After participating in cross-country racing for most of this season, http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=550314
(my first attempt at motorcycle racing) I got the itch bad. I started thinking about some bigger races that would be fun and doable. I loved the Desert 100 and was looking toward the Vegas to Reno. But I also started researching some of the classic desert races and desert sleds of the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. These bikes are damn cool. Of course, “On Any Sunday” got multiple views on Netflix as well as other classics like “Hare and Hound” and Wes Brown’s “Baja 1000 Classic,” which is footage from Bruce Brown’s Wild World of Sports coverage of the 1968 Mexican 1000.
I decided that I wanted to build a vintage desert bike and to race in NORRA’s newly reformed Mexican 1000 race in April 2011. The original Baja 1000 was called the Mexican 1000. The new Mexican 1000 was conceived as a way of reliving the glory days of desert racing.
People are racing vintage cars, trucks, buggies and yes, motorcycles. I admit, there is just something cool about seeing an Oldsmobile 442 Hugger racing in the sand!
The pace is not as hectic as the Baja 1000; instead it is a 3-day rally with bivouacs in the evening where repairs on the classic machines could be done through the night. Through PM’s here on ADV, HogWild, a participant of this year’s race told me that he had more fun racing in the Mexican 1000 than almost any other race…and he is veteran of the Baja 1000! It would be my hope to finish the race.
So, the race was decided…next was the bike I was going to ride. The rules allow for anything older than 1989 (they also allow alternative-fueled vehicles, but this didn’t interest me in the slightest..not in a vintage race). The idea of using a late 80's bike felt a little like cheating. Compared to a 1970 Triumph, even my 1987 XR250R would be much more race ready and competitive…but where’s the fun in that. I mean, a 1989 XR600R is essentially a modern bike..tons of power, high ground clearance, long travel mono-shock, good forks and disc brakes… where’s the classic vibe? And not to besmirch Jonah Street’s 2010 Mexican 1000 victory on a borrowed late model XR, but I would have loved to see him compete on a true vintage bike…like say a Bultaco, TR6 or 1967 Husky 360!
Being a very basic mechanical guy, I was intimidated by the thought of getting a British or European bike for my freshman attempt. I was also concerned about costs associated with running such a machine. My research pointed me straight to Larry Bergquist and Gary Preston.
These two men raced a nearly stock Honda 350 Twin in the first Mexican 1000 in 1967, and to victory in the second running in 1968!
So that got me researching and thinking:
Honda Twin 350’s are pretty plentiful and were produced in three models: The CB350, CL350 Scrambler, and the SL350.
There is fantastic aftermarket support for these bikes and engines.
They are used in vintage flat track racing and are favorites for bobbing and caféing.
And by all counts they are bulletproof and reliable..if not on the slow side stock.
The search was on. The first thing I found out was that the SL350 is the most rare of the three…and the one most suitable for an off-road race. I test rode this one but felt it was a bit worn for the price he was asking…it was weeping oil and felt a bit loose.
Of course, my 2 Noobs Racing partner, Luke, was quick to point out that I should expect that from any 40 year old bike
I made an offer, the guy never got back to me.
I finally found this 1973 CL350 close to Luke’s house.
The bike was not running but looked to be pretty complete. I loved the look of it and thought this would be a good starting point. It was even red like the Bergquist/Preston bike! And the price was cheap (I got it for much less than asking price). I figured that even if I didn’t use it, I could get some good spares from this bike for the race.
I got the bike home and dug in.
I started dreaming about doing a front-end swap for either a pair of Ceriani’s or something from a dirt bike with a little more travel and lighter wheels. The CV carbs were not in the best shape and I thought it would be a good idea to go with some flat-slide carbs.
One thing I was going to find out about racing/building vintage bikes is that many people love the idea and are willing to step up and help out. First off, Glenn, a motorcycle man from way back, offered up an old, original Honda Twin Clymer Manual from his collection, from when he used to assemble them as new bikes, as a part-time gig in The Dalles, Oregon. about a million years ago.
