of Hondas, would not be too taxed for space in pursuit of my engine building task. However not long after this gentleman’s agreement was cast a new situation transpired that would change the whole dynamic of the situation.

Around this same period Enzo was experiencing a subtle change in his living arrangements. He had to move and consequently his large stash of Honda parts and motorcycles suddenly morphed, switching instantly from an asset to a liability. As his personal status evolved so too did our discussions and the plot of the whole escapade began to thicken. I made a rather foolish suggestion and he jumped at the chance. Perhaps I could take all the Super Hawk parts off his hands, build him a complete restored bike from the best bits and as payment keep all the left overs for myself. At the time it seemed like the perfect solution. It was a win-win situation, right up until the trucks showed up. Then the gravity of the situation hit me hard, where on earth was I going to stash all this stuff?

My small workshop began filling up fast. Frames, wheels, motors and boxes of parts rapidly overwhelmed me. My tiny organized space was now hopelessly infected with floor to ceiling “Superhawkitis”. Now the real fun began. Every box and part had to be inspected and categorized for the future build. Over the next few weeks I painstakingly sorted the “A” pile and the “B” pile. Most of the “B” pile could then be stored elsewhere to give me a little more working space. In my estimation, close to 4 complete bikes were scattered in various states of condition and assembly.

The next stage was to get all the best “A” parts off to be sandblasted and painted. John Connery was chosen for the task and he did a beautiful job laying on the classic red paint with silver fenders and side covers. Enzo had also collected a fantastic array of “New Old Stock” parts in anticipation of the build including original exhaust pipes, mufflers, seat, proper grey cables and many internal engine parts. While waiting for the paint to be completed I began the engine building process. Although technically “over restored” getting the engine cases polished instead of painting really makes the power plant pop. All the polishing and additional chassis chroming was carried out by Mayfair Plating and as always Chuck Kotowick did a stellar job.

The other nice thing about having so much to choose from is I could build the project as a true “Numbers Matching” bike. With sixties Honda’s the frame and engine numbers should be within about 300 numbers of each other to be considered matching. Despite the fact that the engines changed little during the 8 years of CB77 production, having correct numbers always adds value to a finished restoration.

By the time the painted parts returned, the freshly assembled motor was gleaming on my workbench, a jewel of 60’s Honda technology. The newly assembled wheels and tires were also ready to go so it was not long before I had a rolling chassis ready to accept the motor. Enzo’s little Honda was progressing rapidly now and I was determined to deliver it by early spring.

My own Super Hawk, Café Racer was starting to look a little shabby sitting beside this pristine example rising from extinction, but fortunately the “B” pile of parts produced some really nice upgrades for my regular rider. Even this lowly little “Giro” bike seemed to shine a little brighter in the company of Enzo’s pampered prize.

The winter days passed quickly as I persevered through the wiring and final assembly stages. Finally it was time for some fuel, a battery and a push into the sunshine. Careful attention to engine set up and timing allowed the bike to fire right up. A few more carburetor tweaks and it was idling nicely with a reassuringly tight sounding top end. There was still snow on the ground, surrounding the patio outside the shop, but the roads were dry so I took it for a few shakedown runs. Thanks to all those NOS parts it was a joy to ride, with very few issues arising from a new build.

I called Enzo to come and get his new bike. He arrived with his trailer and a few knowledgeable cronies who really knew about Super Hawks. Each buddy took it for a spin in turn and each returned with a smile on their face. Satisfied that the transaction was done, they happily tied it down and off it went.

Unfortunately for me the Enzo Escapade was far from over. In the following months, yet another CB77 arose from the archaic abyss. A nice presentable “B” bike was completed and sold along with a few parts lots to help clear the shop. I had finally cured my workspace of “Superhawkitis” just in time for the next infection, a sordid, seized-solid, CB450 Bomber project. Mercifully, I was done with the Super Hawks. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest!  

