Motorcycle Classics

Phil Read Replicas: Honda CB750F2

Phil Read captured the TT Formula 1 title at the 1977 Isle of Man, and though the win was controversial, a Honda CB750F2 replica soon followed.

Engine: 736cc SOHC, 4-stroke air-cooled inline 4-cylinder, 61mm x 63mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, 60hp @ 8,500rpm
Top speed: 125mph
Carburetion: Four Keihin 28mm
Transmission: 5-speed constant mesh, chain drive
Electrics: Battery/dual point and coil, 12v AC generator
Frame/wheelbase: Steel duplex tube frame/59in (1,509mm)
Suspension: Telescopic front forks, swinging arm rear suspension with 5-way adjustable dual shocks
Brakes: Dual 10.8in (274mm) discs front, single 11.6in (295mm) disc rear
Tires: 3.25 x 19in front, 4 x 18in rear
Weight: 494lb (224kg) dry
Seat height: 31.6in (800mm)
Fuel capacity: 5gal (19ltr)

Phil Read captured the TT Formula 1 title at the 1977 Isle of Man campaigning a factory-prepared Honda CB750. The win, however, was somewhat controversial.

That’s because in 1972, Read was one of several Grand Prix racers who began boycotting the Isle of Man TT course as too dangerous.

In 1976, as a result of the boycott, the FIM declared the Isle of Man was no longer a part of the Grand Prix circuit.

In a Common Tread story, well-known TT enthusiast and author Mark Gardiner writes, “The Manx tourism industry and race organizers had a powerful incentive to convince 60,000 race fans to keep attending the TT, even though it was no longer the British Grand Prix, no longer part of the real World Championship, and no longer attracting the biggest stars of the day. In a bid to hold fan interest, the organizers offered Phil Read £10,000 in start money.”

This was the first TT Formula 1 race and Read not only started — but finished at the top of the podium. While some fans were displeased with Read’s earlier attitude toward the Isle of Man and his subsequent return for the start money, others weren’t as obviously upset.

That included Honda Britain. To commemorate the win, they enlisted Colin Seeley, a legendary British frame builder and racer, to transform standard CB750F2s into race replica motorcycles. There were supposed to be 400 built, but only 150 examples of the Honda CB750 Phil Read Replica were ever made. Such a low production number means the motorcycle is a rarity, and by some accounts, fewer than 40 are known to still exist.

“Before” photos of the Phil Read Replica found in England by David Burton. David restored the bike and sold it to David Silver, before it found its way to the U.S.

Built in Britain, the replicas were never officially sold in the United States. However, a few of them have found their way over. Possibly two of the nicest examples are now in the Throttlestop Museum collection — one is all original with just over a mile on the odometer, and the other is a restored example that will be ridden by Jim Balestrieri.

The Wisconsin collector says he’s keen to mount a themed exhibit at Throttlestop that celebrates motorcycle racing history. Pursuing that goal, he’s slowly acquiring unique and interesting motorcycles that have race pedigree or are somehow connected to the riders who pilot machines in pitched battles for supremacy.

“I’ve never raced a motorcycle in my life,” Jim explains, “but I’ve raced cars, and I know what it takes. These people have courage, and to watch them racing, it’s a sight to behold. Racing helps improve the breed, not only mechanically, but there’s also the human element to it and sometimes that’s even more interesting.”

The man: Phil Read

It’s that “human element” that Phil Read brings to this story. Born in 1939 in Luton, Befordshire, Read started riding a 350cc Velocette KSS in 1955. Soon, the Velo was replaced by a BSA Gold Star and he began racing as an amateur in 1958. He proved to be quick, and on a 350cc Manx Norton in 1961 he won the Junior TT race on the Isle of Man.

In 1962 and 1963, Read raced Nortons, Gileras and Yamahas. While racing a 250cc 2-stroke Yamaha in 1964, Read managed to capture a world title for the manufacturer, the tuning-fork brand’s first, and he did the same in 1965, followed by the 125cc and 250cc championships in 1968. He was at his most prolific collecting trophies from 1965 to 1970, racing mainly Yamahas.

In the early 1970s, Read raced 4-stroke machines for MV Agusta and also piloted a Norton for the John Player & Sons team at Daytona in 1972. After 1975, Read no longer raced Agustas.

In a story by Alan Seeley published in 1998 at the, Read explains his reason for voicing concern over racing at the Isle of Man. In the article, Read says, “By the early 70s we had a feeling that rider safety wasn’t at the top of the race organizers’ priorities, and the price for riders who did come a cropper was far too high. (Italian racer Gilberto) Parlotti’s death (in June 1972) was the final straw.”

Having said that, he adds, “But the Isle of Man is still the greatest and most challenging circuit in the world.”

In 1977, Read was offered the ride aboard the race-prepped 820cc Honda CB750 during the first Formula 1 race at the Isle of Man, where he also raced a Suzuki and won the Senior event. He couldn’t repeat his performance for Honda in 1978, and his last competitive race was at the Isle of Man in 1982. Whether viewed as a hero or a villain of TT racing, Read’s winning ways earned him a tremendous amount of respect.

The Replica

Turning attention back to the Phil Read Replica, Colin Seeley based the model on Honda’s brand-new for 1977 Honda CB750F2. After its introduction in 1969, the CB750 was slowly detuned to improve efficiency. The 736cc machine lost horsepower in the process, but in 1975 Honda released the CB750F Super Sport. The Super Sport was an improved machine, complete with a 4-into-1 header and muffler system, revised frame geometry featuring shorter trail and lengthened rear swingarm, a rear disc brake and a longer gas tank with a new seat and rear cowl. Honda returned some of the lost horsepower, too, with various internal improvements, including an increased compression ratio (from 9:1 to 9.2:1) and revised cam timing, pushing output to 58 horsepower according to a May 1975 Cycle magazine test.