My friend Lonnie, who has been “sponsoring” my racing efforts on the DRZ by being my “graphics man”, also went with me to pick up the CL350 the same day he bought himself a sweet little vintage 1973 TL125.
Lonnie also let me borrow a sweet old Chilton service manual that covered the Honda Twins!
You meet the nicest people when building a vintage Honda race bike.
I bought new points, a condensor, spark plugs and these beautiful twin carbs from Sudco (which almost costs as much as the whole bike)
I figured, the carbs would work on any Honda 350 I ended up using..and they were big…and brand new, and real pretty
Next was to attack the CL’s gas tank, which had its Kreem lining flaking and peeling away. After reviewing the knowledge on the interwebs…I felt up to the task and got myself a gallon of acetone and some drywall nails.
After sloshing and rattling, most of the Kreem came out…most of it. It looked like I was going to have to use the scary MEK stuff to get the rest of it out. Let me tell you now, I hate Kreem.
The bike needed handlebar controls, so I went to a bike salvage yard and picked up a throttle control for much more than it was worth. Disappointed with the crappy salvage yard find, I later picked up a Honda dirt bike Motion-Pro throttle controller for the same $20 bucks I spent on the junk part. I then decided that I would just buy new dirt-oriented stuff instead of using vintage controls. This way I could easily get spares and not use 40-year- parts on items most likely to break during training or racing. I got some motion pro brake and clutch perches and levers for $13.99 each.
I read up on points and timing and Luke and I slapped it all together, wired up a $2 Radio Shack momentary switch for the starter, set the timing as close as possible, slid in a new battery, threw on a XR plastic gas tank, and gave the CL350 a shot.
No go. Backfiring only. Apparent timing issue, or maybe an intermitten coil problem…or?? Anyway, I was in the process of figuring out the issue when our own Ladybug0048 PM’d that she knew of a 1972 SL350 that was running that I could get for a “killer deal”
Wary of the killer deal because I had just dumped the money for the carbs…Ladybug assured me again that it would be a “killer deal” and she would deliver the bike from Spokane to the Oregon Coast! Well, sho’ nuff’ she weren’t joshing me. And about a week later I saw this beauty pulling up in front of my house!
Holy Macintosh! This bike was way too nice for me to turn into a desert sled and race it down the Baja Pennisula. “Hogwash” said Ladybug. That’s exactly what this bike needs, she insisted. The bike had been built by her friend Larry from basket cases. It just so happens that Larry is a master Honda Technician and it showed. The bike had been in storage for more than 15 years…although it was last registered in 1999. The only thing it needed was a battery and some de-rusting of the tank. Killer Deal indeed!
Of course, I couldn’t wait for all of that…so I hooked up the plastic gas tank from my XR250 and the battery from my DRZ and gave it a shot.
After a few kicks and slight adjustment of the idle screws, she came to life!! And then she just purred like a kitten! No kidding, this thing ran nicer than my V-strom.
I then set out to de-rust the tank. Having had to deal with the nightmare of the Kreemed lined CL tank, I swore off ever using that crap on anything. Instead I thought I would try this stuff:
I saw it at the local lumberyard and thought I’d give it a try. It worked so well on the rusty pliers I had in my boat for two years, I figured it would work on the tank.
Well, it did.
Not wanting to wait for a battery to be shipped, I took some measurements and went down to my local Les Schwab. I bought what I think was a jet-ski battery and shoehorned it into the SL’s compartment. Some new gas lines from the hardware store and two in-line filters, fresh oil and I was ready to go. First test ride…an evening cruise along the coast.
Let’s just say this bike is smooth as silk and runs as new. There are no drips, seeps or weird sounds anywhere! What a great place to start for my desert sled project. I will be including some modern touches to make it a little more functional like adjustable rear suspension and low-power-draw LED lights.
Stay tuned…the fun is just beginning. Next up, custom bash plate, new handlebars and rear light solution…and I hope to get that CL350 running and maybe use it as trading stock against another SL350 parts bike for spares for the race.