The perfect 100 point Restoration of the Legendary Honda CBX
My introduction to the CBX
The late seventies were the dark ages for the automotive industries in my opinion. Gone were the glory days of the muscle cars, and we were TORTURED by the oppressed 55 MPH speed limit. But there was something very exciting happening in the motorcycle industry that only motorcyclists were enjoying. All through the 70s, bikes were getting better, faster, and more interesting each year. It seemed like each month, we looked forward to the latest news read from the pages of all the Moto Magazines and Newspapers. By the late 70s, the performance and excitement was at a feverish pace. The Yamaha XS1100 hit the streets with a force that dethroned the almighty KZ900. Wow, how could bikes get any better, or any faster? (we thought). I had to have one! I loved my XS1100.
I was the cock of the rock! 22 years old, and the fastest thing on the road.
I don’t remember the exact moment that I heard of, or read about the CBX. But I do remember what my first reaction was... Oh My God…..I wonder who I can sell my XS11 too. At 22, and in 1978, $3500.00 was an astronomical amount of money. But I figured with the money I could get for the 11, plus this months rent, and little help by eating “Mickey Ds”, I would have enough to get one of those Candy Glory beauties of my own. By December of 1978, there was somewhat of a price war going on in LA for CBXs. Every day in the LA times, there were a couple of dealers that would publish the prices of there bikes. Pasadena Honda was always the cheapest. They listed the bike at $3299.00 plus tax & license. On December 7, 1978, I honored Pearl Harbor Day by hitching a ride to Pasadena Honda from my neighbor, who by the way I had convinced a couple of days earlier that the XS1100 was the best bike ever made, and how fun it would be for us go riding together. It worked, he bought my 11, and on to Pasadena we went.
I had exactly $3600.00 in my pocket in cold hard cash. When I walked into the showroom, it was 5:00pm, and they closed at 6. I walked over to the line of CBXs. There were 3 silver ones and 4 red ones. I thought, Ok, do I want silver or red? I never even stopped as I past the row of silver bikes on my way to the Candy Glory side of the showroom.
I was scrutinizing the paint of each bike when the sales guy walked up and asked me if I needed any help. I said, yes, can you pull this one out of the line so I can look it over? After looking it over, I looked up at him and said, I’ll take this one. He said, Oh, Ok, I’ll get a credit ap. I said, no that’s ok, “I have cash” That statement, and a beautiful woman saying “OK” are what a 22 year old male lives for. I took flight on my brand new Candy Glory Red CBX at 6:00pm. Wow what a SOUND! I thought. It was the best sound from any bike I had ever ridden. I was in love before I rode it the one mile to the freeway on ramp.
These (fuzzy) pictures were taken the next morning when I rode it to work. My bud at work said, ride it up and back, and I’ll snap a picture. I wish I had him take more! Sorry, bell bottoms were “in” then.”
It was getting dark, and the red glow of the instruments was the coolest thing I had ever seen on a bike. I was fixated on the look, the sound and the feel of the bike all the way back to Orange County. I was hooked for life. To this day, It is my opinion that the CBX has one of the best sounds ever achieved. Good work Honda.
This is my original sales receipt
I rode my ’79 for a year and loved it. When the ’80 CBX came out with its suspension improvements, again, I had to have it. So I sold my ’79 and bought one. I actually liked the 80 better due to the fact that it handled and rode better than the 79. I am still amazed that the 79s are more desirable. Yes, the 79 has a little more power, but there are only a fraction as many 80s as 79s, and the power difference is hardly noticeable really.
These days, neither bike holds a candle to the performance monsters that the new bikes are. But the fact still remains that the CBX will probably always hold its position for being one of the most beautifully designed and unique bikes ever produced. It attracts attention like few bikes ever have. It stood out in 1979 and still stands out and attracts attention just as much as it did in 1979, if not more, and you can bet that it will continue to do so in the future. Don’t believe me? Just ride up to a group of modern day Sport Bikes, Cruisers and what I call SUV Bikes and see if there isn’t a crowd gathered around the CBX in a minute.
