1966 Honda CB450K0 Red Dragon

Researching and restoring a Honda CB450K0, a little-known version of the CB450.

  • Shannon Sweeney and his 1966 Honda CB450K0 Red Dragon.
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • 1966 Honda CB450K0 “Red Dragon”
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • 1966 Honda CB450K0 “Red Dragon”
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • The early Fuji speedometer was rebuilt with new glass and a new bezel and was reset to zero during restoration.
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • 1966 Honda CB450K0 “Red Dragon”
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • 1966 Honda CB450K0 “Red Dragon”
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • 1966 Honda CB450K0 “Red Dragon”
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • 1966 Honda CB450K0 “Red Dragon”
    Photo by Paul Garson
  • Canadian jazz musician Maynard Ferguson sits astride a Honda Red Dragon on the cover of his 1966 album “Ridin’ High.”
    Cover courtesy Atlantic Recording Corporation

1966 Honda CB450K0 “Red Dragon”
444cc air-cooled DOHC parallel twin, 70mm x 57.8mm bore and stroke, 43hp @ 8,500rpm (est.)
Top speed:
102mph (period test)
4-speed, chain final drive
Fuel capacity/MPG:
4.2gal (15.9ltr)/40-45mpg (est.)
Price then/now:
$1,000 (approx.)/$3,500-$11,000

While the mythical dragon may have been rooted in early discoveries of fossilized dinosaur bones, today the image of the dragon is a popular subject in many cultures where it appears in many forms and colors, but symbolically sharing common attributes.

In the pantheon of animal imagery originating in the East, the dragon is seen as the master of all primal elements, capable of breathing both fire and ice as well as foreseeing future events and often symbolic of powerful rulers. All the above could also be ascribed to a particular motorcycle, the Honda Red Dragon. But is it myth, or reality?

1965 Honda ad photo

The story of the “Red Dragon” begins sometime in the early 1960s when Honda’s star was rising not only over Japan, but casting its corporate light worldwide, its milestone motorcycles setting new standards for quality and dependability as well as marketing savvy.

As spotlighted a half century ago in early industry icon Floyd Clymer’s 1965 book A Treasury of Motorcycles of the World, the advent of the new Honda CB450 was heralded as “a machine that riders and dealers of both lightweight and large machines have been anxiously awaiting. It is Honda’s largest model. It is the first effort by a major lightweight manufacturer to branch out from the ‘fun’ riding field into the realm of serious high-speed motorcycling. Although the engine is smaller than others in the ‘big bike’ class, its status is enhanced by the fact that it has double overhead camshafts, an extremely efficient valve gear design. It is a relatively heavy bike, still unusually agile. Outstanding features include the electric starter, 12-volt electrical system, and rubber-mounted twin carburetors. The 450 also features an extremely large gasoline tank (4.2 gallons). Claimed top speed is 112mph.”

1966 U.K. ad

While Honda had bestowed somewhat catchy names to previous models such as Cub, Benly, Super Hawk and Dream, the original designation for the new machine was simply CB450. In the general parlance the first crop of black 450s are referred to as the Black Bomber, perhaps due to the bomb-like shape of the gas tank. Others speculate that the moniker Black Bomber was attributed to British dealers who came up with the name. It also seems Honda painted the U.S. bikes black because they thought it the color most appealing to Yanks. Case in point, the popularity of the 1950s Triumph Thunderbird, originally factory-painted blue then re-painted black and called the Blackbird for the U.S. market after a blacked-out T-bird was ridden by “Johnny” in the Marlon Brando flick The Wild One.

8/9/2016 2:41:11 PM

Despite 43 years of EU membership, UK road distances, both on road signs etc and on vehicle dashboard eqipment, are still (2016) measured in miles, speed limits and speedo readings are in miles per hour, and fuel consumption is most often quoted in miles per (UK) gallon. The law requires that all vehicles must have a speedometer reading in miles per hour.

5/7/2016 9:38:25 AM

My first big bike; I bought a 1967 (we didn't call it the "Black Bomber" then) in 1969, for $700, and promptly painted it white, bored it, bought high-compression pistons and Precision Machining (later MegaCycle) cams to duplicate the Daytona Junior winner's engine, got bigger main jets; and removed the electric starter to save weight. Then I put on a CB750 saddle. It was a one-kick bike with a good top end (it hit 70+ in second gear, and easily hit 110, with both me and my girlfriend on it -- combined weight, 270 pounds -- sitting straight up) and 40+mpg. As long as the cam chain didn't get loose or the valves get out of adjustment (clearances were tiny!), this 450 was a perfect ride for my college days. Then a friend got an H1; I gave up on acceleration and got an R69US, and toured on it for many years.

4/28/2016 10:08:33 PM

Just before the CB450 arrived in the States there was an advertisement in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science magazine. I was in high school then and read the article in our school library. The ad announced the CB450 as "the 444 Condor". Fitting for the big brother of the 305 Super Hawk. I drove the first bike that arrived in Northern Minnesota. I was too young for a driver's license yet, but nobody asked. So one of my friends bought the bike and I drove it 30 miles to my friends home. During the summer of 1967 our Versabi Shrine Patrol had all white police models. They did their precision moves at the local parades. Sweet machines. I am 66 years old now and after having a few large cruisers I bought a CB500X. It brings back nice thoughts of the Original CB450. Totally fun for an older rider.

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