When Honda released the CB750F2 in 1977, the bike featured numerous new features, including the ComStar 5-spoke wheels and dual front disc brakes. The 61mm by 63mm bore and stroke engine was still a 736cc powerplant, but there were larger cooling fins on the crankcase. Where Honda spent most of its development time was on the cylinder head. Four Keihin 28mm carburetors were attached to intake ports that expanded from 28mm to 30mm in diameter, and the inlet valves were also 2mm wider, up from 32mm to 34mm. On the other side of the combustion chamber, where compression had dropped from 9.2 to 9.0:1, the exhaust valves went from 28mm to 31mm. Lobes on the single overhead cam were changed, as was cam timing, and stiffer valve springs were installed. As a result of these cylinder head changes, the redline increased from 8,500rpm to 9,500rpm.

Honda finished the crankcases, cylinder, cylinder head, rear fender, fork sliders and muffler tip in flat black. Speaking of the muffler, the 4-into-1 header pipes were redesigned to bring everything tighter to the frame, allowing for greater cornering clearance.

To produce the Phil Read Replica, Seeley removed the stock Honda headlight and signal lights, handlebar, gas tank, seat and rear seat cowl. In their place, a twin Cibie headlight fairing attached to the frame rails and a clubman-style bar went atop the fork. A 5-gallon hand-hammered alloy gas tank (the first 15 replicas have the petcock on the right side of the tank, while the rest have the tap on the left side) went on the frame, as did a set of Seeley’s rear set footrests, a new seat and rear cowl. It’s unclear whether an entirely new exhaust system was installed from the exhaust ports back or if the headers remained and the minimally baffled muffler with its distinctive upswept curve was the only piece replaced.

The Phil Read Replicas were painted red, white and blue, the same as the Honda Britain Racing Team, and were released in the spring of 1978. However, after building just 150 examples of the motorcycle, it’s reported Phil Read got into a disagreement with Honda Britain over royalties owed him and he pulled his support for the project. After that, in 1979, Honda asked Colin Seeley to use the remaining parts, including the gas tanks and fairings, to convert approximately 300 more CB750F2s. Finished in white with either a blue or a red stripe, they are devoid of any of the race graphics or Phil Read’s name and were simply called the Honda Britain.

The pair

Both Phil Read Replicas owned by Jim were purchased at Mecum Auctions, the first in 2018 and the second in 2019. The first Phil Read Replica, the one that’s in the bulk of the accompanying photographs on these pages, came from the Bob Weaver collection. Bob is a motorcycle retailer based in North Tonawanda, New York, and he has an affinity for rare and unique machines. He says he originally bought the Honda from another collector in Louisiana, simply because it was different, and because it had zero miles on the odometer. He never started the bike, and only made sure it was prepared for long-term storage.

When Bob decided to thin out his collection, the Phil Read Replica went to the 2018 Mecum auction in Las Vegas, and that’s where Jim purchased the bike.

“It’s got just over a mile on the odometer, and that’s all from just being pushed around,” he says, and adds, “If I can find an example of a certain model that’s not been restored, then I’m happy.”

The second Phil Read Replica in these photos is one of the 15 early machines that have the petcock on the right side of the tank, and it has an interesting history. It was rescued and restored by David Burton, proprietor of JBS Motorcycle Painting in the town of Yeovil in England. David says he found the Phil Read Replica about four years ago, when he sat next to his wife’s uncle at a birthday party.

“He said, ‘Dave, I’ve got an old bike in my garage, it’s my brother’s, he wanted to put it there while he had a new kitchen built. It was only going to be for a few months, but it’s been there for 12 years!” David explains.

“‘What is it?'” David inquired. “He replied, ‘Oh some old Honda with a fairing on it, it’s red and called a Phillip Read or something.'” That’s when David, who’s been painting and restoring motorcycles since the late 1980s, said it would be best if he took a look at the machine.

“We met at his garage, and the bike was buried under chairs and god knows what other crap,” David recalls. “The exhaust, carbs and lower fairing were all taken off, it looked a right mess. We dragged it out, then set about looking for the rest of the parts around the garage. We found everything apart from the silencer. We haggled, agreed on a price and set about loading it in my van.”

David says he later learned the reason the machine was taken off the road. When the muffler rusted out in 1994, the original owner, whose second son had just been born, couldn’t afford to replace it. That’s when he stopped using the Honda, stored it, and then shifted it to his brother’s garage.

It took David 18 months to do a full nut and bolt restoration. He had a good friend, who he says is a CB750 guru, rebuild the engine. With only 15,000 miles from new, the internals were in good shape, and the pistons and rings were re-installed.

“Basically, the engine got rebuilt just to be painted properly,” David says. “I even told my upholstery chap to re-use the seat cover — just put in new foam and clean it. I’ve seen many bikes restored and people feel the need to go so over the top with stuff. I really wanted to make it look honest and genuine.”

David says he never intended to keep the Phil Read Replica and when he was finished, he sold it to David Silver of David Silver Spares to help fund other projects.

“I have known David for years and do bike painting for some of his projects,” David says. “He told me from when we did a deal that it was heading over the pond, and I did find the YouTube link on his website and watched the old girl go over the auction block.”

And it was Jim who bought it at the auction. While the near zero-mile example will likely never be started, Jim says the restored Phil Read Replica will get used.

“I’ve had some work done on it and installed new tires and brake pads, and we’ve had it running,” Jim says. “I plan on using this one, because a Honda CB750 is always a really nice bike to ride. Plus, there’s that interesting human element to the bike, and that’s all about Phil Read.” MC

  • Published on Mar 26, 2020
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