Motorcycle Classics

Second Coming: 1979 Honda CB750K Limited

Dan Miller’s 1979 Honda CB750K Limited Edition is an icon from an era where Japanese brands established themselves as leaders of the industry.

1979 Honda CB750K Limited

Engine: 748.7cc air-cooled DOHC transverse-mounted inline four, 62mm x 62mm bore and stroke, 9.0:1 compression ratio, 55.9hp @ 9,000rpm (period test)
Top speed: 124mph (period test)
Carburetion: Four 30mm Keihin constant-velocity, one accelerator pump
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Ignition: Electronic ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube steel cradle/61in (1,549mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, twin shock absorbers w/adjustable preload rear
Brakes: Single 11.6in (296mm) disc front, SLS drum rear
Tires: 3.5 x 19in front, 4.25 x 18in rear
Weight (dry): 517lb (235kg)
Seat height: 31.5in (800mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 5.3gal (20ltr)/37-51mpg (period test)
Price then/now: $2,948/$3,500-$7,000

By 1979 Honda’s groundbreaking CB750 was old news, its landmark single-overhead camshaft engine considered a relic compared to the newer DOHC designs from Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha.

It was time for a replacement, and with muted fanfare the CB750’s 10-year tenure as the industry icon was unceremoniously halted, treated like warm beer or yesterday’s pizza. But it deserved a more fitting send-off, and for that we turn to one of the notable motorcycle journalists of that era, Frank Conner, who wrote about the termination of the original CB750 for the September 1978 issue of Cycle Guide.

Wrote Conner 41 years ago: “In 1979 the Honda CB750 will bite the dust. Think about that: It’s like saying they’re actually going to stop production of Kleenex.” Fitting words, considering the CB750’s demise led to more than a few enthusiasts shedding tears of sorrow that mournful day.

Then Conner got to the heart of the matter, writing, “But the ordinary garden-variety CB750 is easily the most important motorcycle introduced since World War II. In 1969 it blew everybody’s mind; it generated more excitement among more riders than anything since the French first started bolting gasoline engines into bicycles. It was so influential in the world of motorcycle design that today you can glance at any street machine and tell whether that bike was designed Before or After.” Conner went on to cite various examples of the CB750’s greatness, but you get the picture. The CB750 was a legend in its own time, and unquestionably will remain so as long as internal combustion engines play a key role in human transport.

But in terms of that original inline four it was time to move on, and for 1979 Honda released the CB750’s successor, the CB750K. The replacement not only had to surpass the competitors’ 750cc-class models, the new CB750 also had to be miles ahead of anything the old single-cammer could do.

And it did just that, as told to the world by Cycle Guide editor Paul Dean in his CB750 road test appearing in the January 1979 issue. “The new model is still called CB750, but the resemblance stops right there. Aside from sharing a few sundry nuts, bolts and bulbs, any similarity between the old CB750 and the new is purely coincidental. And just one spirited chase along a twisty back road on this newest of Honda fours might have you throwing stones at the next ’69-’78 vintage CB750 you see … This, friends, is the CB750K, the middle-of-the-road ‘civilian’ model with four mufflers, one front disc, a drum rear brake and wire-spoked wheels — the do-everything workhorse commissioned to be saddle bagged, sissy-barred and highway-pegged in non-sporting cruise/commute/tour modes. Honda has a CB750F in the pipeline for the peg-dragging set, but it is essentially the same motorcycle as this baseline K-model.”

Dean could have also mentioned a third CB750 variant, the Limited Edition, sometimes referred to as the 10th Anniversary Edition, which was on Honda’s 1979 model-year manifest, too. That model fittingly included its own styling features that were special enough to right any wrong there might have been in how Honda coldly dumped the original CB750 after 10 years of dutiful service. The Limited Edition shared the new CB750K’s basic platform, so it essentially performed much like its 1979 stablemate, although it was visually its own model.

Same bike, different duds

Beyond the Limited’s own two-tone paint scheme, courtesy of a specific color combination Honda termed Candy Muse Red and Red, the side covers displayed a special one-year gold with green 10th Anniversary coat of arms. There was plenty of chromed components to be found on the bike, too, making it even more special. The exclusive model also carried a heftier MSRP, nearly $3,000 compared to the standard model’s $2,598 tag. Further offsetting the Limited from the standard CB750K, it checked in with two-piece Comstar wheels, initially used on the RCB 1000 endurance racers, plus later iterations of the original single-cam CB750 Super Sport models. And, unlike the new CB750K’s integrated taillight/seat combo, the Anniversary bike wore an older-style taillight assembly for a more traditional look that also helped show off the rear fender’s chrome plating.

