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Bike Profile - Posted 13th September 2010

1980 Honda CM400A, Part Two
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In the first episode, Bruce Kennewell learned to ride and bought his first classic bike which turned out to be extremely unusual, a Honda 400 with auto transmission. Now he uncovers its past and clocks up some miles...

Prior to the delivery of the CM400A, I had sourced and bought an original owner's handbook and, browsing through it, I learned that it was normally kept in a little compartment underneath the bike's seat. When I lifted off the seat and opened the little cubby-hole, I discovered a card, labelled 'New York State Insurance Identification Card', issued on the 1st August 1990 and effective for one year. The card was in the name of the owner, and gave his full address in New York city.

Being a bit of an exponent with the internet I determined to at least try and track down the man whose name appeared on the insurance certificate, so the first entry I made was into Google, without result. Then I tried the USA White Pages, for New York, again without success. As a last resort I went into Facebook, entered the full name and couldn't believe it when up popped an entry. What clinched it for me was the fact that the person's photograph showed him standing next to a motorcycle, even though he looked rather younger than I would have thought.

I popped a personal message off to the gentleman, saying that I had what appeared to be his Honda CM400A, that it had an insurance certificate under the seat and was he possibly the person mentioned on the card?

Repainted in candy red... 1980 Honda CM400A

Lo! and Behold! Back came an answer in the affirmative and with lots of information about the Honda's past life. I was astounded by the fact that I had so easily made contact with the chap. The research power of the internet never ceases to amaze me.

Jeff's email advised that he had bought the bike n the mid 1980s from the original owner, a chap who lived at Queens (Long Island), who was 72 and was giving up riding. Prior to buying it he did a bit of research on type and was advised by several mechanics familiar with the CM400A that the automatic transmission was virtually indestructible, being engineered originally for vehicular use, and should last forever.

When Jeff migrated to Australia in June 1990 he brought the Honda with him but did not ride it often, although he did keep it maintained in accordance with the book. One of the side covers fell off on a ride and was run over (and destroyed!) by a car. When Jeff contacted Honda Australia he was told that because the bike was never offered in Australia they (Honda Australia) could not supply parts. He had to get his daughter - still in the States - to buy a new side cover and send it out.

When he had the bike inspected for registration for the first time here in Australia the light circuitry had to be modified so that the lights came on with the ignition switch and remained on until the ignition was turned off.

When Jeff sold the bike in the mid-2000s to the person I bought it from, it had about 15,000 miles on it, so in 20 years the Honda hadn't accumulated very much at all. (When I bought it the mileage was approximately 17,000, so again, hardly any use in approx five years).

During his ownership he replaced the chain (once) and the front sprocket and, before he sold it here in Australia, the two exhaust pipes with CX500 units which are a perfect fit.

Aftermarket screen, single front disc... 1980 Honda CM400A
Honda 400s on Right Now......

The Honda arrived at my house with a spare (used) collector box for the exhaust system. The arrangement is that the two header pipes connect at the front of a central chamber - located under the forward section of the engine and clear of the sump drain-plug - and the exhaust gases are carried away by two exhaust pipes which connect to the rear of this chamber. The result is a quiet exhaust note and probably a balanced system (but I have no idea about that part of the arrangement).

After a few month's of ownership it became clear that the muffler putty that was trying to seal the corroded joints between the exhaust pipes and the collector box was starting to crumble away and that I should take steps to do something about fitting the replacement box. However, I decided instead to do away with the chamber completely and to replace the Honda pipes with a pair of replica Dunstall reverse-cone exhausts, each connected directly to the corresponding header pipe.

I was able to buy a set of exhausts complete with brackets and adapter sleeves from a dealer here who specialises in supplying parts for classic British motorcycles, Trojan Classic Motorcycles ( who were extremely helpful.