Some say that the CBX is the next Vincent. I agree with that assumption. I think it has already started taking on that metamorphosis. The CBX leads the pack of a few other bikes from the 60s and 70s that are going down the same path as the muscle cars of the same era. Like the muscle cars, these bikes were raw, exciting and pure in their design and individuality, especially the CBX.
Having said all of that, this article is now at the point of its original intent. To inform, educate and suggest ways of obtaining and restoring a CBX of your very own without breaking the bank or feeling overwhelmed with the whole process. One thing to keep in mind is that the CBX is really no different than any other bike, big or small in just about every respect other than its unique look and design. It is that uniqueness that scares people off from working on or restoring their own bike.
The other thing that scares people is the apparent condition of some of the components and finishes of the bike. This article will address all of these things, and more, so that you will have a better understanding, and it will focus on the important things to look for in your search for the bike that you are comfortable with buying, and how much work it will take to get it to the level of restoration you want to achieve.
Thanks to Al Gore ( He invented the Internet, Right?), Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates it is sure easier to shop for rare bikes these days not to mention the parts for them.
The best places are eBay, Craigslist, Cycle Trader, and CBX Forums like CBXworld & ICOA by either posting a want ad or check out what other members have for sale. Unfortunately, newspaper ads are almost non existent these days, so forget it.
So with that in mind, buying these babies is almost as easy as it was when they were new. The big difference is that unlike when they were new, you have your choice of how you want it cooked. Rare, Medium or Well Done. You can by a perfect low mile bike with your life savings, you can buy a nice rider, or my favorite, a good all original survivor that is weathered but is still a good running original bike. These are the ones that are perfect for restoration. There is also the basket cases or a molested cases that can be restored, but it will cost more. In my opinion, ALL CBXs are worth restoring. The trees that these bikes grew on have LONG since been cut down and there are no more seeds to plant new ones, so it breaks my heart to see bike after bike being parted out on eBay every day. Mark my words, 10 years from now, there won’t be any left to part out unless they start parting out the beautiful bikes, God forbid.
So, to start with, depending on your overall budget, buy the bike that you feel comfortable jumping into a restoration project that isn’t going to be over your head.
I bought my first Restoration CBX project in 2002 in LA from an ad on Cycle Trader. I flew down to LA to buy it and ride it back up to San Francisco. I got there and the bike was no where near as nice as I thought it was going to be, but I have learned since then that that is going to be the case 9 out of 10 times. So just figure that in the beginning and you will never be disappointed. After all, these bikes are 34 + years old.
The next morning I took off for San Francisco. It’s about 400 hundred miles, so I was looking forward to getting to know the bike on the way. It was a nice sunny January day and a comfortable 65 degrees. After getting through LA traffic, it was clear sailing up 101 for the rest of the day. When I got to my first stop, I noticed there were 2 oil leaks. One from the valve cover and one from the tach cable were it enters the valve cover. For the rest of the trip, I had to have a rag on my lap, and every 10 miles or so reach down and wipe up the oil puddles on the valve cover so it wouldn’t blow all over the place.
One thing remained the same though, the bike ran beautifully! It was fast, and sounded WONDERFUL! No one should be deprived of that wonderful sound that the stock pipes make on a CBX. Honda went through some pain staking efforts to tune that exhaust for a certain sound, and to this day, it is one of the best sounding bikes ever. Didn’t I mention that before?
The lesson here is this. When you are looking for a bike, decide how much of a restoration do you want to do. Do you want a 100 point bike? Do you want to get a fair bike and just ride the hell out of it? Do want a really well kept original bike that needs nothing but maybe a detail? Or do you want a project?
This article is really aimed at the guy who wants a project.