Perhaps most notable to many of the Limited’s customers was its stepped seat with chromed passenger grab rail. The Limited’s seat also differed from the standard CB750K’s, using a 1960s-vintage passenger seat strap as found on the original 1969 Four, plus the upholstery bore real stitching in its seams. Moreover, with exception of the seat strap many of those new items gave every CB750K enthusiast a peek into the future because the following year the standard-issue CB750K checked in with similar components, although it retained the wire-spoke wheels from ’79. Consequently, the 1980 K model boasted more of a custom-bike appearance, and that, too, is another chapter in the new K’s life cycle because the new-for-1980 CB750C Custom also took much of its styling cues from the 1979 Limited, including the inclusion of Comstar wheels for the new boulevard cruiser.

But we’re getting ahead of our story. The ’79 Limited Edition was, in reality, a one-year model celebrating the origins of a bike that, as Conner wrote in his 1978 commentary, “destroyed one national motorcycle industry [England’s], crippled another [USA’s] and established the Japanese beyond question as the world leaders in the design of mass-production street bikes.” The original single-cam model had been that meaningful and influential. Thus Honda included a special tribute model in the 1979 lineup commemorating the 10th anniversary of the CB750.

Much improved performance

Whether it was the standard K model or the Limited Edition, though, one thing was for certain — Honda’s new 3/4-liter-class motorcycle was designed to exceed performance levels of any other 750 on the market, which it did. As Dean wrote in his January 1979 road test, “Our CB750K impressed us as the best-handling four-cylinder street bike of any size we’ve ever tested. Period.”

How did Honda manage that? Well, partly using technology gleaned from its recent foray into world championship endurance road racing (see Parting Shots). Start with the chassis, boasting an all-new frame with steering rake and trail set for precise feedback to the rider. That was coupled with suspension exclusive to the model. But while the 750K rewarded its rider with neutral turn-in and snappy handling through turns and curves, its suspension fell short for a smooth ride when the road got bumpy. Simply, the new FVQ (Full Variable Quality) twin rear shocks and front fork with new stiction-reducing dual-stage chamfer stanchion tubes couldn’t adequately handle abrupt bumps in the road. Clearly there was room for improvement, and that would appear later in the model year when the CB750F Super Sport checked in, and in terms of sporty handling that bike proved to be a complete game changer. But that, too, is a story for another time.

Instead, let’s turn attention to the CB750K’s new engine, which Cycle Guide described as looking “like a four-pipe version of the redoubtable CBX Six.” From the crankshaft up to the cylinder head’s Pentroof (Honda-ese for centrally located spark plugs) combustion chamber, this was an all-new engine. Its 16 valves took orders from two overhead camshafts, and the bank of constant-velocity Keihin carburetors used a single accelerator pump system to help produce near linear throttle delivery. As the Cycle Guide report proclaimed: “What you dial in with your right hand is exactly what you get at the rear wheel.” That was big news at the time because emissions-regulated motorcycle engine technology was in its infancy, and many brands (especially Suzuki) relied on their own style CV carbs to meet clean-air regulations for their inline fours. Most of those multiple fuel mixers, all strung in a row, were inferior systems compared to Honda’s, producing overly sensitive carburetion that often resulted in a nervous, twitchy ride. Dynamometer graphs often showed erratic curves for an engine’s horsepower and torque readings; not so for the CB750K, which in the case of Cycle Guide‘s test showed relatively smooth power curves peaking at 55.9 rear-wheel horsepower at 9,000rpm and 36.7lb/ft of torque at 7,000rpm.

And thanks to the engine’s inbred racing technology, the new inline 4-cylinder engine was 1.5 inches narrower than its predecessor, due in large part to a more compact alternator, located on the right, with the ignition on the left — completely opposite of the SOHC engine. The new 260-watt dyno’s internal rotor was offset toward the crankcases enough that the crank main-bearing boss sat inside the deep recess in the rear of the rotor, resulting in the engine’s narrower overall width. The revised location also put the heavy alternator closer to the chassis’ centerline, resulting in better transverse weight balance and improved directional stability.