Notice I didn't say 'silencers'... 1980 Honda CM400A - with Dunstall exhausts

Once the exhausts arrived it only took a couple of hours to remove the original equipment and fit the new gear and on a Saturday afternoon last December I fired up the Honda. Instead of listening to a silenced exhaust note I was hearing what sounded more like a Triumph Bonneville! Lovely music and a test ride (and subsequent usage) determined that it ran perfectly well.

Around about the same time as the above modifications were done I happened upon a 1979 Honda CM250C at a local dealers. It was in reasonable condition but was not a runner and the engine was not the original CM model; at some time in its past a CB unit had been fitted. The CM250C was a 250cc manual, the C suffix standing for Custom. It featured a tachometer, and the frame and vast majority of parts and fittings were shared with the CM400. One thing caught my attention and that was the larger tank (11 litres) on the smaller-engined bike. The CM400 had a nine litre tank.

I haggled a bit over the price (still paid more than I should) and the CM250C was delivered on that weekend and placed in my garage as a source of spare bits 'n' pieces if and when needed. However, I had a plan in mind.

Rear wheel oil leak; they all do that sir... 1979 Honda CM250C

What I wanted to do was to swap the small tank on the CM400A for the larger tank that was on the CM250C and, as part of the same project, have the tank and side covers stripped and refinished in Candy Ruby Red, a colour that was available on the 1979 range but not on the 1980 line-up. My CM400A was finished in a green livery (original) and although attractive, I preferred something in a red but a colour that was still a genuine Honda scheme.

So the tank and two side covers from the smaller-engined bike were taken to a local refinisher who arranged for them to first be soda-blasted before he set to and did the paint job. During the time that the tank and covers were away I sourced and bought (thank you, eBay!) a set of reproduction decals in the correct colour for the Ruby Red scheme and also a pair of reproduction HONDA tank badges. These were supplied to the refinisher for attachment when he'd completed the spray painting.

The paint job was fantastic. The bloke was a craftsman in that he had lead-wiped the seams and a couple of small dents. There wasn't a drop of plastic body filler anywhere. The paint finish was superb and, when fitted to the frame, I couldn't believe the difference it made and the larger tank meant that the range between refills increased from about 100 miles to near 140. (Even though we are on the metric system here, being an American-market bike the speedometer is graduated in mph and the trip meter registers miles).

Classically Honda instruments...

I even went to the trouble of placing stripes on the glass of the speedometer at the appropriate locations to indicate our various speed limits here - 40kph in school zones, 50kph in most suburban streets, 60kph as a general urban speed, and 80kph on many inter-urban routes. Maximum in the ACT is 100kph, equating to 60mph, and that is easy to read without having to place an additional marker.

In all areas the Honda is in very good condition both mechanically and cosmetically. The engine is equipped with both electric and kick starter; I've never had to use the latter, the engine usually firing on the first press of the starter button, only requiring choke on cold winter mornings. It doesn't blow any smoke, uses almost no oil, has no oil leaks and doesn't make any peculiar or possibly expensive sounds!

Front forks are tip-top, no scoring and no weeping, all seals doing their job and the rear shocks were replaced not long before I bought the bike last year. Tyres are Metzler (tubeless) front and rear, with plenty of tread and will probably have to be replaced due to old age well before I tally up enough miles to wear them out.

Bright-work is in very good condition, the header pipes showing some signs of their age but there is not a sign of rust anywhere on the entire 'bike. I always wipe the machine down after a ride, polishing the chrome and giving the paintwork a wipe with a microfibre cloth. I've attempted to hand-polish the more accessible aluminium castings on the engine/gearbox assembly, and the wheels, with a fair degree of success.

I have really formed quite an attachment to this 30-year old rarity, delighting in the simplicity of its operation with the semi-auto box. It is only ridden on fine and sunny days, usually on weekends but there have been several sparkling summer mornings when I've forgone the company car and ridden the Honda to work (27km each way).

I came into motorcycle ownership very late in my life but now that I'm here I am thoroughly enjoying the experience.

My only regret is that I never did so when I was a bit younger.


Classic Dukes on Right Now...


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