Engine Change Escapades

By Sam Longo AME A&P

The tired and battered 1964 MGB filed its final protest by throwing a rod through its cast iron engine block. My good friend Peter and his much beloved car needed help. As fate would have it, at twenty years of age, this would be my virgin engine change.

Despite our woefully inadequate experience and equipment, the outcome of that first engine change escapade was a positive one. Peter’s MG continued providing enjoyable, albeit intermittent, transportation until the transmission expired along with twelve other major components, at which time it was mercifully removed from service. The joys of British sports cars aside, it was for me the beginning of a lifetime of various engine change adventures, on a diverse array of machinery, ranging from tiny Honda motorcycle engines to giant Rolls Royce RB211’s and everything in between.

My first engine change recollection as a professional mechanic (meaning someone was actually paying me to fix things!) was as an apprentice in Frobisher Bay. We had to remove an engine from a Twin Otter and ship it via Boeing 737 to Nordair’s Montreal home base. Apparently John Luty (Nordairs owner) had a fishing trip planned using the companies Turbo Mallard. Unfortunately the Mallard had an ailing PT6 that needed replacing, so the order came down to pull one off a Twin Otter stationed in Frobisher. That, no longer revenue generating, Twin Otter sat in the hangar for ten days, minus one engine, while the boss enjoyed his fishing trip!

As an Airframe Mechanic at DeHavilland  I rarely touched an engine, but those few fallow years were quickly compensated for when I landed at Air Canada. Working in line maintenance, a week rarely went by without an engine change on a Boeing 727 or DC9. If we hustled, a small crew of 4 or 5 seasoned mechanics could change a JT8D in an 8-hour shift and have the aircraft back in service. As with many jobs, the more you did it the easier and faster it became. Air Canada was also very good at putting together excellent equipment (Engine Change Kits) that helped facilitate rapid turnarounds on or off the main maintenance base. I can’t imagine how many engine changes I worked on during my first seven years with line maintenance but there is no doubt that my rate of engine change encounters soared when I voluntarily transferred to Check Crew.

Check Crew at Air Canada was responsible for most of the “Wide Body” aircraft, heavy scheduled maintenance. Consequently we were tasked with most of the Boeing 747 and Lockheed L1011 engine changes. As I recall the 747 engines seemed to stay put and happily pull their attached airplanes for thousands of hours undisturbed. The “Tin Lemon” however was the undisputed engine change queen. We averaged 2 to 3 engine changes a week on the infamous “Tri-Star” and consequently got very good at it. We often joked about how much easier life would have been if the Lockheed designers had simply had the foresight to attach the engines using giant Dzus fasteners! As it was, wing engines could be pulled by one shift and installed by the next, with the tail engine always taking just a little longer due to its height and lack of easy access. In fact we did them so often, that it actually started to get boring. Fortunately there were so many different tasks to do as part of the whole process that we changed up jobs to keep it interesting. Some things were a real pain, aligning and connecting the giant “S-Duct” translating ring as well as hooking up the 3 bleed air ducts were always a challenge on the number 2, tail mounted engine, not to mention climbing a lot of stairs on the specially built engine change workstands!      

When I finally left Air Canada in 1988 to pursue my aviation-teaching career, I thought my days of never ending engine changes were finally done. However fate decided to deal me just a few more engine change challenges. As the Professor responsible for second year engine theory, part of my curriculum was teaching the proper process of engine change. In addition to the classroom theory involved, every student participated in an actual engine change, as part of his or her mandatory hangar projects. With two Cessna150’s, a Piper Apache, and an additional Piper Seminole undergoing continuous non-stop engine changes, I must have supervised hundreds of engine changes over my 22 years of teaching. 

Now that I have officially retired from teaching, my only engine changes now are happily self-imposed, though incredibly just last week a buddy called me up and requested my assistance with his 1972 Honda 750. “I just need your help to get the motor back in the frame” he pleaded. Of course, as with Peter’s MG all those years ago, I couldn’t refuse a friend in need. Besides, like the old Check Crew mechanics used to say; “You’re only as good as your last engine change” and God willing, I haven’t changed my last one yet!    