What’s that bike?

It wasn’t the all-new engine or improved handling performance, not even the 10th anniversary factor, that sold one young man on the 1979 CB750K Limited Edition, though. Instead, back in 1979 Dan Miller fell in love with the bike’s looks, even before he learned that it was a Limited Edition model.

“I was set on buying the new CB750K,” recalls Dan, “but when I walked into the local Honda dealer’s showroom I spotted this bike [the Limited] sitting at the end of the row [of bikes]. I said, ‘What’s that bike?’ and the closer I got to it the more I fell in love with its lines and finish. I didn’t even know there was such a model.” (American Honda records show that 5,000 Limiteds were available in 1979.)

That was the beginning of what has turned into a 40-year love affair between Dan and the Limited Edition. See, he’s owned six of them at various times in his life, and the bike featured here represents the culmination of that lot. Moreover, Dan’s saga with the Limited is rather colorful. Here are a few highlights:

“I paid $3,700 and change out the door for my first one,” Dan recalls. Shortly after that a friend who worked at Kerker Exhaust asked if the shop could borrow the bike to fashion a new 4-into-1 system for its product line; in return Dan would be given a complete system for his bike. So Dan loaned his new Honda to Kerker, but during a test ride a lady drove her car smack dab into said bike. There was no serious injury to Kerker’s test rider, but the bike was totaled.

Enter the replacement bike, and true to their word, Kerker supplied Dan with an exhaust system. That bike remained in Dan’s stable for a few years until he traded it for a Pontiac Firebird. “The Smokey and the Bandit model,” Dan proudly says. In subsequent years, including Dan forming a thriving automotive upholstery business, he bought three more Limiteds; two sorrowful basket cases, plus a runner showing only 12,000 miles on its odometer. Despite the low mileage, the engine’s cam chain tensioner broke, so into the local repair shop it went where it sat … for seven years! He also has a collection of assorted parts exclusive to the Limited Edition.

Fast forward now, to this bike, one he spotted listed on eBay. To Dan’s surprise the bidding remained soft and he paid — now here’s the irony — $3,700 for it. He and his favorite model Honda had gone full circle. This bike was dusty but not rusty, and in ideal condition to return to original condition. For that he called on his friend and one of the motorcycle industry’s more colorful and respected individuals, Thad Wolff.

Thad’s a motorcycle junkie whose career spans several decades in which he’s competed in SoCal motocross, club road racing, even AMA Superbike racing where he landed a podium finish. Later he earned a class win at the revived Catalina GP (2012), plus he’s competed in e-class AMA road racing, and countless AHRMA road races aboard various historic and not-so-historic bikes. Through the years he’s appeared as photo model in numerous motorcycle videos, ads and brochures, and he remains active within the industry such that his eclectic background landed him in the Trailblazers Hall of Fame. He also restores and revives older motorcycles, and that’s where he enters the story with this particular CB750K Limited Edition belonging to his longtime friend.

“Dan told me about the bike and asked if I could get it looking original and put back on the road,” Thad said. The paint job and chrome were in surprisingly good condition, but only after some rubbing and polishing, with various pieces of hardware sent to the polisher for fresh makeup. Carbs were cleaned, fluids changed, new tires mounted, and more polishing and waxing ensued until soon enough the bike was ready for its close-ups, which you see here.

Dan helped, too, in the process locating a durable rattle-can paint for the engine cases. He settled on Dupli-Color’s matching color. Its enamel-with-ceramic formula, Dan says, is heat resistant and matches the original color rather well.

Today Dan’s 1979 CB750K Limited Edition — aka, 10th Anniversary Edition — remains one of the icons from an era when the Japanese brands established themselves as the leaders of a prospering industry. Without question, motorcycle sales in the 1970s were off the chart. Millions of bikes were sold during that time, so it’s only fitting that the most volatile decade in terms of total sales, coupled with the voluminous number of individual models offered by manufacturers, is represented here by the very model that paid tribute to one particular icon — the original Honda CB750, a bike that helped vault Honda to the forefront of the motorcycle industry.

With that let’s close, drawing from Conner’s original 1978 tribute: “There was only one CB750. Adios, old friend.” MC

  • Published on Oct 22, 2019
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