Stop in the name of ... Honda?
Honda made a play for a share of the police pursuit bike market with its 1967 Honda CB450 Police Special.
1967 Honda CB450 Police Special (officially designated the CP450)
Claimed power: 43hp @ 8,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 102mph (period test)
Engine: 444cc air-cooled DOHC parallel twin
Weight (wet-stock): 430lb (195kg)
MPG: 40-45mpg (est.)
In the mid-1960s, most U.S. police motorcycles were big 74 cubic-inch Harley-Davidsons. But that didn’t stop Honda, always looking for new markets, from making a play for a piece of that police pursuit motorcycle pie with the Honda CB450 Police Special.
In 1967, the double overhead cam Honda CB450, which had been introduced in 1965, was still Honda’s flagship model, and would remain so until the Honda CB750 burst on the scene in 1969. Given Honda’s aggressive pursuit of the American bike market, it’s no real surprise to think that Honda, if it were to compete for a share of the police pursuit motorcycle market that year, would choose the 450 as its pitch; but what does come as a surprise is the fact that Honda built a police bike at all in 1967.
Indeed, Honda collector and expert Don Omen confirms that his beautiful 1967 Honda CB450 Police Special, which is designated the CP450, is not even one of the first generation CB450 cop bikes; he says about 25 of them were sent to North America in 1966. That said, Don’s CP450 is still a pretty rare find these days — and he has two of them.
The example featured here is one Don has owned for nearly 14 years. “I bought it from a fellow in Rice Lake, Wisc. He was getting parts from me to restore it. He was hosting a 30th birthday party for a biker buddy of his and invited me. I was near his house and called for better directions, and he came on the CP to get me. First time I saw it, he was coming down a hill with red lights flashing and siren blaring. What can I say? The CP went home with me,” Don recalls.
As near as Don can determine, the equipment the bike has is correct for the period, but not necessarily what might have been “standard.” Don explains: “Each department probably would have bought the basic bike and added the other accessories and equipment it wanted.”
Don doubts this example ever saw active duty, at least as a regular road patrol bike. “With less than 6,200 miles on the odometer, it doesn’t seem likely it was on regular duty,” he says, although it is possible, as many cop bikes end up running short patrols or doing parade duty. The bike’s low mileage seems entirely believable, based on the relatively pristine condition of most everything on it, including the cable-driven mechanical siren.
And that siren is loud — very loud, in fact — able to drown out the rather substantial note of my Triumph Bonneville at highway speed, as Don demonstrated as we rode along the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. “I was surprised that the thing still works so well. I thought it might be bound up after so many years and probably very little use, but it hasn’t had any problems,” Don says as he describes how it works.
Operating the siren is relatively simple. Pulling and holding a second hand lever below the clutch on the left handlebar engages a long, ribbed drive wheel, holding it against the right side of the rear tire. The drive wheel is mounted on a bell crank that pivots when the lever is pulled in, thus holding the drive wheel against the tire. A massive cable, rather like a super-sized tachometer cable, is driven off the ribbed wheel to the back of the siren, where it spins the siren mechanism. If you want the siren to really wail, pull the lever in more firmly and the pitch increases, while letting off the pressure lowers the pitch. Despite drawing its power off the driveline, there is no apparent drop-off in speed when it is engaged.
Unlike the civilian CB450 instrument cluster, which featured a half-moon tachometer and circular speedometer in an oval nacelle, the CP450 came with only a large circular speedometer. But the simple speedometer has a couple of interesting twists.
First, the needle can be “frozen” at any given speed using a button at the left side handlebar grip. This was the method of recording a speeder’s violation in pre-radar days, presumably based on the chase bike matching the violator’s speed for a time and then locking the needle as the proof.
The speedometer face also has operating speed ranges for each gear, shown as red lines around the inside of the speed marks. Apparently, the guys in the speedometer department knew something the guys in the transmission department didn’t, because there are five speed ranges on the speedometer, but only four ratios in the gearbox!
Finally, at the base of the speedometer face there is a notation that “60mph = 2,240rpm.” One must wonder if that means in the bike’s actual fourth gear, or the mythical fifth gear!
That four-speed transmission is one of the bike’s weaknesses, Don says. “The bike really could have used a five-speed. It’s got enough torque for a higher top ratio and wouldn’t have to rev as high at higher speeds,” Don says. Honda heard that from CB — and probably CP owners, too — and eventually responded, adding a fifth gear in 1968.
The left handlebar control also includes the button that activates the large red flasher lights mounted atop the crash bars, one on each side. An indicator light is built in at the top of the housing of each flasher, presumably to make sure an officer wouldn’t find themselves riding off after a traffic stop with the lights still flashing.
The mufflers are original, apparently the same specification as the CB450. The exhaust note is subdued until the engine is accelerating hard, when it takes on a robust, yet not particularly obtrusive, high revolution wail. The intake side of the engine is likewise stock appearing, with fueling handled by a pair of 32mm Keihin constant-velocity carburetors.
Starting is handled by either kick starter or electric starter, though Don generally prefers the feel of his boot on the kick starter. In typical Honda fashion, starting is nearly instantaneous, and despite the extra electrical equipment on the Special, Don says he hasn’t had any trouble with the electrics.
When I noticed the bike doesn’t have turn signals, Don explained: “This model is wired for turn signals, even though it didn’t come with them. They came equipped with turn signals in the 1968 model year.” Somehow, it seems odd a police bike wouldn’t have turn signals, but evidently Honda — or the police department that ordered this bike — decided they weren’t necessary at the time.
Brakes are standard CB450, with a mechanical eight-inch twin-leading-shoe drum on the front and a seven-inch single-leading-shoe drum on the rear wheel. The combo is more than adequate in normal use, but in repeated high speed, hard braking, the brakes, though pretty much state-of-the-art for their time, would probably be prone to some fade.
The Police Special is one of the bikes Don has hung onto over the years, and plans to keep. “This bike is special to me,” Don says. “I’ve had more fun cruising on this machine than almost any of the bikes I’ve owned over the years. No matter where I go, people come up and it starts a conversation.” I guess that makes it something more than just a Police Special. MC