Just like Peter’s white 1964 MGB
Lockheed L-1011 – The Engine Change Queen
Keith’s CB750 with the engine installed.

Kindred Karma

Motorcycle Mojo Magazine – May 2021

KINDRED KARMA

1976 Honda CB750 Café

For many of us motorcycles often transcend being mere mechanical devices. We often build relationships with them, name them and even speak to them as if they too were human. Occasionally   these “combustion fired companions” can reward us, becoming the catalyst to create or spark future friendships. The story of this 1976 Honda CB750 Café Racer clearly follows that unique phenomenon.

It was a lovely Sunday morning and the vintage motorcycles arrived in droves for some friendly bike banter and a good greasy breakfast. I was riding my own trusty 1973 CB750 Honda Café when a stranger approached and struck up a conversation. His name was Ed and he offered to buy my bike. At that point in time, I had owned it for over 20 years and was not interested in selling. He already had a very nice fleet of classic motorcycles and I was quite flattered that he was interested in mine.

As fate would have it, we became friends and over the course of the next few years I helped him build his own. The bike you see here is his creation. Originally commissioned and built by Carpy of California to Ed’s specifications, it arrived in Canada ready to go but still required some fine tuning and fettling. I pulled the motor and installed a Wiseco 836 kit, Barnett clutch, Dyna Ignition/coils and rejetted the carbs. I also did some minor suspension work and Ed worked his magic on the cosmetics. A little later Ed also opted to install 29mm CR Race carburetors. In the end it was a stunning example of the 70’s era Single Cam Honda. Parked beside my own 1973 Honda, at various rallies over the years, his always shone just a little brighter and always generated many admiring comments. Competition aside, the brotherhood created over these two bikes was complete.

As the years progressed Ed’s bike collection grew but he always had a soft spot for his hot rod Honda Four. Vintage Ducati’s, Norton’s, BMW’s came and went along with a plethora of modern motorcycles, but the Honda always remained as one of his favorites. He was an excellent rider and I soon learned to forget trying to keep up with him. Whether we were riding 60’s era 305 Super Hawks in the US Moto Giro’s or blasting up to breakfast on our CB750’s his riding ability always put me to shame. I am sure he put up with me mainly because I could fix whatever mechanical gremlins occurred if his bikes ever failed him.

Unfortunately, in the end I could only stand by and watch as his own body failed him. He lost his battle with cancer at the far too young age of 61. Before he left us, he called on my son Spencer and I to help him prepare for his imminent departure. It was a rainy, blustery, late summer day when we met at his garage. All the other bikes had been sold. Only his beloved Café Honda remained. He was getting rather frail so under his tutelage I gassed it up and installed the battery and it fired to life.

We had built it together and now he was passing its care and feeding to me. He had told me in advance that this day would come, though secretly I dreaded it. His reasoning was sound. He knew I would take good care of it. He also mentioned that because he had no children (and I had a son that rides) Spencer could continue to keep it rolling long after I was gone. He wanted to ensure that his creation would continue to dazzle others into future generations.

As I rode out of the underground parking lot the rain had stopped and the sun was out. The twenty- minute ride home was the only break in the foul weather all day. The pounding rain returned a few seconds after it was safely stashed in my garage. It was like a divine sign that the handover was meant to be. Ed Liu’s legacy was now my responsibility. We are after all only custodians of these mechanical companions while we walk and ride this planet. Our kindred karma had played its final hand. Twenty-five years ago, Ed wanted to buy my CB750 and through a sad twist of fate I ended up inheriting his. As it sits under the lights of my workshop it represents so much more than a motorcycle. It embodies the human aspect of our passion to ride and in its purest form represents the bond of a lasting friendship. Gods speed Ed, rest assured that your Honda is in good hands.

Technical sidebar.

I have since ridden Ed’s Honda several times and made some minor modifications and repairs to make it more “streetable.”

