“I wanted to make sure everything was 100%.”
— Restorer Larry Cargill, explaining why the restoration took as long as it did
A CX650E is a very rare Honda, and the restoration of this one was a challenge. Larry Cargill, the owner and restorer, is a perfectionist, but even so, the four years that it took for the boxes of parts to morph into a motorcycle was a bit long for even him. Difficulties in finding parts for this unusual bike slowed the process, as did restoration work for Larry’s customers, and — kittens. This bike — which has the highest serial number that Larry has been able to find — is now complete and running, despite all the hurdles, in large part through help and parts supplied by the large online CX community. You could say Larry got by with a little help from his friends.
- Engine: 674cc liquid cooled 4-stroke 80-degree transverse twin, 82.5mm x 63mm bore and stroke, 9.8:1 compression ratio, 65hp at 8,000rpm
- Top speed: 118mph (est.)
- Carburetion: Twin 39mm Keihin CV (constant velocity)
- Transmission: 5-speed, left foot shift, shaft final drive
- Electrics: 12v, battery and coil, transistorized ignition with electronic advance
Frame/wheelbase: Diamond type triple tube w/engine as a stressed member, swingarm rear/59.06in (1,500mm)
- Suspension: Telescopic forks with anti-dive TRAC (Torque Reactive Anti-dive Control) with air assist front/Pro-Link Monoshock with air assist rear
- Brakes: Dual 10.9in (277mm) disc front, single 10.9in (277mm) disc rear
- Tires: 100/90 x 18in front, 120/80 x 18in rear
- Seat height: 31.3in (795mm)
- Weight: 463lb (210.5kg) dry, 518lb (235.5kg) full tank
- Fuel capacity/MPG: 5.2gal (19.7ltr)/50mpg (est.)
The CX series was distinguished by an 80-degree V-twin engine, a departure from prior Hondas. In its first iteration, a prototype put together in 1973, the 350cc engine was supposed to be maintenance free and easy to start and ride, “with the woman rider in mind.” The project was shelved when testers found the bike was not only slower than its target audience would accept (girls just want to have fun!), but refused to go any faster. A second 350cc prototype appeared the next year. It also wouldn’t hit 80mph, and neither would a third prototype that was, as an experiment, supercharged. At this point, Honda engineers fell back on the old adage, “There’s no substitute for cubic inches,” and bumped up cubic capacity to 500cc. The V-twin would now make forward progress at a decent rate, and it appeared in showrooms in 1978 as the CX500.
The CX500 was a civilized machine. It boasted four valves per cylinder, constant velocity carburetors, a 5-speed gearbox, shaft drive, water cooling and low emissions. Comstar mag wheels were shod with tubeless tires. Some of the early CXs had cam chain woes, and Honda did a recall to fix the problem. Once that was dealt with, the CX gained a reputation as the best mount for motorcycle couriers. It would run, all day, in any kind of weather and put up with abuse and minimal maintenance.
Honda sold a lot of CXs, and came out with different versions of the same machine, including a semi-chopper (the Custom) and a sporty version (the EC) with anti-dive forks, an air shock, 18-inch wheels, and better brakes, as well as a bikini fairing. All these variants were reasonably successful. The one thing that irritated Honda engineers about the CX500 was its relative lack of performance. Honda designed a turbocharged version in the early 1980s. It didn’t sell very well, and Honda went back to the drawing board. In 1983, Honda decided to revisit the cubic inch idea, and increased bore and stroke to 82.5mm x 63mm, giving a displacement of 674cc. Although manufacturers normally like to exaggerate engine size in motorcycle names, Honda modestly referred to the new, larger machine as the CX650.
Bigger and better
The CX650 came in three different styles, plus a touring model, the GL650. There was a turbocharged version, which worked better than the CX500 Turbo, the CX650C, a cruiser, intended primarily for the U.S. market, and the Eurosport, known as the CX650ED, or CX650E. The CX650E had a tubular frame with a bikini fairing, triple twin piston disc brakes, a monoshock, and a fuel gauge. Honda didn’t think this sporty water-cooled twin would be attractive to its U.S. customers and so it didn’t make a U.S.-spec version. In 1983, about 4,500 were sold in Europe and elsewhere, and 860 machines were sent to Canada. Canadian homologation requirements are similar to those in the European Union, making it simpler to export Euro-spec bikes to Canada than to the U.S. Only 488 were built in 1984, and all of these were exported to Canada. This 1984 CX650E may be the only one that is complete and running South of the Maple Leaf Border.
The few people who were able to get their hands on a CX650E liked what they saw. The ten people who rated this bike in an online forum thought it was a generally excellent machine — reliable, fun to ride, safe, with good touring capability. The two areas where it fell short were off-road capability (no big surprise there) and race suitability. Even with more ccs, the CX was just not that fast. The early Eighties saw a downturn in the world and especially in the U.S. economy, leading Honda to decide to stop production of this model family. Model year 1984 was the last year for all of the bikes in the CX line. The 1984 CX650Es had some minor changes from the 1983 machines, including the wheels and some of the decals.
Fans of the CX responded by forming informal networks to trade parts, information, and tips. In 2010, one of these networks founded the CX500 Forum (cx500forum.com). At present, there are about 32,500 members, hailing from all over the globe. Larry Cargill was an early member of the group, and has always been an active contributor and technical resource.
