“The True Spirit of a Racer”: From barn find to Handbuilt Show…
In 1965, Honda introduced their first “big” motorcycle, the original CB450 “Black Bomber” — a 43-hp straight-twin that could do 101 mph. The bike had oil-tight cases, electric start, torsion bar valve springing, and required minimal maintenance to keep on the road. Honda was duly proud of their new big twin:
“A heavyweight featuring the technical advancements and outstanding performance you expect from Honda.”
The CB450 would remain in production until 1974, evolving over time, gaining improvements like a five-speed gearbox, front disc brake, and various styling changes.
Enter Jeff Massamillo, a Texas-based marketing exec who spent his younger days riding dirt and sport bikes, but put motorcycles aside once he had a family. Now, with both kids in college, he wanted a project to keep him busy on the weekends, as he spends much of his time on the road. The ’71 Honda CB450 you see here began as a true barn find in southeast Texas:
“A farmer took the bike in trade in ‘73, his son and future daughter-in-law had their first date on it, rode it through high school and were married. Shortly afterwards it was put away for 42+ years when I purchased from them.”
The couple were quite emotional when Jeff was pulling away with the dusty old CB, and Jeff promised them he would get the old girl back on the road. As with many barn finds, the bike was in worse shape than it looked, and Jeff soon realized he was in for a full rebuild. The engine was vapor-blasted, and Curtis of Cedar Park’s Custom Cycle & Machine was an invaluable guide, recommending a conversion from the torsion bars to conventional valve springs.
As with many projects, the bike seemed to fight Jeff the entire way, biting back with busted knuckles and a variety of gremlins, earning the name “Scarlet Witch” after a particularly maddening stator rebuild, but the end result was well worth the effort. Along the way, Jeff learned everything from motor building to welding to fiberglass — he even sewed the seat himself!
With some prodding from his wife and biggest supporter, he submitted the Scarlet Witch to the prestigious Handbuilt Motorcycle Show — one of our favorite events each year, hosted by Revival Cycles in Austin, TX.
“As a result, the bike was selected and my third year attending the show was as a builder. I was so proud to have been selected as there were so many talented builders with beautiful machines.”
The bike was completed literally five minutes before he loaded it into the truck for the show. Once the bike was set up on display, Jeff sent a few photographs to the previous owners. Soon thereafter, the wife called:
“I would have called you sooner, but I drove across the farm to show my husband and had to clear the tears first. We never thought it would be on the road again, thank you, it is so beautiful!”
What’s more, the Handbuilt Show traditionally takes place during MotoGP weekend. Well, Jeff was at the show when a Ducati executive, wearing a jacket over his shoulders and flanked by an entourage of race team members, took notice of the Scarlet Witch:
“He walked around the bike a few times, staring at details, which makes the obsessive behavior of mine on the details worthwhile.”
Finally, the Ducati man made his pronouncement, saying the build captured “the true spirit of a racer.” I don’t think any of us could hope for a higher compliment, especially from such a source!
Below, we get the full story on Jeff Massamillo’s “Scarlet Witch” straight from the man himself.
Honda CB450 Cafe Racer: In the Builder’s Words
This CB450 was dragged out of a barn in southeast Texas. A farmer took the bike in trade in ‘73, his son and future daughter-in-law had their first date on it, rode it through high school and were married. Shortly afterwards it was put away for 42+ years when I purchased from them. They were very emotional when I was pulling away, even asking for a moment alone with it before I left. Clearly there were some good times on that bike, and I made them a promise that I would get it back on the road.
It was complete but like many barn finds looked better than it was. Once I started the tear down, it was clear that it would require a complete rebuild. It was always my intent to make a cafe, and to use this as a fun project to keep me busy. I am a marketing executive that is on the road quite a bit, and with both kids in college, I was just looking for something to relax and de-stress with on the weekends to keep me away from my computer. I rode dirt bikes when I was a kid, a sport bike in my 20’s, then put riding aside while we raised our family. I decided it was time to get back into a project and riding. My workshop is my personal garage which definitely looks much cooler now than it did before the project and now houses the CB450, a Triumph Street Triple as more of a daily rider, and my newest project, which is a 1975 Yamaha DT250 restoration.
