Mr. CB750

World Motorcycles boss Vic World promised to assemble a new and genuine 1969 Honda CB750 K0 in front of the cameras--and in a day. How could we resist?

It's really not the sort of offer you turn down. The idea of watching a brand-new Honda CB750 take shape within 24 hours is enough to drag me out of bed--and photographer James Brown 500 miles from Los Angeles--to World's well-camouflaged Northern California industrial-park shop to see what's what.

Monday, 2:00 p.m. Once World has opened the shop's triple-security locks, we wander inside, looking for the six-foot-high toolboxes. Instead, World points out a Kennedy Jr. foldout box and two slim wallets of Snap-on wrenches. "They're always surprised not to see big toolboxes," he says. We're shocked and trying not to show it. To Mr. World, tool money is better spent on genuine CB750 parts, and he loves buying 1969 CB750 parts.

Honda's first production four-cylinder motorcycle absolutely stole the show in Tokyo when it was introduced in late '68. It was technologically and aesthetically stunning--the first mass-production motorcycle with four cylinders, five gears, an electric start, a disc brake and 68-horsepower/125-mph performance. It literally changed the motorcycle world overnight, and proceeded to set the sales charts on fire afterward. Known simply as the CB750, Honda sold more than 50,000 of its new phenomenon in '69 and '70 alone.

Unofficially, the first CB is called the K0--"K-zero"--to distinguish it from the '70 K1 model. Here's another distinction: The first 7000 engines came with crankcases cast in gravity molds. After that, those grainy "sand-cast" cases were superseded by smooth, pressure-cast pieces. Power was a problem on the early engines; there was too much of it. Those 68 horses ate relatively fragile late-'60s chains, tossing the remains through the crankcases and wreaking all manner of havoc. Many crankcases were replaced under warranty--with smooth, pressure die-cast items, of course. You're beginning to get the picture. All of which means a genuine, sand-cast '69-spec CB750 is rare enough to make any bike collector drool. And we're here to watch one man build a brand-new bike from real, honest-to-gosh Honda parts, almost exactly as it would have rolled off the assembly line at Honda's Hamamatsu factory in '69.

It's amazing enough that he's actually planning to do it (where does one get that many brand-new Honda parts?). But can he do it in a day? The man has few tools, but plenty of parts. Three walls of the shop are lined with deep metal shelves, all overflowing with individually and specifically labeled bins of parts. No reproductions, either. According to World, all are genuine. Honda used 2500 parts in each CB750, he says, and they're all here, many still in their original wrappers. Parts were gleaned from dealers' never-sold stock or refurbished. Larger assemblies--chainguards, cases, exhaust pipes, carburetors--fill every available storage space around the shop, plus a nearby warehouse.

World has already assembled several chunks of the motorcycle: The engine is in one piece, and the frame wears its shocks, swingarm and battery box. The airbox halves are nearby, sitting on a dusty Honda CL450--World's first bike. He owned it at the age of 16, in '69, but after borrowing a friend's brand-new CB750, he was hooked on the look, sound and mystique of the Honda four.

World began collecting 750s in the early '80s. Then the bikes started getting scarce, parts stocks dropped and prices climbed. World says, "All the barns and garages are pretty well picked over by now. You won't see many more K0 discoveries. I bought a lot of parts from Honda before they stopped making them because it was obvious that, eventually, they would stop.

"Even so, many of the replacement parts were not quite the same as the originals. Look at the turn signals. The K0 had a colored tag at the end of the wire (orange for left, blue for right). Later models don't. And the lenses themselves were printed with the lettering, 'OEStanley, Japan.' Later ones have DOT numbers. It's obvious in a second if the bike has the right turn-signal lenses." World opens a box crammed full of original lenses. He then pulls out a container of tachometer assemblies, most still in the original wrappers. "The instruments were different the next year. These are all first-year examples, unobtainable now at any price."

Having built his mountain of parts, World had to organize it. "Like everyone else, I had a huge pile of boxes. I got tired of that, and spent two solid months sorting everything by part numbers." Unlike many collectors who just want to own, World wants to build. This will be the second CB750 he's built from his parts collection. And he plans to build more.

At 2:15 p.m., Mr. CB750 opens his toolbox (such as it is) and gets to work. We quickly see why he doesn't need many tools. Honda motorcycles of that era use remarkably few fastener sizes. Aside from specialty bits such as the fork top nut and the axle nuts, you can assemble a CB750 with four wrenches and an impact screwdriver.

First, World fits the fork legs and bottom triple tree to the frame. Thirty-seven individual balls go into new steering races. For this job, and for the next couple of hours, World gets help from his friend Mike Rondelli. Producing a spanner wrench to tighten the locknut, World's deeply etched smile tightens. "You can tell the torque by my grimace," he says.

