Project Café: 1973 Honda CB500, Part 1

BikeBandit.com and Motorcycle Classics team up to build a café racer for the street

| January/February 2009

  • cafe1
    Win our 1973 CB500 Four! Here it is in all its faded glory, but it's quickly turning into a different machine. As our series of articles describe, we're deep into our rebuild, turning this old dog into a café racer for the street. Look for the link to our sweepstakes – you might take our Honda home once we've put it back on the road!
    Landon Hall
  • cafe2
    Our CB500's engine in mid-teardown as we get ready to remove it from the frame.
    Landon Hall
  • cafe3
    There's that Wixam faring again. These things were all the rage back in the mid-1970s (ours is missing most of the plexiglass windscreen).
    Landon Hall
  • cafe4
    Detonation does very bad things to a piston. This is what we found when we removed the cylinder head and cylinders; a very badly burned no. 3 piston. Remarkably, that cylinder still had about 80psi of compression.
    Landon Hall
  • cafe5
    The carbs weren't nearly as bad as we expected them to be. The float bowl on the left already got a quick cleaning. One down, three to go.
    Landon Hall
  • cafe6
    Muck, muck everywhere. This is the inside of the clutch release cover on the left side. Still not sure what was in there, but it looked like little berry seeds of some sort.
    Landon Hall
  • cafe7
    Our CB came with extra electronics for free. We're thinking it was originally some sort of alarm or intercom system.
    Landon Hall
  • cafe8
    No, that's not a nail - it's a seat hinge pin. Really.
    Landon Hall

  • cafe1
  • cafe2
  • cafe3
  • cafe4
  • cafe5
  • cafe6
  • cafe7
  • cafe8

With help from Bikebandit.com, Motorcycle Classics took a tired old 1973 Honda CB500 Four and turned it into a café racer for the street. Our first report appears below, and you can follow the build by clicking on the links below. 

Project Café - Part 2
Project Café - Part 3
Project Café - Part 4
Project Café - Part 5
Project Café - Master cylinder rebuild  

The Bike
I can’t count how many times editor Backus and I have told friends that if you’re going to restore a bike, especially something common, take your time and find a decent example. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find, because the $400 you might save in purchase price will be spent later in parts, time and headaches. Of course, we never listen to our own advice.

The problem is, we’re impatient. Heck, sometimes we’re just downright lazy. Because it wasn’t long after we decided that our next bike should be a Seventies Honda of some sort that one of Backus’ buddies e-mailed him a photo of his latest barn find, a 1973 Honda CB500 Four, which sounded like the perfect project bike to us. The CB in question was complete (even if the front brake caliper was in a bag), but it didn’t run. It was for sale, and, importantly, the price was right. It was obvious this bike had led a hard life and frankly, the closer we looked, the rougher it was. And while that didn’t scare us, in hindsight, it probably should have.
So of course we bought it.



But we’re also optimists. We didn’t see a nasty, worn-out pile of junk before us. We saw a smooth, sleek café racer, complete with a nice 4-into-1 pipe, low bars, a custom seat and/or tail fairing, maybe a different tank, new paint, new tires, custom wheels and more. And with BikeBandit.com sponsoring our project, we knew we had a great source for information and parts. Bring it on, we said.

Finding spark
Goal No. 1 was to get the bike running, so we hauled it to Backus’ “shop” and went to work. First we drained and rinsed the gas tank, then took the Honda’s four carburetors off and gave them a quick cleaning. Carbs back together and a new battery installed, we gave it a few shots of starting fluid and hit the go button, but it wouldn’t fire. Testing showed we had full voltage to the ignition points, but we weren’t getting anything at the plugs. Our handy voltmeter pointed to bad coils, but after installing a new pair of coils and still no spark, we discovered the coils were only getting 7 instead of 12 volts, not enough to fire them. Some quick work uncovered dirty and corroded connectors in the wiring harness, and once cleaned we finally had good spark at the plugs. OK, we thought, now we’re getting somewhere.

Jack
3/10/2009 5:17:59 PM

I am so happy to find this article. I have 1973 cb500 that I'm trying to get running again. Does anyone know how to get a lining out of a tank. Whoever lined it before, didn't line the whole thing. Only the bottom half is lined. And now there is rust on the top inside of it. I'd like to get the old lining out and then reline it with Red Kote. Thanks.


Jack
3/10/2009 5:12:44 PM

I am so happy to find this article. I have 1973 cb500 that I'm trying to get running again. Does anyone know how to get a lining out of a tank. Whoever lined it before, didn't line the whole thing. Only the bottom half is lined. And now there is rust on the top inside of it. I'd like to get the old lining out and then reline it with Red Kote. Thanks.


Shaun Donovan_1
2/5/2009 4:56:08 PM

I am so happy you are paying attention to such a wonderful bike. I enjoyed mine in the 1970s. The sound was so unique, so much better than the 750/4. And those sculptured exhaust pipes were it's selling point. You must find a set of 4 into 4s for this project (originals of course). If you are intent on not using the tank then please go for a polished alloy race tank. There is a guy in Scotland that will make a one-off that will fit. Try www.tankman.co.uk If not then you couldn't o wrong with a Hailwood Honda look-a-like, but really it has been done before with varing degrees of success.




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