Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get in gear, any gear will do - part one

This story will start in the past tense and pick up here in the present day...this little restoration project has been lurking round my houses for some time, read on:

About a thousand years ago, I bought a '77 CB400F from the original owner. It had just over 10,000 miles on the odometer and had been sitting in his shed for well over 20 years.
I'd nearly bought one as my first bike...probably should have as the CB750F I started on was much more machine than a beginner should have to man handle but, that's another story.
The 400F is one of those Honda stories that seems to repeat over and over. Critical success, modest sales, ultimately becomes a cult bike.

When I brought it home, you might say it was a "20 footer." From that distance, it looked like new.
Here it is the day I brought it home.
Up close, the ravages of less than ideal storage became apparent. The chrome on the wheels was beyond salvage, the fenders pitted and the right side of the frame was spotted and rusty where battery acid had spilled. Sounds bad but the upside was nearly perfect paint on the tank and side covers and the iconic four into one exhaust was in pretty good shape. What I had was a great place to start what they call a "sympathetic restoration" these days. I wanted to preserve as much of the original patina as possible but still have something I could be proud of when I parked it.

I was pleased to find the inside of the fuel tank was in great shape and not at all shocked to see the carbs filled with varnish.

Pulling the bike apart, I made a genuine effort to be very organized and label items as I went. This becomes pretty important to the story of this bike...

The carburetors were my first project and the tone of this effort was quickly set. The first of four came apart well enough, the dip tank did it's job and I was optimistic I'd be riding the 400 by spring. Then, I started into the second carb. Things went pear shaped in a hurry.

That little screw is inside the slide of carb number two. There are two small philips head screws inside to retain the needle. Actually, they are JIS philips head screws. At the time, I did not own a good set of JIS screw drivers. I do now.....
Now, this is where the story starts to take a tangent. In 2005, we decided it was time to buy a new house. This turned into building a new house, a nice project in some ways but the timing of things got tough. We were having trouble selling our home so when a good offer came in that required us to move before we finished our new place, we took it.

The 400F had been languishing in the garage for about nine months as I could not get that screw loose no matter what I tried. I bought a set of donor carbs on Ebay, a mistake as they were in pretty rough shape. The slides were in no condition to be re-used in my opinion. More than a little frustrated, I simply worked on other things.

So, well sell our home and move into an apartment. We rented a massive, and I mean massive storage unit where we put the majority of our belongings as well as two cars and my four motorcycles. If there is one thing worse than leaving a bike in pieces in your garage for a long time, surely it is moving a bike in pieces a few times. I'd had the carbs apart on the work bench, sitting in a big cafeteria tray and I simply moved them last and put them on a shelf in the storage unit.
Once the house was finished, we moved into the new place and all my toys stuff went into the new garage.
Then, I promptly ignored the 400F for 3 years. I would have a hard time explaining what finally moved me back into action but eventually I dug back into the carb slide problem.
It is funny how a lot of time away from a problem can make you more serene about it but I was in a better place mentally when I tackled it again. I built an extractor out of a left handed drill bit and out the screw came as though it was barely stuck.

I bought myself some JIS drivers and went after the other carbs.
In pretty short order, they looked like this

What was really remarkable was the fact I'd not lost a single part in the entire time they had been apart..

It was starting to feel like a fun project again so I stood back and reviewed my options. I'd collected a lot of NOS and reproduction parts to replace the ugly stuff but a rear fender was impossible to find. I bought a "perfect" one from Ebay and wound up with another, albeit slightly better than my original, dud. Ok, off to the chrome plate shop with you then. In the meantime, I had to sort out how deep into things I wanted to get. I knew the bike had been sitting for a long time. I knew it was a Honda and I could likely get it running by slapping the carbs back on it and filling the tank. I also knew, from experience, that all those old gaskets and seals would leak, probably sooner than later. If I wanted a reliable bike, the engine was coming apart. Besides, this way I could rehab the finish on the engine.

Pulling the engine is really not a major moment. Unhook the wires and hoses, pull the exhaust and unbolt the mounts. Easy. Except for this. That's the screw that holds the tach drive cable in place.

I spent three hours getting that screw out on the day I found out I might have a nasty little cancer. It was a good diversion, I suppose but truly strange in the way it went. After literally trying every trick in the book, I was about to break down and drill the thing completely out. The trouble with doing that is the location of the screw. It's easy enough to get to but it is set into the upper half of the cylinder head, at an angle, in a very thin casting. The odds of destroying the surrounding part seemed pretty high. So, I took one more crack at it with a small punch and hammer and it backed out as though it had never been stuck.

Fast forward a few months and I've had a little surgery and no cancer, Yeah!

Back to work on the 400F and it's time to get the damn engine out. To pull the engine cleanly, we needed to remove the oil filter housing and the oil pan. Wanna guess how that went?

That's the center bolt for the oil filter housing. I am quite proficient at stuck fastener removal by now. I've taken to referring to this project as the "stripped head special."
To be fair, the previous owner had obviously over tightened the bolt and rounded the head. He'd included a new bolt with the bike and I now know why .

With that mess out of the way, I could finally get the engine out of the frame, and darned if that didn't go fairly well.


Once I started to pull the engine apart, my decision to do so looked better and better. Check out the 30 year old sludge on that pick up tube!

Also, the spark plugs were really tight coming out. I knew as they turned, a lot of corrosion was being dumped into the cylinders.

While I could have blown that out, mostly, I was not going to get all this carbon out of the combustion pockets..

After years and years, I was finally starting to get somewhere.

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