Find of the Month: 1981 Honda CBX Super Sport

Welcome back to the Find of the Month, where we share some of the cool bikes we find for sale on autoTRADER.ca. This month, we’re checking out a 1981 Honda CBX Super Sport for sale in Hanover, Ontario.

Have you heard the rumours? According to the latest hot gossip, Honda is working on a new six-cylinder motorcycle engine, which (if true) would probably accomplish three goals. It would demonstrate to the world that Big Red is still interested in building exciting, interesting motorcycles, and it would likely be a clever way to keep up with ever-changing emissions standards (more cylinders often = smaller cylinders = less pollution). But most importantly, it would remind buyers of what Honda once was: the meanest motorcycle manufacturer in Japan.

These days, Honda’s image is more mild than wild. That’s not to say it doesn’t build exciting motorcycles, but it’s not known for making the cutting-edge machinery that it cranked out during the arms race of the 1970s and 1980s, when all the Big Four were anxious to outdo each other. The current CBR1000RR is a good example: It’s mostly a warmed-up re-tread of the previous litrebike, not really on par with what the competition is putting out.

But when the original Honda CBX came out, that wasn’t the case. Honda was the brand to beat, and this six-cylinder road burner was the proof. It wasn’t the first six-cylinder machine on the market — that was the Benelli 750 Sei, which was itself a modified Honda design, and the Benelli never saw the success of the CBX.

Ahh, what a tasty pile of engine. Six cylinders gives you lots to brag about, but also lots of headers to polish, lots of carbs to balance …

The first version of the CBX, sporting an air-cooled 1047 cc DOHC 24-valve six cylinder motor, came out in 1978, and it was practically science fiction at the time. Four-cylinder engines were pretty common, as the CB750 had been on the market for 10 years, but most motorcyclists thought six-cylinder engines were strictly for GP machines (Honda had a six-cylinder GP bike). With the complication of a six-cylinder engine, and the expense, few thought the design would trickle down to the showroom floor.

But it did, and Honda surprised everyone by making it work. The original CBX was a big, heavy bike, but so was pretty much everything else at that time. Despite the two extra cylinders, the engine was only two inches wider than a CB750, partly because Honda cleverly stacked the generator and ignition assemblies behind the cylinders to keep things narrow.

The redesigned ’81 model was more of a sport tourer than the original, and while it might have suited the role well, Honda’s touring lineup was starting to get a bit crowded.

The CBX was best-known for its huge engine, but it had a few other trick parts; the 28 mm carburetors had accelerator pumps to deliver extra snap, the engine was a stressed member of the chassis, and the bike came with Comstar wheels, which were considered modern at that time. At the time, it was generally reckoned to be the most powerful, fastest production bike in the world.

Alas, the original still came with some old-fashioned bits, like a five-speed gearbox and dual rear shocks. After a couple of years of production, Honda decided to up its game (perhaps because sales were not as hoped) and the 1981 model got a monoshock rear suspension, re-designed bodywork, a refined chassis, panniers, air-adjustable front fork . The redesigned CBX was rated for a few less ponies, although the exact number varies wildly, depending who you ask; the engine saw some tweaks to the cams and carburetors for the 1980 model. The bike sold here, an ’81, would have originally had the retuned engine along with the other revisions. However, the ad says the bike now has an 1147 cc engine, so it most likely has the Forseti big bore kit, and probably has considerable more snap then the stocker.

Officially, the original model was rated for about 103 hp at the crank, and the redesigned bike supposedly made 15 per cent less. There were various reasons for the re-designed engine, but one factor was government emissions regulation. The original bike was extremely hard on fuel (in the 20 mpg range, some users report!), and you’ll see other machines of this era got the same treatment for the same reasons (like the Gold Wing). While Euro3 and Euro4 emissions standards might be shaping the future of the industry now, the reality is that this has been going on for years.

No TFT dash for this classic beauty!

With that kind of fuel consumption, and the general expense of a six-cylinder flagship bike, it’s obvious the CBX was aimed at buyers with money. Was that the reason for flagging sales, or was it market dilution? The model was canceled in 1982, and at that point, Honda had the CX500 Turbo, CB900F, GL1100 Gold Wing and GL500 Silver Wing, all competing with the CBX for the touring market (at this point, the re-designed CBX was being sold as sort of a sport tourer). Most likely, Big Red saw which way the wind was blowing, and decided to thin out the lineup, getting rid of an air-cooled dinosaur in a time when lighter, liquid-cooled machines like the VFR lineup were just around the corner.

But that’s not to cast shade on the CBX; even if it was a dinosaur, it was the T-Rex of its time, and this machine is perhaps the most desirable version, depending if you want the classic dual-shock lines of the ’70s model or the more functional bodywork and monoshock of the ’80s model. Personally, I’d go with this one; if you actually do want to hustle this machine, the redesigned suspension and chassis, while still crude by modern standards, should be more enjoyable than the original ’78 design.

At $10,000, this CBX is not a budget buy, but it seems like a well-sorted ride, and that’s important when you’re buying machine sof this vintage.

The price tag is certainly steep, with the seller asking $10,000. Remember, though, that the prices of classic bikes have generally been climbing in recent years, and this particular example seems to have been very carefully restored. At least, it looks pretty good in the photos. The ad simply reads “Just finished complete restoration. Everything gone over, rebuilt or replaced. Rebuilt engine ,Cbx exhaust, new brakes,tires.” In other words, it sounds like everything that should be taken care of, has been taken care of, and considering the big-bored engine, it might be a bit more fun than the original.

Of course, you probably buy a cheaper, more battered example if you just wanted something to thrash down the road, but these aren’t exactly easy to find in any condition. And if Honda really does release a new six-cylinder machine in coming months, you can bet this will be a much more affordable machine than the new release.

2 thoughts on “Find of the Month: 1981 Honda CBX Super Sport”

  1. Widely accepted opinion [and matching asking prices] are that the most sought after are the 1978-79 model in Red, followed by the 1982 model in pearl white/blue. The ’81 model today is for sure the most reasonably priced, most probably because of it’s drab grey color, and de-tuned engine shared by all but the ’78-79 model.

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