In my opinion, there are 2 types of projects. One type is that you could get a basket case, or a non running bike that is so far gone, it may as well be a basket case. These bikes are OK, but you really don’t know what you have. So you have to start from scratch. This can be very expensive unless the bike has really nice components like tank, body work, pipes and gauges. If you can get the bike for really cheap, then I think it’s worth it.
The second type is to do what I did. Buy a good running bike where everything is in relatively good working order and you can ride the bike a little before you start your project. This way, you can tell where
This bike was basically a good bike. Low miles, good compression, and mostly all there. The tank was clean inside, but it had been painted black, tail section was good, but painted, original pipes were gone. Wrong shocks, BUT it has a Sport Kit - Very Cool! This is a good example of a 100 point restoration project. You are starting out with a good bike can easily be turned into a 100 point bike. It isn’t cheap, but it will worth what you have in it if not more.
There are a lot of various levels of condition when you talking about this second type of bike. When looking around at the bikes, you will have some level of idea as to what bike you are looking for. For the purpose of this article though, it is assumed that you want to restore the bike to a 100 point show winner, or at least one that closely represents a showroom condition bike. Keeping that in mind, it really doesn’t matter at what state the bike is in cosmetically because bodywork can be replaced and aluminum can be polished, bead blasted and or painted. In the case of my bike, it ran great, and the frame was in almost mint condition. If you can find a bike like that, it really doesn’t matter about the rest. I mentioned the frame because with all of the factory labels that are riveted on it, it just allot easier if you don’t have to remove them for painting or powder coating of the frame. As you will see in my restoration, I had everything that was black powder coated or painted except the frame. I will go into more detail about that later.
The Anatomy of a Honda CBX
Don’t try this at home. This was performed by a professional who was either on crack or was dropped when he was young. And I don’t do crack.
By the way, it took me all day to prepare and setup in order to take this picture.
Actually, this is a great way to take inventory and to plan out your game plan. Just look at it like building a full size model kit of a CBX.
From here, it is so easy to arm yourself with various sizes of zip lock bags and label each part as you bag them up. Organization is key when doing a ground up or frame off restoration. As I stripped the bike down, I lay out the parts on an organized fashion so that I can figure out which items to send to the powder coater, or chrome shop & which items to just simply polish and or clean up, and which ones have to be replaced altogether. Notice the engine & front wheel. They are in the same spot they were when I rolled the bike onto the lift. I will go more into that later in this article.
Your Work Area & Tools
Half the success in any restoration or even normal maintenance on any bike or car is your work space environment and tools. You are only as good as the tools you use. We aren’t talking about a whole lot of money here either. If you have the basics and some specialty motorcycle tools, good shop manuals for the bike, a parts manual for the bike (this is the bible for any bike in my opinion) both an automotive and a motorcycle jack, and best of all, a motorcycle lift, then you can tackle any level of motorcycle restoration that you want. I also have a 20 gallon parts cleaner with real industrial solvent, not the crap you buy at the auto parts store. You should have an organized and clean garage or shop to do a good job. If you have to spend the first week of your project getting it that way, you will re-gain that lost time and then some, and the bike will turn out better. Cost wise for all of this is probably in the neighborhood of a couple of grand maybe. I spent $1000.00 on a motorcycle lift, 100.00 on a parts cleaner, 100.00 on a motorcycle jack (craftsman) and various other tools etc.
The tear down is just as important and as sensitive as the re-assembly. The method and organization of the teardown will determine how the bike goes back together in terms of accuracy and craftsmanship.
Accuracy because if you take note how it came apart, chances are you will put it back together with everything in its right place and position i.e. washers, clamps, ties, etc.
Craftsmanship, because if you tear it apart carefully so as not to mar the nuts, bolts, and screws etc., or scratch everything trying to get it off, then the craftsmanship and/or workmanship is going to come across as good in the end.
You want this bike to look like it has never been apart. When it came from the factory, none of the fasteners were marred up or rounded off. I will sometimes take photos of an item before and during the disassembly so that I can refer to it during re-assembly.
