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Avengers and DOHC Grenades Remembered

Troyce Walls  | Published on 9/20/2020
Avengers and DOHC Grenades Remembered
by Troyce Walls 
 
One of the best possible summer jobs a kid like myself could possibly have had would certainly have been one at a motorcycle shop, and I did.  Not everyone, especially the parent types of the household, agreed with that but I was just too enthusiastic in my ambition.  It happened this way.  While shopping for parts for my younger brother's CL90 one day at the local Honda store, I inquired about the possibility of summer employment.  

I was sent to the owner/manager of the shop who said that he didn't need anyone at that time, but then he asked me where I was going to college.  It's important to realize the extent of university alumni patriotism in the Southeastern US to understand why he then hired me on the spot--he was an alumnus of my school.  
I was sent to a smaller Honda store he owned in a town nearby where I was to be a motorcycle mechanic.  Although the manager of that store didn't really need any extra help, he was forced by the owner to give me a position.  This was cool, thought I.  To get to ride and work on lots of neat old Super Hawks and Scramblers, CB450s, and wonder of wonders - the new CB750s, not to mention all the new models in the pipeline.  It turned out--due I believe to the fact of the forced hire-- that I was assigned primarily to CB100s, loathsome little bikes that I learned to view with contempt.  They all had bad camshaft bearings.  Eventually I could replace the head of a CB100 in my sleep if required, by the end of that first summer.  After gaining experience and respect through the next three summers I was able to graduate to the position of deciding who would work on what and I never had to touch another 100.  

A motorcycle dealership is a wonderful place from which to dispose of or add to one's own rolling stock, so I sold my old Kawasaki 350 Avenger when I found an almost new CB350 for a reasonable price.  This was a first for me - I was riding something with more than 30 per cent usable life left!  The 350 and I travelled over 30,000 miles and shared quite a few masochistic trips to exotic places like Florida.  Working at the shop gave me many opportunities to purchase broken bikes that I knew how to repair at home, and afforded a firsthand knowledge of so many types, sizes, and makes that I otherwise would never have had the sometimes dubious privilege of riding.  There were things that people had brought out of barns and basements or had bought from "fringe" dealers such as Sears or Wards.  All in all, there were quite a few neat ones that came through, and, like the rest of us, I would like the opportunity to maybe purchase certain examples of them now.  I would also like to have back some of the ones that I owned.  Ones like the Z1 that carried me round trip to California from north Alabama.  The Norton 750 Commando that I traded for the Z1, and the "Black Bomber" CB450 that I let get away for a pittance.  And the missed chances: the Norton 500 single (that I eventually found to be an International, not the Manx I always believed it was) offered to me--running--for $350!  Anybody’s who’s bothering to read this has had similar experiences.  

I finally, through a couple of years of buy low/sell high maneuvering, climbed into the middleweight class--as it's now known--although to me and my peers at the time it was the big stuff.  The Japanese invasion was at full tilt and Harleys were so far up there they didn't really count.  Nobody we knew had one and the only ones we ever saw were down on the main highway, far away.  One particular acquisition involved an early 5-speed CB450 that became mine for the paltry sum of $45.  Assembly was required, as this was the classic box case.  Following a successful reassembly, I rode the bike for quite a few miles on a very tired and loose motor.  On the way back to the shop from lunch one afternoon the engine self destructed in a most complete manner, destroying a remarkably large portion of itself.  The explosion seemed to involve two or so very brutal sounding revolutions of the engine just before I began to slide as if I had driven the rear wheel onto ice.  After calming down enough to assess the situation (somehow I didn't fall down) I spied the electric starter lying back down the road apiece, just a little my side of where the oil slick started.  

Later disassembly revealed that a con rod had failed and having gained freedom from the piston proceeded to punch holes in lots of things.  One lick at a 45 degree or so angle up through the cylinder wall, the next out the front of the case (which dispensed with the starter motor).  Then out through the bottom of the case, the hole that released all that nice, hot, slick oil onto the pavement in front of the rear tire, which only had another split second of rotation because the rod then poked broken parts into the transmission just to be sure of complete destruction.  The only thing salvageable from the engine were the head and the camshafts, and maybe a few old worn gears.  Valves, pistons, cylinders, bearings, cases upper and lower, and most transmission gears were either bent, chipped, or had holes in them.  I found myself with a motorcycle worth considerably less than it had just been.  

Another nice advantage of working at the shop was the availability of parts at wholesale, and the convenience with which they could be obtained.  Somehow all the parts we needed came in quicker than those ordered for the customer's bikes.  If American Honda knew how we often operated there they would have had something to say about it.  I hope I would never run a shop that way now; then it really didn’t matter to me, because I was neither a customer or an investor.  This is something I will remember if I ever need to.  

Soon I was able to get all the parts to rebuild the old 450 to a state better than new, including matched color-coded bearings and cases, and a balanced crankshaft.  I precisely fitted the new cylinders to the pistons with the help of the machine shop next door in the car dealership.  The frame was sand blasted, filled, primed, sanded, and painted a deep Honda metallic candy red.  I got some nice flat Euro type touring bars to top the forks with disc brake adapted from a CB750.  Using an airbrush, I incorporated a scene from the album jacket of Close to the Edge by the band Yes on the fuel tank over a pearl white base.  A practically new seat and rear suspension from a wrecked 450 and a set of TT headers with megaphones filled it all out.  The finished bike looked awfully nice and would loft the front wheel in a second gear roll on (if I leaned back a little).  I was quite proud of the accomplishment in a life of so few.  Rarely did I hang on to any particular cycle in those days so the 450 was sold shortly after it was all sorted out to a fellow who soon traded it for a boat or something.  The last time I saw it was parked in front of a trailer house with a torn seat, ape hangers (hydraulic brake line broken), and the painstakingly-painted tank, along with the wheels and tires, done over in spray-can olive drab camouflage.  
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