I spent the next few months reading and researching to come up with a plan and design. The motor vapor blasted (one of the first in Austin), then we started on the internals, the wheels, and sweating all the little details. For the motor, we learned that a bent valve was the reason it was parked in that barn in ‘75. Once in there we decided to do the torsion bar to valve spring conversion, all new valves, seats, etc. I say “we”, because I had some great guidance from Curtis at Custom Cycle & Machine. He has a full machine shop, and the knowledge of those ‘70s bikes stuffed in his head is amazing. In addition to being a great guy, he never once didn’t answer one of my endless questions about the build as well as 70’s CBs and their history.
New Wiseco pistons .030, new Mikuni VM32 carbs, velocity stacks, electronic ignition, Shorai lithium battery, Rick’s reg/rectifier, M-unit Blue from Motogadget, all new brakes, and a drilled front rotor. A clean cockpit was something I focused on, which included a custom triple tree to clean up the cockpit view, Motone Switches, and a speedometer/tach combo nestled into the headlight.
On the cosmetics side, I wanted it to maintain a simple, classic look. I found a 1975 CB500T as a donor for a bunch of hard-to-find parts and decided to use that gas tank as it is a little leaner looking with the knee indents. I fabricated an under-seat tray for the electronics and welded on a seat hoop. I then decided to cut out and embed an insert for an LED strip tail light/blinker combo. The paintwork is five coats of candy apple Red over silver and black, finished up with three coats of clear and is fantastic in the sun.
All of the polished parts were done as therapy; many, many hours of sanding, buffing, and polishing, very zen when you aren’t in a rush. I hand-formed the seat hump (4th time’s the charm) and sewed up a seat in black vinyl. Wheels included powder-coating the rims and hubs with new stainless spokes. I did use a rim from a CB750 to go a bit wider on the rear tire and wrapped them in Avons.
Anyone who has done a build knows that it rarely goes perfectly smooth, and this was no different. It literally fought me the entire way with many broken parts, countless skinned knuckles, adjustments and readjustments, and a handful of electronic challenges that led to a rebuild of the stator, earning her the nickname of the “Scarlet Witch.” Along the way, I learned a ton about motor building, how to weld, how to fiberglass, how to sew a seat, and electronics.
I took inspiration and advice from many builders online, and from Revival Cycle’s Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin, TX. As I got closer to the show submission, my wife and biggest supporter urged me to submit the bike for the show selection. As a result, the bike was selected and my third year attending the show was as a builder. I was so proud to have been selected as there were so many talented builders with beautiful machines. The first time I saw the bike fully assembled and complete was five minutes before she was loaded on the truck to go to the show.
Once unloaded at the show, I snapped a few pictures and sent them to the previous owners. I received a call 30 minutes later from the woman I purchased from who said, “I would have called you sooner, but I drove across the farm to show my husband and had to clear the tears first. We never thought it would be on the road again, thank you, it is so beautiful!!” While at the show a senior member of the Ducati race team in town for MotoGP and his entourage stopped and complimented the bike on capturing “the true spirit of a racer.” I was dumbfounded. These, and my family’s faces seeing it fully assembled at the show were definite highlights for me.
I built it to ride and have put over 2,500 miles on it in the first year. She is a joy to ride and these vintage bikes have a really unique mechanical bond between the machine and road. It’s funny, ride a modern bike and nobody seems to care much. When I go out on the 450, I have yet to take a ride where someone didn’t comment or give a wave or thumbs up along the way. Gas stations are usually where I meet new people as there are always those that stop by to talk and relive some of their memories from an old bike. Truly fun getting to meet and talk to people that love these old bikes.