That really helps in cases like the wire harness for example. I take photos of how it snakes thru the frame, and locations of the ties that hold it to the frame.
The CBX is a unique bike in just about every respect. It’s six cylinder engine is not your typical motorcycle engine which can sometimes be moved around fairly easily, i.e. singles, twins, and most 4s. Especially new engines which are much lighter these days.
When you embark on a CBX restoration, the decision of going Frame Off or not is solely based on the condition of the frame. If it is in almost mint condition, and the engine is fairly clean, then you could stop the teardown at the stage as shown in the upper picture. You would have ample room to clean everything up and repaint as necessary. This is a great option that would save a lot of time and money. If the frame and or the engine is wasted, then simply lift the frame off the engine leaving the front wheel and engine in place as shown in the lower picture. Its good to bring the wife out, or some other household slave, and have her hold the forks in place as you lift off the frame so it doesn't pivot and fall to the ground.
By the way, you can a detailed method of safely removing the VIN tags on my web site at www.digitalpizza.com
Clean-up, powder Coating, Painting & Polishing
The clean-up, polishing and refinishing part of a restoration project is when the real work starts. It is tedious dirty work. But there are rewards to all the hard work. Once you have experienced how much fun it is to reassemble the bike with nice clean, polished and refinished parts…. that is what motivates you thru all the hours of cleaning, scraping, sanding, washing, and rubbing.
Basically, All I use are the following cleaning and polishing supplies:
Back-to-Black by Mothers is great for all the rubber and molded black plastics stuff. Unlike armor-all, it will actually restore the black finish instead of putting an unnatural shine to it. It does wonders on the faded turn signals too. After 2 or three applications over a couple of days, they will look great again.
Simi-Chrome Polish is great stuff. After you have wet sanded all of the polished aluminum engine cases etc. put a little bit on and hand polish it until it has that as factory satin shine. I will feature this method later in this article.
Solvent and a 20 or 30 gallon parts cleaner does wonders for the grungy greasy grimy dirty parts that will give you dirty hands just looking at them! I go to an Industrial supply store (Grainger) to buy it, auto parts stores don’t have the good stuff anymore, at least not in California.
Wet Sand Paper is needed for the polished aluminum items and for the general preparation of items before painting. I regularly use 80, 120, 220, 320, 400, 600, 1000, and 1500 grit paper. Again, I will talk more about the use of this paper on the polish aluminum later.
Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax is great for polishing up allot of misc. items. I will use this on painted parts that are free of any scratches. Instead of repainting them or powder coating them, I will use this cleaner wax. It will restore the shine without scratching it like rubbing or polishing compound will. It is amazing how an item that looks old and dull turns out looking new after this treatment. I used it on my 79 CBX frame, and it looks like new again.
Blue Job is amazing stuff for the blued or yellowed chrome pipes. The pipes shown in this article where totally blue/purple and after a couple of hours of rubbing with this stuff, they look brand new. It is a pain in the ass, but well worth it.
Turtle Wax Chrome cleaner in my opinion is the best chrome cleaner out there. A lot of the chrome on a lot of bikes are full of surface rust and this stuff took it off perfectly. If the item has minor pits in it, it pretty much deals with those also, but if the pits are major, then there is no hope, however, this stuff will even make those items look 100% better. The pits may still be there, but the chrome will shine like new.
3M Scotch Brite Pads and Wire Brushes are great for some of the hard surfaces like brake rotors and some nuts and bolts that have a raw finish, engine fins, and brake hose fittings. The Scotch Brites are great for brake rotors. It takes at least an hour of rubbing per side, but they look new when you are done.
I must have 10 different types and sizes of wire brushes. They really come in handy. It’s also a good idea to get some nylon and soft brushes as well.
Aircraft or Jasco Paint Remover is what I use to strip the clear off the polished aluminum engine cases, etc. before they are wet sanded and polished. They also have paint stripper in spray cans now that are way easier to use. Wear a mask though, it is some NASTY stuff. Dupli-Color has it in spray cans not as well. Way easier.
