When the Honda CB750 came onto the scene in 1969, beating Kawasaki’s own four-cylinder bike to market by the narrowest of margins, it was a revelation: four-cylinder motorcycles were previously the domain of luxury or high-end sporting manufacturers like Ariel or MV Agusta. But the CB750, while certainly not cheap, was an affordable alternative to the established large displacement bikes from the European manufacturers, offering refinement and reliability previously unheard of at that price-point. The specifications seem so unexciting now, but that’s because every other manufacturer needed to produce similar machines, or be left in the dust.
And Honda didn’t stop with their 750: that initial CB gave birth to a whole range of four-cylinder, five-speed bikes, including a 350, a 400, a 500, and a 550. The fours were often heavy, compared to their twin-cylinder or two-stroke competition. But they offered an unmatched level of sophistication compared to those relatively crude machines.
For a long time, four-cylinder bikes from Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki were being regularly chopped into bits as part of the burgeoning cafe racer scene, owing to their low prices, power, and solid construction. This one will not be subjected to that sort of treatment. It’s an early model CB750, with the sand-cast engine cases that are so desirable among fans of this bike.
From the original eBay listing: 1969 Honda CB750
In their 100th anniversary issue, Motorcyclist magazine named the 1969 Honda CB750 as the “Bike of the Century,” and this one may be the bike of this century! I bought it 30 years ago from the original owner, a schoolteacher in Chicago, who had kept it as immaculately as I have ever since. I’ll try to keep this text short as you true lovers of vintage Hondas know the story very well by now, but the term “sandcast” is abused so much on eBay it bears re-telling.
Soichiro Honda was a wise businessman and when he developed this breakthrough machine in the 1960s era that was dominated by British twins & triples, and he wasn’t sure it would sell with its daring 4 cylinders, 4 exhaust pipes, 4 carbs and front disk brake. To play it safe, Honda cast the engine blocks in rough sand molds rather than investing in much smoother (and more costly) metal molds. When the bike started selling well, they invested in the metal casts and all models after VIN # 7,414 have a smooth engine block finish, making these early bikes with a rough “sandcast” finish very rare.
How rare is this one? Chassis VIN # = 374 and engine = #379, only five digits apart! Why are they apart? Hondas were shipped from Japan in separate crates of engines & chassis, and then assembled in California in random fashion. Many sandcasts have frame & engine numbers that are hundreds of digits apart, so this one’s close numbers are rare indeed. If you check the Sandcast web site (www.cb750sandcastonly.com) and scan the registry, you’ll see this one listed as #18 and with its very close #s for the chassis & engine.
What’s also special about this bike is it is a rider, not a “trailer queen.” It had 18,000 miles on it when I bought it, and I’ve put another 6,000 miles on it since, generally short trips every month in the summer to keep it mechanically sound. It runs like a “dream” (forgive the Honda pun!) and has been maintained by some of the best vintage Honda mechanics whose identity I’ll only reveal to the buyer to not drive them nuts with too many phone calls early on.
There are plenty of additional details over at the listing, so take a gander if you’re a fan of this bike. There are four days left on the auction, with bidding up to $27,000 and the reserve not yet met. That might seem to be a princely sum, but the really rare, early CB’s do command all that and more.
For a long time, the very reliability and ubiquity of the UJM was their downfall: people treated them like the appliances they were designed to be. A vintage Triumph is going to require regular fiddling and adjustment, and will likely leak at least a bit of oil. They’re full of character, fully capable of cutting a rug and they look great doing it. But vintage European bikes ownership is more like a relationship: you’re invested, an enthusiast. Japanese bikes of the period were notable because they generally flat worked. Just add gas and tires.
But that also means that, when Honda or Kawasaki introduced their latest and greatest model, old bikes were just that: old bikes. And often left to decay, or sold on to less sympathetic owners more concerned with cheap transportation than maintaining an heirloom motorcycle. But considering what early Z1’s and Honda CB750’s are going for these days, the joke’s on them.