Many years ago, in response to many questions that usually went: “What year is my bike?” I wrote a story about how Honda went about date coding the 1950-60s twins; specifically the 250-305 series models. That story was called:
MOTO-ARCHAEOLOGY: CARBON-DATING THE '60s HONDA 250-305 TWINS
That story went overboard in detailing the nuances of each of the model series: C (CA) 72-77 Dreams, CL-72/77 Scramblers and CB72-77 Super Hawks the first time around, so I thought it would be time to sift out the big chunks and compact the information into a more user-friendly format. Let’s see how well I did below!
Dreams are “CA” models, Super Hawks are “CB” models and Scramblers are “CL” models. Dreams are “touring bikes” while the CBs are “sport bikes” and CLs are “dual-purpose” models with limited on-off road capabilities.
250cc models are designated “Model 72”
305cc models are designated “Model 77”
Thus, there both 250 and 305cc models of the three, main, model series, designated as CA72, CA77, CB72, CB77, CL72 and CL77. This is the rule that applies to US-spec “wet-sump” machines built from 1960 to 1967. Non-US “Dream” models were labeled C72 and C77. The “A” in the CA72 and CA77 was for American models. There were non-US Super Hawks carrying CP77 and CBM72 labels, not counting the very rare CYP77 Police models. For Scramblers, Honda offered a CL300 model for domestic use, which was not imported here.
Generally, any US-spec model 250-305cc twin is easily recognized by the lack of turn signals installed. Honda put them on just about every other bike they made for all the other countries, except for the US market, apparently at the government’s request. In California the law states:
24951. (a) Any vehicle may be equipped with a lamp-type turn signal system capable of clearly indicating any intention to turn either to the right or to the left. Motorcycles manufactured and first registered on or after January 1, 1973, except motor-driven cycles whose speed attainable in one mile is 30 miles per hour or less.
Dry sump vs. Wet Sump engines
Previous to 1960, all of Honda’s twins were housed in “Dream” style chassis, but had “dry-sump” engines, which required mounting of a separate oil tank on the right side of the frame. From 1960-onwards, all the 250-305s were of the “wet sump” variety (all oil inside the crankcases).
Frame numbers and dates of production
From 1960 through 1964, there was a fairly easy pattern of numbering applied to these bikes, which indicates the year of production. Generally, it went like this:
FIVE digit frame serial numbers denotes 1960 and 1961 models: EXAMPLES
1960 was the first year of the Dream with the wet-sump engine design.
C72-60-A1xxxx and C77-60-A1XXXX indicates a 1960 production 250/305 Dream (VERY RARE). The misplaced “A” (for American model), was put just before the digits, rather than clustered with the model code.
1961 included both CA72-CA77 Dreams and the new CB72-CB77 Super Hawk Super Sports models.
CA72-1xxxx CA77-1xxxx CB72-1xxxx CB77-1xxxx (5 digit frame numbers, starting with a 1).
1962 included all three models, adding the new CL72 Scrambler
CA72-2xxxx CA77-2xxxx, CB72-2xxxx, CB77-2xxxx, CL72-2xxxx (5-digit frame numbers starting with a 2).
1963 models all had an added ONE in the serial numbers (second digit), which increased the total digits to SIX
CA72-31xxxx, CA77-31xxxx, CB72-31xxxx, CL77-31xxxx, CL72-31xxxx
In 1964 Honda changed horses in the middle of the stream by dividing the year’s production into two series. Pay attention here, as it gets tricky. Most models are still SIX digits (with exception noted).
CA72-4xxxxx, CA77-4xxxxx, CA72-1xxxxx, CA77-1xxxxx, CB72-4xxxxx, CB77-4xxxxx
OR CB72-1xxxxx, CB77-1xxxxx CL72-4xxxxx (6 DIGITS) with this exception: CL72-11xxxxx (7 DIGITS).
1965 is the beginning of the end, in a way. ALL of the Dreams, Scramblers and Super Hawks had SEVEN digit serial numbers beginning with 1xxxxxx and ending whenever they quit production of that model.
CA72-1xxxxxx, CA77-1xxxxxx, CB72-1xxxxxx, CB77-1xxxxxx, CL72-1xxxxxx, CL77-1xxxxxx
Seems simple enough doesn’t it? Well, it was simple for Honda’s production teams, but not so simple for getting a bike registered in the US with a specific “year” date. Once they ramped up production in 1965, they just kept building the same bikes over and over again, even with some major design changes in 1966, but there is no line of demarcation as to when a bike was built whether it was in 1965, 1966 or 1967 (end of production). Honda’s wiring harness suppliers tagged the harness with the model part number and a year code, which CAN be indicative of what year the bike was built, but it is NOT an iron-clad rule. There have been numerous examples of early 1965 bikes equipped with 1964 date-coded harnesses, for example. A recent, low numbered 1963 CB77 project bike had a 1962 dated harness tag, believed to be original to the machine.
An estimate can be ball-parked by roughly dividing the number of bikes produced by the THREE years that they were produced in the 1965-67 year segment. Honda did supply some apparently accurate production figures for the CB77s, which notes that CB77-1056423 is the last one produced. No “last unit” figures were supplied for the Dreams and Scramblers, however. CL77s have been seen into the low 68,000 numbers. Dream production and sales dropped off rapidly after 1966, averaging about 10-12,000 per year from 1965-67. Supposedly, some 28,000 CL77s were sold in 1966, but the other models sales reports were dismal, at best. It was reported that in 1967-68, American Honda was in a disastrous financial state, with thousands of unsold motorcycles in warehouses across the country. “Leftover” 250-305cc models were registered as whatever the year of sale happened to be. There are reports of some 18,000 “leftover” 250-305cc bikes sold in the years of 1968-70. With the new replacement bikes on the sales floors in 1968 (new 5-speed CB/CL350 twins), Honda was desperate to clear out their remaining inventories before a financial crunch ensued.
Honda’s sales slowed due to the increase of competition in their market segment. Yamaha had 5 speed gearboxes back in 1965 and Suzuki’s X-6 Hustler was a 100 mph, 6-speed rocket. Bridgestone had a presence until Honda forced them to quit building motorcycles, threatening to take their tire business elsewhere. As Bridgestone was declining, Kawasaki started their run-up in the US, with the 1966 W1 650cc 4-stroke twins and the wicked rotary-valve A1/A7 250-305cc, 2 stroke twins. Honda paved the way for all the Japanese competitors to make headway into the US and suddenly their sales went from Autobahn velocities down to afternoon gridlock traffic snarl speeds.
1965 was also the year that Honda introduced their OHC Super 90, CB160 and CB450 twins, which further diluted the market for their mid-range street bikes. By 1965, Honda had abandoned the mostly concise numbering system of the 250-305cc twins (and the 1959-64 125-150cc Benly series), when they began producing the small singles and twins, so there are few references as to when a particular model was produced. Again, they were being cranked out by the thousands in Japan and shipped rapidly to awaiting US customers. There are numerous small focus groups and forums for many of the other Honda models from the 1960s which can be located on the Internet, primary on Yahoo Groups. If you have a specific question about the year of any other models, except the 250-305s, then track down one of those groups for assistance. They may have their finger on the pulse of those models more than I do.
Bill “MrHonda” Silver