the smallest of Hondas production fours
A Variation on a theme
I wrote a piece in the VJMC mag some time ago, as an intro to my long-term involvement with bikes, and also put an ad. for some parts I had for sale in the same issue. A fellow member, Peter, who lives not far away (although we’d never met) put two and two together and rang to see if it was my article, so we arranged to go along together to the next monthly meeting, he on his CB550F2 and me on my recently acquired CBX Z. We met a really friendly bunch of like minded folk, and had a great first meeting at the Nabs’ Head in the pleasant surroundings of the Lancashire countryside on a lovely summers evening. As we chatted it transpired that Peters’ son has a 350 Four, a bike I had heard and seen pictures of but I’d never seen a real one, it never being officially imported by Honda into the UK. It really is just a scaled down 750 or 500 four with that very distinctive pipe layout, and was the forerunner of the much admired 400 four, a frequent visitor to these hallowed pages.
I have had a couple of Honda 400 fours for many years now; one of which, an ex-Florida import in blue, is quite a tidy example. When I went to get the documents for this blue bike from West Coast Motorcycles, after the MOT (using only its frame number), I had to thumb through a stack of C and E 386’s (these are the forms which prove that the necessary Duty has paid on an imported vehicle) to get the one for my Florida import, when I got side-tracked and spotted a form for a 1972 CB350F (I may have poor eyesight but I don’t miss much!). ‘Do you have this bike?’ ‘Dunno’ says Rob, ‘But I’ll ask the Boss, he with the encyclopaedic knowledge’. ‘Yep, we still have it, but it’s a real shed of a thing, had it for years, no tank, side panels, front wheel, mice in the seat and the like – come and have a look’. It really was in a sorry state when I saw it (thinks…… I might even pick up a ‘Rat bike’ award at Lotherton Hall!!) but I think that we all know instinctively when we see a project (another!!) if it’s for us. None of the bolts had been butchered; no fins were broken off the head or barrels. All the footrests were present and not bent, the brake pedal and gear lever only lightly rusty. The other thing is that all of those little clips and brackets, which are always so awkward to find, are still there and will only require re-plating. I came home to think about it, browsed Dave Silvers’ web site and bingo – lots, but not all of the necessary parts still available. So I bought it.
I didn’t do much about it for the next month or so, as I was busy with other projects, but to my amazement when the next VJMC mag dropped on the mat, there was an advert with some 350 four parts for sale - frame and forks, decapitated engine (I don’t need those anyway) petrol tank, side panels, carbs, new top end gasket set plus a whole load of minor parts. I rang the chap (in Gloucestershire), to find that everything was still there, and agreed to pay his very reasonable asking price. During the following conversation it transpired that his daughter is at University in Hull, where I was born, and he would be going to pick her up for the Christmas break, so I arranged to meet him over there, to collect it all and then I could go visiting relatives afterwards. Isn’t it great when a plan comes together? I am absolutely amazed at the condition of these parts, considering they are well over 25 years old. The tank decals are original, so I’m hoping that John Kenworthy at Sunrise Graphics will be able to do some copies, which means that others might then be able to have some.
Peter came round the day after collection to inspect it all, armed with a genuine (but needing recovering) seat, which he had had for years and donated it to the project. One interesting thing about the 350 and 400 fours, which I had not realised, is that they share a great many parts, the forks (except for the shrouding), wheels and brakes are the same, 400 side panels, tank and seat fit the frame, but have obviously been restyled. The head looks to be identical as far as the cam (lift and timing) and valves go, although the casting detail on the top edge above the exhaust ports is different. The crankcases appear identical, except they house only a 5 speed box, even the oil filter housing is the same. All external covers are identical, with only the clutch cover having a repositioned operating arm, but I’m sure even they would be interchangeable as a whole.
Initially I intend to do an assembly job from the parts that I have, with any necessary ‘sympathetic restoration’, so that I can get a complete machine on the road with MOT and tax. I will make a proper job of the paintwork, except for the frame, as there is not really a great deal of it; probably in the candy Matador red colour or something very close (Rover ‘Nightfire’ is a contender at the moment and much easier than a candy). The exhaust system is going to be a problem as pipes 1,3 and 4 are the only genuine ones still available from David Silver and I don’t really want to fit an aftermarket 4 into 1; Sometime in the distant future I would like to do a nut and bolt restoration, but there are plenty other projects awaiting my attention before then!
Peter and I hope to get not one, but two 350 Fours to a few of the shows at some point in the not too distant future. I’ll try to keep you updated with our progress.