I can’t say that I have built up a “rat bike” before, although I have re-animated a few sad examples of vintage bikes in my distant past. Last month, a heads-up message from a customer led me to look into acquiring a truckload of NOS Honda Dream parts, plus most of what was the bike which was to be restored with those parts.
The OEM Honda parts tags and newspapers wrapping up a set of new mufflers and other bits indicated that the time of the restoration effort was 1980! It required a quick trip to Riverside, CA to gather up all the bits and pieces from a guy who had posted them on eBay auctions that morning. The whole parts/bike deal came to him through a Craigslist posting, which I had seen the week before, but there was so little information in the listing that I didn’t go after it in the first place. Plus the parts were all located in Indio, CA, which was another couple of hours from me, here in Spring Valley. The guy in Riverside saw the ad and being much closer to Indio than I was, jumped into his truck and gathered it all up a few days previously, then reposted it on eBay for 2x the money he paid. Still, the lot included brand new mufflers, speedometer, tire pump and brackets/lock set, LOTS of new hardware like headlights, ignition switch lock sets, handlebars/switches, all of which is long gone from the Honda parts systems now.
Over a period of a few weeks, most all of the NOS treasures went to buyers on eBay auctions, plus a good chunk went to my buddy, Scott, as part compensation for all the NOS CB77 parts I have gotten from him in the past few years, to rebuild several bikes, including my own 1961 CB77 bike.
What was leftover, a bare frame, intact engine assembly and bags of used parts, taken from a previously intact 1964 CA77 showing about 22k miles on the speedometer became the task at hand. The frame had been rattle-canned white (the original bike color) but there was a two-inch crack on the rear fender section that he just painted over. Obviously, the bike wasn’t destined for 100 point showbike status, but apparently the previous owner really used the bike as transportation and intended to fix it back up towards original condition, as much as possible. Somehow, the project fizzled out and all the parts and the bike went into deep storage for over 30 years. The CL posting was done by the daughter of the original owner, who had passed away and left the bike stuff behind for liquidation. Thanks to the internet, emails and like-minded friends, these deals can pop up now and again, but you have to be ready to jump on them when they do appear.
One of the first things done was to take the frame to my friend Rob North’s shop for a quick welding repair of the rear fender section. After that, over a period of a couple of days, I unpacked the used parts and pieced the bike back together again as far as I could go with what was there. Missing were the seat, petcock, drive chain, battery, rear shocks and mufflers. The engine assembly had been surface cleaned along the top end, but there weren’t any indications that the engine had been apart for overhaul. At 22k miles, these motors often need quite a bit of work to keep them safe and reliable for regular use.
After assembling much of the chassis and mounting up the engine, I thought I should check the compression before going much further along. The results were disappointing: 90 psi in the left side cylinder and about 20-30psi on the right side. Sometimes, this is due to corrosion buildup on the valves after sitting for decades. I checked the valve clearances and they were all a bit tight, but not enough to cause a big compression loss, so the motor was removed again and put on the bench for top end inspection. When the top cylinder head nuts come loose with a loud CRACK, you know that they have been in place since the bike was assembled at the factory. Pulling the top cover off, the looks of the cams indicated that the bike had not had any major oil failures causing excessive wear on the top end. That was a good start, but once the cylinders were pulled off the pistons, little bits of piston rings rained down from the piston ring lands. The right side piston had signs of some piston seizure and broken rings. The left side piston rings were worn, as expected, but not broken and the piston had not seized like the other side. It was a very puzzling condition, considering that both cylinders share one carburetor and the same ignition timing, so if either one system was to cause a failure, you would expect that the disastrous results to be shared equally on both pistons.
The rings on the right side came out in tiny pieces for the most part, and some had actually turned sideways in the ring land, causing a widening of the ring groove along a ¼” of the ring space. The opposite rings came off the piston, but were razor thin in sections, indicating the expected wear of cast- iron rings over 22k miles of use. Digging through the spares piles, a set of good used CB77 pistons and a set of STD piston rings came to light. Checking the new rings in the used cylinders actually indicated minimal wear in the cylinder bores, so after a thorough clean-up of the cylinders and gasket surfaces, it all went back together again with minimal disruption and expense. I had sprayed some carb cleaner down the intake and exhaust ports when the valves were closed and nothing leaked, so the valves were left as-is. The idea was just to get the bike up and running as a complete machine, rather than being faced with trying to part out the whole bike a piece at a time. There are lots of Dreams being parted out on eBay, so prices are generally low except for high-demand parts like speedometers and mufflers.
The clutch cover was removed for cleaning of the oil filter and the clutch plates, which tend to stick together in a big lump after sitting pressed together for 30 years. The filter probably had never been cleaned in the bike’s whole life, judging from the amount of dirt, debris, metal and grit removed, but no big scary chunks came out of the filter or oil pump screen when I pulled the pump assembly for a look. There was a fair amount of sludge, due to the kind of oils used back then, plus the remains of whatever additive packages were in the oil that slowly fell out of suspension after disuse. Buttoned back up, the motor was reinstalled and compression readings restored to more normal expectations. Initially, the right side was up to 150psi, but the left side was still down around 90psi, despite new rings on both sides. Eventually, with a few miles run-in on the bike, whatever was keeping the valves from sealing fully seemed to subside and compression ran upwards to 120psi plus. I rechecked the valves and they had tightened up some, so perhaps more compression improvements are in its future. The bike seems to idle fine and has decent power for what it is… 24(?) rated horsepower at the crankshaft. In with the spares that came with the bike are two cylinder heads, one NOS bare head and another one which was complete, but needing a lot of cleanup.
Once the motor issues were solved, bargain shopping continued as a new, correct battery was ordered ($65), then a pair of used shocks, a used seat and fresh 525 pitch drive chain ordered locally. Between eBay listings and my buddy, Rick, who lives in Los Angeles, I actually came up with affordable OEM stainless steel mufflers, although they had some road rash and a few dents, here and there. Decent header pipes came with the bike, so the exhaust system bolted up easily. With some cleaning of the carburetor, wiring repairs and an aftermarket petcock installation, the bike was ready to run.
The engine fired up pretty easily and I let it idle awhile to allow the oil to get moving inside the passages for the first time in over thirty years. Nothing odd sounding was noticed and initial testing of the clutch and gears indicated no particular issues to worry about, in the moment. After some running-in time, oil began to leak from the k/s cover. The main cause appeared to be the pesky pushrod seal on the end of the transmission output shaft, so the seal and pushrod were both replaced and the oil leak ceased.
I am able to run the bike for a couple of miles, locally, despite the lack of license plates, at least so far. The bike has all new cables so lever functions all are normal. Even the speedometer indicates with a steady needle at 60 mph.
The tires, of course, are originals, dating back to the mid-1960s, so need replacing soon, but are safe enough for some basic test rides and systems checks.
The bike project came with some spare blue parts which were much better than the worn-out white bodywork so those parts were installed, as-is. The fuel tank on the bike was clean as a whistle inside, but came from a black bike, so it is a bike of many colors now, giving it a true “rat bike” status. My friends down in Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama have what they call “Critter bikes” which are all ancient Honda Dreams, outfitted with various types of animal hides and steer horns, etc., driven in as-is condition on amazing adventures as a group. This bike would fit right into their exclusive club of Critter bikes with full acceptance and appreciation. Too bad they are just so far away…
Well despite the failure of the original restoration project dream, the bike has indeed been brought back to life, hopefully to fulfill someone else’s dream of owning a classic 1964 CA77 305cc Dream.
Bill “MrHonda” Silver