5 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Archives

Mr. CB 750:

Vic World is the planet’s premier restorer of sand-cast Honda CB750s.

Here’s what makes him and his exceptional bikes tick.

It was one of those extraordinary epiphanies, the type that rocks the thinker’s universe for years. Said thinker was Vic World. The subject matter?

Honda’s first-generation CB750 Four—arguably one of the world’s most important motorcycles.

“In the early ’70s,” World says, “like thousands of others, I developed a wicked attraction to Honda’s CB750. It just blew my mind—its power, look and presence. Over time I realized the first-generation bikes would eventually be valuable—you know, the very first version of what was obviously already a revolutionary motorcycle.” S

World recognized later that a certain strain of the first-generation CB750 would become even more collectible—the bikes with sand-cast engine cases (and cylinders and heads), of which there were fewer and fewer as time went by.

Honda was having dealers swap the original sand-cast cases for die-cast ones, World says. It’s hard to imagine now, but Honda wasn’t certain the CB750 would be successful and didn’t invest in pricey die-cast tooling until they saw the bike explode in popularity. Honda built exactly 7414 bikes with sand-cast cases, and with all the crankcase replacing going on and with many other early bikes being raced, hot-rodded, crashed or just ridden into the ground, World knew sand-cast ’69s were going to be really rare.

So in the mid-’80s, World began buying used sand-cast ’69s, a collection mentality setting in. I started advertising for bikes, World continues, and so many showed up on my doorstep—people called from all over the U.S.—I figured I was onto something. To most folks, these were just old CB750s, certainly special and moderately collectible, but nothing exceptional—at least not yet.

The word sand-cast was only known to a small group of enthusiasts, and the rabid collector resurgence we see today was years away.

Soon, however, World realized that if he was going to keep his hobby purring along smoothly, he’d need parts—and plenty of them. Some of the bikes I bought were pretty rough, World says, so I began sourcing parts from local dealers, especially Western Hills Honda in Cincinnati, where I lived at the time.

And with that, the final piece of the puzzle—the epiphany’s pièce de résistance—clicked into place like a K-zero upshift.

Over time, World says, I realized many other baby-boomer enthusiasts would probably jump at the chance to own a perfectly restored first-generation sand-cast CB750. So I decided then and there to follow through on the restoration plan percolating in my head. And not just any CB750 restoration, but the perfect CB750 restoration, building a bike as close as humanly possible to a ’69-spec CB750 you’d find in your local dealership back in the day.

Easier said than done, for sure.

World is a Honda guy through and through, someone who began his Big Red Ride aboard a CL450 Scrambler, which he says he practically lived on in San Francisco in the early ’70s. If I wasn’t riding it, he says, I was tinkering with it.

One weekend my buddy Andre Kim told me he was going out of town and that I was welcome to ride his brand-new CB750. Well, it was amazing—like sitting on a locomotive. It felt huge, substantial—and roaring away from stoplights was such a rush! The thing never seemed to run out of power.

The hook was set.

Years passed. World moved to Cincinnati to expand World Plastics, the company he founded that manufactures—and still makes—chemiluminescent lightsticks, commonly used for parties, deep-sea fishing and so on. One day he saw it—a beautiful Candy Blue Green CB750 that roared by as he was sitting at a light. I realized then and there I had to have one, World says.

I’d been away from bikes—and that bike in particular—way too long, and I needed that buzz.

The rest, as they say, is history.

From his modest and very retro home in the hills overlooking Silicon Valley (there’s a vintage Garrard turntable in the living room surrounded by vinyl, if that tells you anything), World talks about the early years of sand-cast bike and parts collecting. I looked everywhere, he says. I advertised in Walneck’s Cycle Trader and other vintage publications, called dealers, drove all over the eastern U.S. and pretty much scoured every source I could find for bikes and parts.

I even sent letters to all 1300 Honda dealers asking to buy any NOS [new old stock] first-generation CB750 parts they might have. I got responses from several, some of which I actually visited. Some even let me poke through their parts departments!

In addition to parts, World bought sand-cast CB750 carcasses—clean, wrecked or in between, whatever he could get his hands on. According to his master plan all would be usable as long as the frame and engine numbers were intact and the frame was straight. I knew that with all the parts I was acquiring new and used I’d eventually be able to rebuild them, even the wrecks, so I bought as many as I could.

It was daunting, chasing down all the parts and production details, he says, but a fun challenge.

In the early ’90s two events altered the sand-cast CB750 landscape dramatically. One was the death of Soichiro Honda, who’d maintained that Honda would offer replacement parts for its entire line—new and old—for as long as owners needed them. (This author, in Japan for the launch of the first-generation 600 and 1000 Hurricanes in late 1986, was told the same story by an RD chieftain. We’ll offer [parts] forever, he said emphatically.) But with Mr.

Honda’s passing, the energy of that commitment died with him, and within a few years many genuine Honda parts were no longer available, several first-generation CB750 parts among them.

The second change was inevitable—a realization by the larger motorcycling community that original-year CB750s weren’t just incredibly special but hugely valuable. No longer were World and his fellow K-zero comrades exclusive to the sand-cast secret. Vintage and mainstream magazines began writing about the bike, a wider spectrum of enthusiasts and collectors began to understand the significance at play, and with demand rising, prices for bikes and parts rose similarly.