I just use Dupli-Color or Rust-oleum or any other top automotive brand paints in the good old rattle cans. Rattle Can technology is a lot better then the old days and if you know how to do it, it comes out perfect. My secret is that I place the can in a sauce pan of boiling water just long enough to get the paint warm, almost hot. Shake it well and spray an very light over spray coat as your first coat. Then, while it is still tacky, start spraying multiple coats letting almost dry in between coats until you get the desired finish. I then place the part out in the hot sun to cure or put them in an oven at 300 degrees until the metal gets hot. Do this in a well ventilated area because it will stink up the place.
The photo above is just a sampling of various parts after they have been cleaned up, degreased, polished, repainted and or powder coated. The chain guard was brought back to as new condition with the back to black. The black cover that covers the front sprocket, shown in the lower center of the picture above, was polished with Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax. It looks like new. The two silver pieces were also polished with the cleaner wax as well, and look new. The swing arm, kick stand, rear brake stabilizer bar, tail light bracket, front upper motor mounts, battery box, and oil cooler brackets were all powder coated in high gloss black to look like the original finish. Notice that the kick stand and center stand both have new springs and mounting bolts bought from Honda. One can’t put that old grungy spring back on a newly finished stand. It is these kinds of fine details that make a difference. Also, the side stand has new rubber on it as well.
In the picture on the next page, notice the inner fender and rear fender and air box assembly were brought back to look like new with Back-to-black.
The tail light was completely disassembled, each and every part washed and polished with chrome polish or cleaner wax. Then it was re-assembled using all new screws from Honda. The tail light lens is new from Honda. New lenses for all the lights on the bike makes a huge difference in the restoration. It’s one of those details that some people overlook.
Some of the large engine bolts are finished in a raw aluminum or stainless steel. These can be brought back to looking like new again with wire brushes. I will focus on the new nuts and bolts and screws etc. later.
I am Pro Powder coating in the case of some of the parts. Some people say that it isn’t original.
Well neither is painting since the ORIGINAL paint is no longer available. Especially the unique process that Honda used on some parts like the frame. Powder coat, if done properly looks identical to the factory luster.
I only powder coat the Frame, Swing Arm, Top Motor Mounts, and Both Kick Stands. I paint everything else.
Blue Job is amazing stuff for the blued or yellowed chrome pipes. The pipes shown in this article where totally blue/purple and after a couple of hours of rubbing with this stuff, they look brand new. It is a pain in the ass, but well worth it.
OK, now for the MAIN jewel of the piece of motorcycle art… THE ENGINE
Show me a more beautiful engine, other than a Ferrari V12. Even that is surrounded by a luscious Pininfarina body, so it isn't meant to be the main focal point of the car.
The CBX on the other hand is design AROUND the engine. As a result, it is the beautiful center piece of the bike. So it is a shame when it is anything short of perfect when the bike is finished.
This why it is so worth doing a frame restoration on these bikes.
Restoring the engine is a MAJOR job that takes me no less than a week to tackle, and that is without having to do any major work to the engine, like head work, or rings etc. Cleaning it is a pain in the ass. Plain & simple. You have to degrease it, brush it, scrub it, cuss at it. You have to use every size and every type of wire brush you can find. You have to use solvent to get the grease off, then Simple Green to clean it more, then I use Comet or Ajax with brushes to really get it clean. Its funny, guys from around the world email me and ask to send them Comet because that is what I mentioned on my website. I just tell them to buy what ever brand they have there.
After that I wash it again with liquid dishwashing soap (I use Dawn) to get all the residue off. Then I dry the engine by blowing it with an air hose, and towels and let sit overnight to get completely dry.
I then take a large steel brush and brush the whole engine down to get any loose silver paint that might be flaking off.
