Sonic’s Workshop: 1979 Honda CM400T & A 1982 Suzuki GS400E

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1979 Honda CM400T

‘Twas the night before dead line and all through the house not a creature was stirring except for my mouse. Threatened with violence should my story lack woe, it’s now four in the morning with three pages to go (gotta keep the staffers in line – Ed).

 

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Now that I’ve set the mood, I’ve had a number of conflicting comments recently about my success rate in the operating room. Some folks felt reassured that a ‘fix it’ special can actually be fixed, while others missed the carnage and grief I usually go through in my attempts to raise the dead. With this in mind I will attempt to please all by building up two popular starter bikes, a ’79 Honda CM400T and an ’82 Suzuki GS400E.

Being that spring is supposedly here I figured that doing up a couple 400’s may spark those thinking about getting into motorcycling to get up and do it. Then again it just might terrorize them into buying a mini van.

There’s a common belief out there that a pre 80’s bike isn’t worth buying simply because it’s too old. A bike should not simply be dismissed because of its date of manufacture – remember they’re not cars which spend six months of the year collecting salt in freezing temperatures. A motorcycle that has had proper maintenance and has been stored correctly each year should be fine. Equally, a later model that has been neglected may well be in worse shape even though it’s newer.

The Honda 400 resided most of its life in Niagara Falls, belonging to the same owner for seventeen years before being sold to a young lad who’s mom said, “No way”. Enter Sonic, TA DA! $280.00 later I had become the third owner, (well, second if you don’t count the lad who never drove it). Sooo, $280 eh! What’s wrong with it? Surprisingly not much. The bike was still sporting the original paint (still in nice shape), a good seat and fair chrome. The rear shocks were bagged, the battery was well on the way to the recycle bin, the ignition switch would have to be replaced and both the inlet rubbers to the carbs, along with the inlet manifolds, would need to be replaced But by far the best part was the 3,891.2 km’s on the dials. Amazing!

Before… or maybe after!

All the parts were readily available at the local salvage shops, with the exception of the inlet rubbers. So off I set to the dealer, where to my horror I was told that the aren’t available as separate items from the $148.00 air box. Doh! The kid must have known, he planned this. Actually it wasn’t so bad because I had already removed the carbs in order to replace the intakes. I figured it would now be easier to remove the air box assembly altogether, re-jet the carburetors and then install K pod style air filters. This little trick worked out quite nicely, it was far cheaper to do than buying the stock air box from Honda, and the after market filters were completely hidden by the side panels, maintaining the stock appearance of the bike. The old rear shocks were replaced with a newer used pair, a new battery was installed, the valve clearances were checked, the oil was changed along with the filter and spark plugs. The little 400 was fed some fresh fuel of the $0.68/ liter variety and started up. Wow – purring like a kitten! Another victory for all those needing a confidence injection.

1982 Suzuki GS400

Now for the rest of you sick lot, welcome to my nightmare. Reader discretion advised, rest of story contains descriptive coarse language and violence.

The GS400 is similar in many ways to the Honda except for its mildly sporty appearance. Both bikes enjoyed a long production run with only slight changes taking place. This makes it easier to find used parts. This particular GS was of the $150 variety, running but needing almost everything, to not only certify, but to make it look better than a sore pimple on the end of your nose.

GS400 autopsy

Although it was running it was going to need a battery transplant along with a heap of cash, er .. I mean a good tune up. The oil had seen better days, (probably when dirt was new), the exhausts were leaking at the manifolds, three of the four signals were M.I.A. along with the head light assembly and left hand switch gear (horn & signal switches). The seat was ripped to rat shit, the side panels were gone and so was the chain guard and pick up cover. The master cylinder and caliper were seized, the pads were down to the steel backing plates and the fork seals had failed nicely. The fancy left foot rest, that also doubles as a gear shifter mounting bracket, was busted. The gauges had the popular road rash appearance. The chain was a rusted solid mass, in sharp contrast to the air filter which was a crumb like substance laying at the bottom of the air box, which incidentally had good rubber inlets!