The wheels bolt up in minutes, and by 3:00 p.m. the rolling chassis is ready for an engine. World layers duct tape to protect the newly painted frame. Then the engine stand is wheeled into place and World and Rondelli hoist the 175-pound lump into position. After some careful heaving and shoving, the big four is placed in its new home. Hoses, cables and levers are attached. Nearby, World's amazingly original, unrestored K0--with just 428 miles on the odometer--is the ultimate template for accurate cable routing.

Taking advantage of a break in the action, World tells us his story. At a Golden Earring (remember Radar Love?) concert in '76, he saw a glowing neonlike object fly out of the crowd. After researching the new technology, World began manufacturing the glow-in-the-dark necklaces, and World Plastics was born. As a new part of the rock 'n' roll crowd, he hung out backstage and mingled with the stars. World still runs the company, back in Cincinnati, by remote control, while he collects parts and builds motorcycles. Enough chatter. Back to work.

By 9:00 p.m., the instrument cluster is on. This thing is starting to look like a motorcycle. Now it's time to mount the signature 4-into-4 exhaust system. Because the pipes aren't a matched set, it's a tough job. One pipe from Venezuela mounts up next to another that spent the last 30 years on a shelf in Holland. World says, "You can't wait to buy whole sets. If you see one pipe for sale on eBay, you grab it." At 11:00 p.m., the pipes are still putting up a fight, so photographer Brown and I call it a night.

Next morning at 9:00 a.m., World's grimace meter shows a few new wrinkles. He worked until 1:00 a.m. bleeding the brakes, connecting the headlamp, battery and coils and finishing the exhaust pipes. It's another hour's labor to fit the new--but time-tightened--rubber inlet manifolds, the four carburetors with individual cables, plus the plastic rear fender and chrome tailpiece. With the carbs in place, World hooks up a remote gas tank, pulls the bike off the lift, points the four exhaust pipes generally toward the street and hits the starter. Nothing.

Alas, drained by last night's instrument-panel photo session, the battery is too weak to turn the engine over. No need to panic; World simply romps on the kickstarter. The engine sputters. World pops the number-two float bowl off--a five-second job with CB's quick-release clips--and cleans the idle jet. Kick, kick, vroom vroom. At 11:00 a.m., the bike fires on all four cylinders. It's alive!

Vacuum gauges are used to synchronize the carburetors, and then the airbox, side panels and fuel tank go on. Note the newly painted "wrinkle tank," another slice of CB750 minutiae. Its graceful lines were formed from steel pressings, and the process left ripples underneath. However, they're only visible after you pop the filler cap and peer through. Honda soon replaced that funky stamping machinery, turning these flawed examples into irreplaceable rarities.

The right kind of scratches display authentic parts in much the same way. "The chrome on '60s British bikes was always wonderful," World says. "Smooth, shiny, flawless. Honda was different: The company worried much more about cost. Where chrome parts are obvious, like the outside of the rear brake lever, the part was polished. The inside of the lever wasn't, so it retained its rough, as-cast finish. Other parts were quickly smoothed off with a sanding belt, which leaves parallel scratches. Look at the wheel rims, and you'll see those scratches running around the rim under the chrome. It took me a long time to duplicate this finish: I'd take the parts to the chrome platers, and they would always finish them off for me, polishing them to take the scratches out--precisely what I didn't want! I had to stand over them and watch until they got it right."

Exactly 24 hours after World started, he rolls the bike out, jumps on the starter just once, and the engine burbles to life. Dashing up the street, we see the tach needle hitting the halfway point, and a big grin spreading across his sleep-deprived face.

Short of time and tools, World gets the job done. And it's not just his vast stock of parts that does it. It's the knowledge, dedication and obsession necessary to track everything down and bolt it all together. It's getting every detail right. Power all that with World's sheer force of will, and success seems inevitable. It doesn't matter if he put this bike together with a grimace, three wrenches and a hammer. The outcome is as genuinely stunning as any CB750 that rolled out of a Honda showroom in '69.

What's next for World and his well-organized mountain of spare parts? More complete bikes, of course, which will be available to fans of original, sand-cast CB750s or anyone else with a desire to turn the clock back to '69 and own a rolling piece of motorcycle history. (Visit www.worldmotorcycles.com for pricing and availability.)

World is coy about how many he'll build. "Let's just say a handful,'" he says with a grin. But whether it's two or 12, one thing's for sure: World's gonna be a busy man once folks realize what he's up to.


CB750: Bolt By Bolt

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