The eBay Special
When it comes to love, the labour is always free. But in the case of a serious restoration project such as Sam Longo’s café racer-styled honda CB500T, it also helps to have good friends, solid horse trading sense and access to the worldwide market.
The restoration of old bikes has been around as a national pastime since Glenn Curtis invented the twist grip. But eBay is a new twist to the hobby—enthusiasts such as myself can now buy and sell parts in a worldwide market. Although the CB500T I recently restored was not purchased there, I believe that its inexpensive, café racer rebirth, could not have evolved without eBay.
The Honda CB500T was the final evolution of Honda’s venerable CB450. Although its torsion valve springs and double overhead cams were considered wildly innovative at its 1965 debut, by 1974 its design was being eclipsed by Honda’s excellent range of four-cylinder jewels. The company decided to extend its life just a little longer by stroking the engine to 500cc and restyling the bodywork. Unfortunately lower compression and added weight made it slower than the 450 it replaced. Moreover, the styling lacked focus and, ultimately, after poor sales in ‘75 and ’76, the model was dropped. In my opinion, a rather sad end to a once class leading thoroughbred.
As with most Hondas, the basic design was sound, so it was still an excellent candidate for my café racer project. I could easily change the styling and even shed some weight in the process. Perhaps I could even lend a little dignity to this particular model’s unfortunate demise.
The original bike was purchased locally after word of mouth led me to a garage sale where the dusty, partially dismantled bike lay buried beneath suburban clutter. Once I dragged it into the sunlight, I noticed that half of the engine’s top end was missing. Otherwise the bike was fairly complete with just 11,837 miles showing on the odometer. A deal was struck for $175, complete with ownership—and yet another unwanted Honda was saved from oblivion.
AS SOON AS I GOT IT HOME, ALL OF THE STOCK PARTS WERE CAREFULLY removed and cleaned. The beauty of eBay is that there are people out there collecting just about anything, including original Honda CB500T! I listed and sold the stock exhaust, seat, tank, side covers, instruments, fenders, turn signals, and locksets. Those bike parts satisfied happy customers from Denmark to Detroit. What remained were the bare bones of the bike, essentially cost free, with money left over to … you guessed it, go shopping on eBay.
In preparation for its new sportier life, I cut and ground off all unnecessary brackets and simplified the wiring. An aircraft circuit breaker now serves as an ignition switch, with a Canadian Tire horn button for “centralized” electric starting. The stock indicator display was replaced with two aircraft panel lights set in the headlight shell. I also installed a toggle switch to select headlight use.
My eBay purchases included new fork seals, a used headlight, left tank panel, left engine cover, hex head engine bolt set, tune-up and carb kits, gaskets, seals, aftermarket turn signals and a tail light. Of course it helps to have a garage full of used vintage Honda stuff. The gas tank was a leftover from an earlier CB450 restoration, as were the enamel badges for the tank and seat tail. The side cover wings are early CB350 tank badges, underlaid with “carbon fibber.” That’s not a spelling error by the way—it is what we here in central Canada call that fake plastic carbon fibre on a roll from Canadian Tire.
The aluminum rims were both donations relaced to the original hubs. The raw fibreglass solo seat was acquired in trade and upholstered by Marley Upholstery. The front licence plate was donated to the project and mounted to a CB750 Super Sport front fender. The rear fender is aluminum and of unknown origins. Both fenders were already in stock.
Local purchases from Ontario Cycle Salvage and the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group rounded out the remaining parts, including some really lucky finds. At $40, the 1970’s vintage chopper gauges were irresistible. Cycle Salvage also provided the Dunstall replicas, caliper seals, braided brake lines, flat bars, grips and other assorted bits. The CB450 header pipes were a $20 bargain from a fellow CVMG pal. Flat black paint was courtesy of Canadian Tire rattle cans. Centennial College in Scarborough, Ontario, where I teach aircraft maintenance, was a great source of raw materials. The hand made side covers were fashioned using leftover end cuts from an aircraft instrument panel.
The missing engine parts were the biggest challenge. Fortunately, another CVMG contact provided a complete free engine with a locked transmission. I simply used the best bits from both engines to produce the final sweet running motor.
Riding the bike is great fun, as long as you’re not in a hurry. Using my CB750 as a benchmark, it feels feather light and handles well. The vibration is tolerable if you short shift it around town, but wring it out to its 9,000 rpm redline and the vibes are numbing. The seating position is surprisingly comfortable for my five-foot-nine, 50-something frame, but this is definitely not a bike for long highway trips. The exhaust note is loud but not excessive and the brakes are superb for a 1970’s vintage ride.
The original Honda CB500T was homely, heavy and slow. It lacked any real styling focus and was the answer to the question that nobody asked. In contrast, my “eBay Special” is prettier, lighter, sounds better and has a definite café racer flavour. Its small, splayed-out instruments and kicked up Dunstalls are somewhat “Nortonesque” and the Bomber’s tank shape is reminiscent of an old vintage Manx. In my humble opinion, it is the best of both worlds, British good looks with a Japanese soul.
Of course, with any custom machine, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but for me it is hard to beat this little bike for the price. Thanks to eBay, good friends, and a little horse trading, that “CB500” proudly lettered on the front fender also stands for “complete budget $500.” As for the actual work, well, we all know, when it comes to love, the labour is always free.
By Sam Longo Canadian Biker #235