1979 Honda CBX, the black hot rod



1979 Honda CBX  

6 cylinders, 4 cams, 24 valves, 6 carburetors, 1050 cc, 105 horsepower

Engine designed by Shoichiri Irimajiri, who designed the 1967 Honda RC166, the most famous grand prix bike in history 

The story opens with a motorcycle-crazy 19-year-old standing in the rain at the Mosport Park circuit in Canada, watching the legendary Mike Hailwood race down the front straight on his six-cylinder 250cc Honda RC166 GP bike, with 17,000 rpm screaming out of six reverse-cone megaphone pipes as he wins the Canadian Grand Prix and the 1967 World Championship. It ends with a motorcycle-crazy 66-year-old screaming down the Portland International Raceway backstraight on his six-cylinder 1050cc Honda CBX, just like the 250 engine only quadruple-sized, with 10,000 rpm bellowing out six reverse-cone open megaphones, just like Mike Hailwood.

 I think I built this bike so I could say "just like Mike Hailwood." Some dreams take a while.



When the CBX was introduced in 1978 I was in Southern California covering the Long Beach Grand Prix F1 race, and I ran straight to Pasadena Honda and bought one. As the staff motorsports writer for Sports Illustrated, I lived in New York City but spent time in L.A., so I rode it when I was there, including a memorable ticket for 115 mph on I-5 near Bakersfield on the way to interview four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears (he was impressed).

The CBX is the original superbike. In an unprecedented 10-page road test, Cycle magazine said, "The bike is more than fast, it is magic. The exploding glitter of its technical credentials lights up the sky." 

It shattered the quarter-mile record, with a time of 11.55 seconds at 117.49 miles per hour. "There is no doubt," said Cycle, "that the CBX Six is the hardest-accelerating production vehicle ever built." 

I sold my CBX, and was sorry, so 10 years later I bought another candy-apple-red '79 CBX just like it. I later sold it, and was sorry. 

I'll keep this '79 CBX for the rest of my life. A long time ago it was my brother's, who sold it to my best buddy from high school, Stan. When my brother took his own life, I bought the bike from Stan. It had a bad starter and a rusty set of horrendously ugly six-into-one spaghetti pipes. I never bothered to start it, just tore into it for the next year or so. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be, and this is it.


The first thing I did was rip off the rusty tangle of pipes, along with the forks, swingarm, brakes and wheels, and upgrade to the beefier 1982 chassis package: aluminum Pro-Link swingarm, 39mm air-adjustable forks, ventilated rotors with bigger calipers, and a stock rear wheel that had been widened to 5 inches with two beautiful beads of aluminum welding. I got it all from Louis Mintrone in Florida, who finds and sells used CBX parts. Stan, an artist, had painted it perfectly black with gold striping, and fit the Ohlins shocks. It was missing the swoopy iconic CBX tailpiece, so I got a new one and left it perfectly unpainted black.  

Louis had an old cheap chrome set of six-into-six pipes, and I snatched them, sandblasted them, and took them to Tom Phillips, who builds beautiful headers in Portland like his father did 50 years ago. I showed him a picture of Hailwood's RC166 pipes, and he replicated the reverse cones--they're gutted, of course. The howl is everything. I hung them on a clothesline and painted them titanium. Hailwood's were black, but I wanted the dramatic lines of the pipes to stand out against the bike's basic black. 

Tom fit the swingarm after precise and careful measuring, drilling and welding. Finding clearance for the 180 rear Metzler required sprocket shims and swingarm machining, but I'm told that no one before has fit a 180 tire with a Pro-Link swingarm on a CBX. There is a firm fork spring package and a black-box ignition. Overall I took a cafe racer approach to the build, borrowing bits from other bikes in my garage. For example, the Tarozzi rearsets came off a 1972 Honda CB750R vintage racer project that was going nowhere, and the aluminum headlight bracket off my original 1993 Ducati Monster that became the vintage racer instead. The black bars were just lying around, and they're now bolted to a billet tree by Randakk. Keeping the cafe racer-thing flowing, the stock CBX 36mm clip-on riser bars are now being neatly used by my 1972 Suzuki GT750, the two-stroke triple that might soon have as much horsepower as the CBX. 

There's no front fender because when I was a boy in the '50s, that's how the Wild Ones rode them. The straight-on symmetry grew on the bike over time, as it sat on the shop floor and I stared at it stoned a lot. I tried different headlights, taillights, turn signals and mirrors, to end up with a total of 12 circles. Whether you're looking at the bike head-on or from the rear, it returns your gaze. 




Synchronizing the 6 carburetors and adjusting the 24 valves is not a task for the faint of heart; the engine's designer, the famed Irimajiri, said the Keihin 28mm CV carburetors were the most sophisticated of any street-going motorcycle. This is where Vicious Cycle comes in, the shop in Portland owned by Joe Pethoud, who races and wins on his 1982 Honda CB900F in AHRMA vintage. Two trips to Vicious Cycle took care of the carbs, valves and other things like the smoking wiring. My late brother, a computer genius who invented a machine that can measure the ocean's tides to a nanosecond, rewired parts of the CBX with complete certainty that he could do better. So Paul, this bike's for you.   


Down Under

Newcarsnark is Down Under, driving a Wicked rental car, a "damn cheap classic," which up here we call rentawreck. It's a 28-day rental from Cairns to Adelaide (imagine a coastal road from Maine to Mississippi), with one day free if we send them a naked picture with the car. I am not making this up. 

This isn't our rental car. It's an escapee from the movie Mad Max, filmed in Australia. I hope our road trip goes better than that one. 

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