Steve Carpenter's Custom Honda CB750 Cafe Racer
Classic custom cafe racers
Steve Carpenter’s “Tracy Special” notched a second place finish at the Pomona, Calif., Hot Rod show last January. The period Tracy bodywork supplied the inspiration, but the final product — including the pipes — is all Carpy, and includes parts from every year of SOHC CB750 from 1969 to 1978.
Photo by Aaron Holleback
It’s not often you have the opportunity to meet a legend — especially before he becomes one. But with two big wins at this year’s Pomona show, Steve Carpenter’s well on his way, and for evidence one needs to look no further than his custom Honda CB750 cafe racer.
Steve builds hammers: strong, hard-hitting, aggressively graceful hammers. “Carpy’s” palette of choice is Honda’s venerable CB750, a model that captivated motorcyclists when it was introduced in 1969, and still captivates today. Through his craft, Carpy’s managed to carve out a unique niche in the motorcycle world, but not before exploring his options and paying his dues.
I found out about Carpy by accident: a friend turned me on to him when I was at a crossroads with a 1978 Honda Super Sport. I had no idea who he was or what he was about, I just needed help with my CB. I gave him a call, and before long, I knew he was the Don of the CB750.
Getting into it
It’s easy to think right place, right time, but that’s not this story. A native of London, Carpy’s history with motorcycles and hot rods is as rich as a Kuwaiti oil company. His dad, Dick, used to hang out at London’s famed Ace Café and was one of the original members of the 59 Club (so named because it formed in 1959), and Carpy built his first hot rod at 18, a chopped and channeled ’32 Ford three-window coupe.
For 20 years Carpy worked the streets of London as a motorcycle courier; he figures he crossed the Tower Bridge a hundred times a day during his courier years. When he tired of the grind of London, Carpy moved to Australia where he built hot rod radiators and focused on his 1950s-style hot rod art, which eventually gained a large following in Japan.
At one point in Sydney, he worked as a postman delivering mail on a scooter. He talks about riding in Australia as if it was another world, recalling his 220-mile round trip commute (killing a chain and a sprocket every five weeks) and how he had to avoid big lizards running out of bushes and kangaroo’s that didn’t look both ways before crossing — just to hop on a 90cc scooter and have giant funnel spiders try to attack him every time he opened a post box. Not to mention once-a-year territorial magpies accosting him during mating season. “Magpies always go for the eyes when they attack, so I put Moon Eyes on the back of my helmet. They would still dive bomb, but they hit the back instead of my face,” Carpy says.
Fast-forward through decades of building and riding bikes and here he is, a working-class kid building working-class motorcycles.
Operating out of the cramped two-car garage at his house in Orange, Calif., he spends anywhere from one month to a year building a bike, sourcing parts wherever he can, whether from a neighbor’s back yard or Japan. His garage is packed with physical reminders of Honda’s racing years of the 1970s, and you’ll find everything from Rickman and Dunstall tanks to Invader and Lester mag wheels, Tracy bodies and finned rocker covers for CB750s.
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