I then mount it onto an automotive engine stand . At this point, it is ready to tape it off and repaint the areas that get paint.
By the way, notice that the head & cylinders are taped off. They were not painted from the factory. So If you are having the head rebuilt, I will have the machine shop bead blast them. They will look great. I will also fog them with an overspray of the silver just a bit to brighten them up.
CBX Engine hoisted over the parts cleaner. It is not for the faint of heart. Cleaning the engine is the worst part of a CBX restoration, but well worth it in the end.
Polishing the Aluminum
The designers of the CBX designed the engine with beautifully polished and nicely finished cases and covers so that it was as finely finished as the body work. It is like a jewel attached to a setting that is the bike itself.
Unfortunately, because of this, over time, the elements take their toll on all that glitz. The polished aluminum was clear coated to help protect it. The problem is, that moisture penetrates the clear, and corrodes the aluminum under it. This is why that no matter how much you try to clean up the corrosion, or polish it out, it won’t clean up. The only way you can do it is to strip the clear coat off with paint stripper. Sometimes the clear coat yellows, but the aluminum under it is fine, without corrosion. This is an easy solution. Just polish the aluminum with Semi-Chrome by hand until you get the factory satin finish that it was when new. Be careful not to over do it, or it starts looking too polished, almost like chrome. I think these cases look best with the satin finish that they originally had.
In some cases, the aluminum is corroded under the clear. Don’t give up hope on these items, there is a cure. You can restore these to look as good as new again. But it takes allot of work, depending on how bad they are. If you follow these steps, you’ll save allot of money trying to find new ones or perfect un-corroded ones.
First, strip off the clear. I use Jasco Paint Stripper as mentioned in the products used part of this article. It is pretty simple to use. Just brush it on with a paint brush, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and you will see the clear bubble up and separate from the aluminum.
After it looks like it’s all wrinkled and or bubbled up, just wipe it clean with paper towel. Once you have removed all of the clear, you are now ready to get rid of the corrosion. This is done using wet sand paper. I know, it’s hard to imagine sanding on these beautiful case covers, but that how it was done originally. Just don’t worry about it. It will look beautiful when you are done.
The choice of which grit of sand paper you start with will depend on how bad the corrosion is.
If it’s really bad, I start with 80 grit, sand it completely until all of the corrosion is gone. As the corrosion starts to disappear, you might start using a finer grit gradually. Move to 120, then 220, 400, 600, 1000, and finish it off with 1500. Keep in mind that each time you move to a different grit, be sure to sand the entire area so that you keep it consistent. Also, after the corrosion has disappeared, start sanding the item in a direction that is close to the way the factory did it so that the sanding marks are similar to the way they were from the factory. As you reach the 1000 and 1500 grit level, you see the luster start showing thru.
This picture is what the clutch cover on my CBX looked like after I had finished sanding it with 1000. I then used the 1500, and polished it by hand with Semi-Chrome.
I say by hand because, if you use a polishing wheel, other mechanical methods, it will look like chrome immediately. Notice the shine this case cover has, even before I started polishing it. When you start polishing it with Semi-Chrome, it doesn’t take much rubbing at all before it starts developing the luster it had from the factory. Its funny, it will take an hour of sanding to get it looking like this picture, and about 5 minutes of polishing to get it looking like the factory satin finish. I then shoot it with Dupli-Color Clear.
I do this same process on all the polished aluminum covers, and other parts throughout the whole bike, i.e. foot peg brackets, shown here, carburetor tops etc.
Wheels are different problem. You can do the same process, I only use 600 or 800 grit, then I use a Scotch Bright pad for the final rubbing. Honda had a unique process that is hard to restore. I try to find nice wheels to start from. They are much easier to bring back.
The Re-Assembly Process
This is the part of the restoration that one looks forward to. It is the step that motivates you through all of the hard work that precedes it. This is where the fun starts. Everything is clean, polished and or new. Everything feels good, smells good, and as a result, you feel good, rathe