Honda branched into small and medium twin cylinder engines during the 1960s. By the early 70’s the CB350 was so popular that one year Honda sold more of this model than all models of all other manufacturers combined! The English may not have noticed but the Japanese were definitely coming.
The first ‘big twin’ from Honda was the 1966 CB450 which started as the very classy 4 speed ‘Black Bomber’ and gradually evolved into a 5 speed with more contemporary styling and a disc front brake. Torsion bar valve springs and double overhead camshafts worked together with constant velocity carburetors and a 180 degree crankshaft configuration to insure very high rpm potential: 10,000+ RPM!. Soon Honda turned its attention towards multi cylinder engine design but there was one last version of Honda’s first ‘Big Twin’ in 1976, 10 years into a very long production run.
The CB500T used a stroked crankshaft to achieve a modest displacement increase. The proven engine design remained otherwise nearly the same with the addition of an exhaust collector box between the header pipes to further increase low rpm torque, allowing for taller gearing and more relaxed engine speeds. The biggest change was in the styling which seems to be more Continental than Oriental. A reshaped fuel tank was painted brown and the seat was also brown and of a most pleasing shape; comfortable as well. In its final year, 1976, the CB500T was also available in Candy Antares Red. Honda’s one millionth motorcycle was a CB500T, ridden off the assembly line by Soichiro Honda himself.
A few years ago I re-established contact with Joe, an old friend from college days who enjoys retirement while buying and selling bikes, usually wrenching and riding them in the process. Recently I mentioned to Joe that someday I’d like to find a nice CB500T to add to the RetroTours fleet. A second Honda seemed like a fine idea: a bike that can spend more time on the road than on the lift. Two weeks later Joe emailed to tell me that SURPRISE! he had bought one for me! A true gentleman, Joe offered to wait as long as I wanted and in fact held me under no obligation to buy the bike at all.
I felt obliged to also behave in a gentlemanly fashion so I drafted my wife Lynn for a road trip to check out this find. We loaded up the RetroTours BMW R100S/EML sidecar rig and headed north for Albany, NY about 350 miles from here. We stopped at an old fashioned motel in the Catskills (quality together time) and got to Albany in the morning. The CB500T was even cleaner than expected; a real beauty. Joe and I settled up and the following morning Lynn drove the sidecar while I rode the CB500T back to PA. An unknown quantity yes, but still a Honda: the CB made it easily, never missing a beat. In the following weeks, I exchanged the upside down clubman bars for proper sport bars, replaced a sticky clutch cable, and did my usual end to end. The unusual part was how little I actually had to do. I have already fitted a quartz headlight conversion and plan to upgrade further with IKON shocks, tapered roller steering head bearings and an electronic ignition. She works pretty darn well just as is though and has already impressed several clients on her maiden RetroTour.