 The day I picked it up Ed pointed out a few glitches that required repair. Damaged brake light wiring and partially seized front caliper were easy fixes. Originally when I first worked on the bike, I had set it up identically to my own CB750. Stock cam, 836 Kit and rejetted carbs with Dyna ignition. However, in my opinion, when Ed installed the 29mm Race Carbs, its “street ability” was compromised. Yes, it made slightly better top end power but idled poorly and lacked the ability for carb synchronization. Since these photos were taken, I have returned to stock carbs, rejetted with velocity stacks.

 Ed also loved electronic gadgets, cell phone and Garmin holders were all removed from the top triple clamps for a clean ‘70’s look. I polished the bar clamps and installed period grips. Also, while riding, it bothered me to not have turn signal indication. The signals are tucked in so tightly they cannot be seen flashing. I ran a harness up through the steering stem with a modified Fender Guitar Amp jewel light for indication. (Ed would approve, he also loved vintage guitars!)  

Other things that offend my sensibilities like the 16-inch Harley rear rim will likely be left. Ultimately, I do not want to change too much of Ed’s original vision as it will always remain his bike. His tongue and cheek license plate “CAFEH” is uniquely Canadian and 100% Ed. Finally, as an homage to Ed I installed the rear seat cowl decals “Ed Liu’s Legacy.” The boys at breakfast will appreciate that.

1060 words

Written by Sam Longo

Check out my new book!

A Wrench in the Wings

Sam Longo AME A&P

A compilation of essays revealing the personal and career adventures of an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer.

Most of the flying public is acutely aware of the qualified pilots that sit up front, expertly controlling and guiding their passengers safely from point A to B.

Surprisingly, very few of these same folks have any knowledge of the 17,000 Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AME’s) who are equally responsible for their flying safety. No aircraft can legally leave the ground without their license and signature prior to departure. It is a rather obscure profession that is rarely highlighted yet remains necessary to all commercial flight.

This book brings that career into sharp focus outlining the job with insight, lessons and real-life consequences. A compilation of 75 columns from Air Maintenance Update magazine, the author brings humanity and humor into the mix to make it an interesting and insightful read.

  • “Of all the aircraft types flown by the company the most intimidating was the Boeing 747. You could work on it for a lifetime and still leave many maintenance tasks unexplored.”
  • “Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island is a long way from home, especially for a 22-year-old kid who had rarely left the suburbs of Toronto.”
  • “Perhaps the ultimate beauty of fixing things is that its sublime satisfaction transcends all types of mechanical devises.”
  • “There is nothing quite like working on a DC9 on a beautiful summer night, hangar doors wide open, being serenaded by Pink Floyd, live!”
  • “As aircraft maintainers the most valuable tool that we possess is not located in our toolbox. It is a resource that we continue to covet and collect. That intangible commodity is commonly known as experience.”     

SAM LONGO has over 40 years’ experience as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer and Professor-Coordinator at Centennial Colleges Aerospace Department. He holds a Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Engineers licence (AME M1, M2) as well as an FAA A&P rating. In addition, he has a Certificate in Adult Education from St. Francis Xavier University and is a qualified trainer in Aviation Human Factors. Sam is the past president of the AME Association of Ontario and was also the national president of the Aircraft Maintenance Engineers of Canada (AMEC/TEAC). His extensive writing has been published in both aviation and motorcycle publications across Canada.

A Wrench in the Wings by Sam Longo

Transportation – Aviation – Technical – Career – Mentoring

Paperback / 235 pages / 9780228850946 /$15 US / Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Book Depository. https://amazon.com/dp/0228850940 https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-wrench-in-the-wings-a-p-sam-longo-ame/1138868377

eBook / 9780228855439 / $8 US  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1081065 

Tellwell Talent – http://www.tellwell.ca

Release date; May 14th, 2021

Contact Sam Longo

samlongo750@gmail.com

416-462-0271

FOUR GONE CONCLUSION

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.