Let’s meet Larry
Larry’s father was a mechanic, but died young. His death meant the family had to struggle to make ends meet. “We couldn’t afford to get anything fixed, so I learned how to work on things. I carried on my father’s legacy of building and learning and fixing things. One thing my father taught me — ‘If you are going to do something, do it right.’ I have practiced this for years, and now, I can’t short out anything.”
Larry’s adventures as a motorcycle restorer started when “A guy at my old job wanted to get his bikes running. He had a first year CX500 and some other bikes. I restored his Honda CM500T for him and kept the CX. That’s how I got into restoration.”
Larry rebuilt the engine and the frame of the CX500, learning a lot in the process. “It was back when Honda still had parts.” In the process, Larry became an expert in the care and feeding of CX carburetors, wrote a book on CX carburetor rebuilding (still available on the CX Forum) and started a side business rebuilding motorcycles. “I have never had one come back. I believe that either I put my heart and soul into something or I don’t do it at all.” This CX650E saga started when a friend bought three basket cases as donor engines for the 1983 CX650 Euro that Larry was rebuilding for him. Eventually, the friend offered to trade one of the basket cases for the work Larry was doing for him. Larry initially wanted this bike because he thought that the rims would look nice on a bike he was building for his son, but — being Larry — had to do the research first. Learning that it was a 1984 CX650 Euro, and extremely rare, Larry decided to restore it.
A lot of missing parts
The restoration started in the Fall of 2016, and has only recently been finished. There were constant delays due to difficulties in locating missing parts (there were a lot of missing parts), Larry’s attention to detail (for which he is famous) and the need to stop work to concentrate on customer’s bikes. Larry started the CX rebuild by figuring out what was there, what was usable, and what was missing — and then finding out where to locate the missing parts, which was an education in itself. “There were so many unique parts. I did research for days through the Euro parts list posted by a forum in the U.K. and found parts all over the world.” Many parts — and leads to parts — came through the CX forum.
It took several months to locate enough parts to start on any part of the restoration, which commenced with sandblasting the frame and other parts to be painted, removing the nonstock black paint on the fairing and other plastic pieces, making repairs to the fairing and repainting. “I think I spent 2 days on just the seat cowl.” He also zinc plated all the nuts and bolts and the tools that came in the tool kit.
After several months, Larry was still sourcing parts for the engine rebuild, so he thought he would start on the forks. The front end restoration was soon stopped in its tracks due to problems finding a replacement fork tube. More months passed before a tube was finally located and the front assembly went back together. Luckily, the rear wheel assembly (with driveshaft) was less problematic. The bike was now back on its wheels, but Larry had to stop working on it for more than a year to put a customer’s bike together.
The build was restarted in April 2019. Larry had gotten four more or less complete engines along with his basket case. He disassembled all of them, picked the best parts from each, cleaned up his cherry-picked parts, and repainted the engine covers that would grace the bike. The cam was a problem: one cam had a pitted seal end, another had a damaged tach drive. The fix was to create a socket in one cam (and heat it) and a press on end in the other (and freeze it) and press fit the two together. At this point the rebuild got put on hold again. Larry had found five baby kittens in a toolshed in his backyard with no sign of their mother. He took on feeding them milk replacer every two hours, all night and day.
With a home for the kittens found (and further delay due to tool shed cleanup) it was back to the engine. One of the few items on this restoration that was NOT a problem were gaskets. Larry has a Gasket On Demand system, and just cranks them out. CX650s are water-cooled, and the radiator assembly (and fan) added another dimension (and more work) to the rebuild. The engine was finally ready to go into the bike at the end of July. A missing header pipe was located in November 2019, and all the chrome pieces were sent to the chrome shop. Larry was now hooking up the electrical system and rebuilding the carburetors. The CX650E, still short several parts, first roared to life at the end of January 2020. Larry zinc plated the last batch of nuts and bolts in February, but then the pandemic hit. Shortly afterwards, Larry got distracted by a powerboat project. In June 2020, Larry was back to the Euro, improving the engine timing. A full set of reproduction decals was sourced from BDesigns in Canada.
Was there light at the end of the tunnel? Larry had paid a lot of money for a NOS seat, supposedly in perfect condition, from Europe. It showed up, badly packed, and with big scuff marks and bent mounting brackets. Larry got a partial refund and figured out how to restore the vinyl and re-bend the brackets. The final piece, a NOS mirror, showed up in July, and Larry could now ride the project he had been working on for almost four years.
The CX is electric start only. There is a manual choke on the left grip, and the vacuum petcock quickly delivers fuel to the carburetors, making starting easy. All of Larry’s attention to detail has paid off in butter-smooth running. CX engines like to rev, but will still get around 50 miles to the gallon. “It actually uses more gas if you short shift it.” It also handles very well. “It turns and rides better than other CX models in the series, or the GL models using the same engine.”
The CX500 has light fork springs, which allowed the front end to dive under hard braking. Honda improved the front end when the 650 was designed with an adjustable anti-dive system, which was trademarked by Honda as the TRAC system. It closes a valve and slows the forks under heavy braking. Larry has not ridden this bike enough to get a sense on the maintenance, but assumes that the maintenance schedule will be the same as the CX500s he is used to.
Was it worth four years of headaches and hard work? “It was absolutely worth all the work it took to put this bike together,” Larry says. “The years of searching and acquiring all the OEM and NOS parts needed for this restoration will ensure that the bike is as reliable as when it came off the Honda assembly line. It is the most comfortable and best handling in the CX series. Not only is this CX rare, it has the last known surviving serial number. The last known survivor is worth saving.” MC