1978-79 Honda CBX
Thirty years ago, my father brought home a new baby. This one didn't eat and fill diapers; it drank fuel and breathed fire. This baby could make you leave brown stains in your tighty-whities but still leave you smiling. It was first vehicle I ever fell in love with, and it only had two wheels.
Growing up, my dad ran a motorcycle shop and spun wrenches as needed, so that probably explains a lot about me. Most kids went to amusement parks to ride the fast rides. I, on the other hand, hopped on behind my dad and held on for dear life as he fired the rocket I came to know as the Honda CBX 1000. In the late 70's superbike war, it was like showing up to a rock/paper/scissors contest and pulling out the nuke.
The CBX was the first Honda motorcycle with 6 cylinders--a 1047cc, 24-valve, twin-cam air-cooled inline-6 with six carburetors. It conservatively produced 105 horsepower out of the box, and it's not hard to get more power out of this engine. The bike covered the quarter-mile in 11.36 seconds when stock. The one drawback to the bike was its heavy 680-pound weight, meaning it didn't corner as well as some of its vintage competitors such as the Suzuki GS1100.
Sadly, the bike never caught on as Honda had hoped. Two years into the experiment Honda tried to move the bike in a sport touring direction and de-tuned the engine slightly while adding a sport fairing. These later CBXs are far less collectible, though still cool in their own right.
Adding the CBX to the arsenal was a statement from Honda. Honda's designs were solid and performance was acceptable, but their bikes had become blasé with no new impressive designs since the CB750 first hit the market. When designing the CBX's 6-cylinder engine, Honda simultaneously developed a 4 cylinder, 1000cc motor that could have gone in the same bike. That 4 cylinder made 5 fewer horsepower, but was much faster on the track because of the greatly reduced weight. In spite of the 4 cylinder's advantages, Honda chose to go with the 6. Why? Because it was cool. It made a statement. When you pulled up to a stoplight, the bike growled; when you opened it up, the 6 simply roared. Consider it an early attempt at shock and awe. It was sexy. The motor was the message.
Long term the CBX had issues--primarily, it needed extra love and care to keep running. The build quality was solid, but there were some potentially catastrophic flaws. Add to that the fact that Honda was developing a similar displacement V-4 (the Interceptor) that upped the ante in power and performance, and the CBX's run was almost doomed from the get-go. The last ride I took on the back of my dad's CBX came on the fateful day that the camshaft snapped while we were riding down the highway at 65 mph. It was a sad day, one I'll never forget. For more than a decade, that bike sat in the garage, waiting for the time and money to be opened up and repaired.
The story doesn't end there though; the flame never went out. My father slowly began buying CBX parts on the internet about seven years ago--a new speedometer here, turn signals there. He eventually purchased an entirely new motorcycle, part-by-part. Crazy? No, that's just motorcycle lust. My father painstakingly assembled his dream bike, putting on all the cool parts he couldn't afford back when he was raising a family. The final piece was the custom adjustable Bassani exhaust that allows you to tune the volume and tone--a tone that will let the neighbors know you are coming from six blocks away if you like.
After a lot of hours of hard work, my father began the task of getting a new title to his "new" 1978 Honda CBX. Eventually the State of South Dakota relented, and gave him a new title (in 2002 I think), bringing the story full circle. New in 1978, and new in 2002. When I checked the odometer a few months ago there were only 1475 miles on the bike.
Last weekend my dad called and told me he took it out for a ride for the first time in a few months. He related how good it was to be on "his" bike. He has a garage full of other cycles, yet you could hear the joy in his voice.
A few months after getting the title to his bike, my dad entered his new bike into a car show, bone stock. He took first place in the bike division! The candy apple red, with gold accent stripes, and six bulging chrome exhaust pipes are nearly irresistible.