Now a machine like this in most cases wouldn’t be worth doing up even if you had a parts bike – there’s simply too much missing to make it worth while. By the time you factor in parts and your time you could’ve most likely bought one, ready to ride, for less than what you’ve just invested. Unless of course you’re like me, S-T-U-P-I-D!

Here we go then, a suicide mission, “I’m in”. All the filters, plugs and oils were changed and the carbs stripped and cleaned. This was followed by a complete tune up, including valve clearances and carb balancing once it was running again. With the preliminary surgery to the heart done, the 400’s power plant hummed along

GS400 Engine

nicely, if not somewhat noisily with those leaky exhaust gaskets. Better change those, SNAP- CRACKLE- BROKE – all four exhaust retainer bolts. Blast you! (eh? I think you mean damn you to hell you useless pieces of shite – Ed). Now of course the engineers at Suzuki must have spent quite some time designing the frame to ensure any access with a drill to this area would be completely blocked by the frame tubes. Can’t you just pull the motor? Sure. Another three hours, four heli coils, two skinned knuckles and one pinched finger later the motor was back in the well thought out frame. Bastard (that’s more like it – Ed).

Now to the suspension. Simply toss the back ones ($$$$!), and rebuild the front ones. Same story for the front brakes – toss the old system (more $$$) and replace them with a working used one along with a couple of new pads. The front and rear tires were both sporting very trendy sidewall cracking, the back one proudly displaying one crack extending to a magnificent length of over three inches! The front was replaced with a good used tire ($$) while the back had to be a new one ($$$) Doh! New chain was next ($$) along with a used guard.

Okay, electric’s next. Hmhh, simple enough, there aren’t any! Back to the salvage shops (someone should open a ‘club salvage’ so you can collect points towards your next purchase). As it turns out, as with most other stores, the more you buy the better the price, so… One seat, three signals, gauge set, head light assembly, left side switch gear, left side foot rest, two side panels, brake and clutch levers and a couple of mirrors. Be gentle.

Back at home with my booty, the installation of these new trinkets was without incident with the one exception of having to reorder the wires in the socket from the gauges to match the relevant ones from the wiring harness of the bike. A dental pick works great for this task, ask your sadist, I mean dentist next time you’re in for a torture session.

Well there it is – runs great, cost a shit load, and looks butt ugly dad. Now if you like to shell out big time for something that looks like crap when it’s done I would highly recommend a project like this one, it’s ace! If however you’ve accidentally fallen into a project like this and are now the proud owner of the zit on wheels and don’t much like the idea of having a faithful, but ugly bike, you need to speak to Dave at Art Line – The Motorcycle Body Shop. For between $400- $500, Dave will ‘Oxicute_’ your bike, giving the tank and panels a fresh coat of dazzling colour. Fancier work can be done for a fancier price, fancy that. But seriously the work is top notch.

Nice bike Mistah! One “as new” GS400E.

The motor was painted and the aluminum bits were polished to within an inch of its ugly little life. The bright red body work was carefully put back on – what a difference! Amazing what $49,000 will do to a $150 GS400. All that was missing was the tank and side panel stickers. And it looked as though it was going to stay that way as those stickers are no longer available from Suzuki. Enter Steve from Danforth Signs. Steve’s got this way cool computer that can, with a little help from him, recreate vinyl stickers very close to the originals. It’s even easier if you have an original to work from.

So there it is. Let’s see how broke I am.

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Honda CM400T Suzuki GS400E
Total: $544.90 Total: $1196.18, Doh!!
Hours 8 Hours 27, Dohhhh!

Thanks for reading. Next issue is going to be a bit different. I think something new would be a nice change of pace. Clean, nothing missing … ya, new is good.

Thanks to; Danforth Signs (416) 674-5775. Art Line Painting (905) 508-7300. Ontario Cycle Salvage, and T.O. Cycle Salvage.

 

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