Within a few years the easy pickings were over. Things got expensive and rare in a hurry, World says.

Still, World was exceptionally well positioned, his years of foresight and effort on the parts- and bike-buying front about to pay dividends as he ventured into actual restoration work. A bit of luck and a dollop of buying savvy helped him here. A friend told me about an unrestored sand-cast with only 428 original miles, he says.

I didn’t believe the mileage was actual, so when I drove to northern California to see it in the flesh I checked certain telltale parts, specifically the rubber velocity stacks in the airbox. On a bike with substantial mileage the stacks are hardened from fuel vapors. But the ones on this bike were soft and pliable.

The general condition of the bike under a layer of dirt also told World he’d stumbled onto a very special motorcycle, and he bought it on the spot. It’s functioned over the years not as a daily rider or museum piece, but as a grade-A referencetool, a mechanical blueprint that’s helped World absolutely nail the restoration process so the bikes he builds are exactly like the ones that rolled off Honda’s Hamamatsu line back in early 1969. It’s likely the lowest-mileage original sand-cast around, World says with a grin, unless of course someone has a sand-cast bike in a crate somewhere—which is entirely possible.

Honda CB 1300
Honda CB 1300

The level of detail World weaves into his restorations is the primary reason his bikes are considered the pinnacle of perfection. Doubting Thomases should consider that Honda’s own Collection Hall museum in Japan has a Vic World sand-cast as its featured display. American Honda owns an example, as does the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama.

The list goes on and on.

So what’s World’s bottom-line MO?

What I’m trying to re-create, he says, as much as I can, is the experience a customer had back in the summer of ’69, when they walked into a dealership, laid down their money, signed the paperwork and rode away on a brand-new 750 Four. The bikes I build are as close as you can get to the bikes offered for sale in Honda dealerships back then. To amplify the experience World includes two brand-new keys, an original owner’s manual, an original service manual and a 4-ounce can of original Honda touch-up paint as part of the package.

The restoration process World has developed and refined is staggering in scope, literally the result of years of research, development, and trial and error. It’s several multiples more involved than the simplistic rebuild, paint and polish scenario most folks—even knowledgeable ones—imagine. A lot of bikes are overrestored, World says, which means that though it might have the correct parts, color scheme, etc. it’s not an accurate representation of bikes actually available back in the day.

The chrome on these sort of bikes is often too good—too thick and done on too-smooth surfaces.

The chrome on first-generation CB750s wasn’t especially good, World says. It was done on a budget, so it’s thin and, in many cases, laid on surfaces that were rough-sanded or buffed with directional scoring, some of which is visible through the chrome. On an overrestored bike you often can’t see the scoring as you can on a real stocker.

Some folks like that. But if you’re looking for a truly accurate representation of what Honda produced back in the day, as my customers all do, it’s gotta be production-spec. And production-spec is exactly what we do, from chrome to paint, polished or anodized parts, mechanical bits, everything.

This, of course, is where World’s 428-mile sand-cast CB750 returns some of the investment it took to acquire. I’ve long since committed every one of that bike’s aesthetic and mechanical details to memory, World says, glancing at his candy red K-zero, which has just returned from a photo shoot with a particular Kawasaki H1 triple. But it certainly provided the original blueprint for what I do.

If you’re looking for a snapshot of the extraordinary amount of time, money, parts and expertise it takes to re-create an entire motorcycle at this level, consider one part—the bike’s master cylinder, for instance. Right here, World says, holding a refurbished cylinder, Bob Seger’s epic Roll Me Away filling the room, is hours of work. Most of the used ones I get are wasted—corroded, worn out—and are very hard to make new again. I’ve even thrown some away, they were so bad.

First, World tears the piece down to individual parts, then strips the anodizing (not paint, because brake fluid ruins it). Then he resleeves and hones the piston bore, repolishes the exterior just as Honda did it back in the day (not perfectly, in other words), sends it out for reanodizing (took months to find the right guy), and then reassembles the piece from brand-new NOS parts—circlips, piston, springs, washers, boots and so forth.

On top of all this come completely rebuilt engines, stripped and repainted frames, freshly built wheels, perfectly painted body parts (in durable paint that exactly matches the stuff Honda used), NOS instruments, actual CB750-spec Dunlop tires World imports and keeps in a dark, temperature-controlled place—the list goes on and on, every part refinished exactly as it was back in the day. The finished product is simply amazing to look at.

It’s like you’re back in a quaint little Honda shop in 1969, the Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman playing over the transistor radio in the corner, goosebumps rising on your arms as you consider the idea of actually riding this thing home. Suddenly the price of a Honda Odyssey minivan seems like a bargain for a bike this well-finished, this historical, this freakin’ cool.

World’s not letting on how many sand-cast bikes he’ll be able to build from his parts cache. Let’s just say a handful, he tells us as he repacks his mammoth Snap-on tool chest from the day’s work, a four-pack of Boddingtons ale waiting in the fridge.

Having the Honda Collection Hall and American Honda purchase my bikes is all very flattering, World says, but what really turns my crank is the motorcycle Soichiro Honda created. Just an amazing piece of mechanical artwork.

If you’re interested in what Vic World is up to, click on Just don’t leave your checkbook nearby—you may have your own epiphany and be tempted to grab it and scribble furiously.

Honda CB 1300
Honda CB 1300
Honda CB 1300

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