A 400 Four “TT” from the North Georgia hills!
In 1975, Honda unveiled the CB400F, a middleweight four-cylinder four-stroke that stood out compared to the two-stroke twins and triples of its generation — machines such as the Suzuki GT380, Yamaha RD350, and Kawasaki 400 triple. If those two-strokes were blunt instruments of speed, the CB was more akin to a finely crafted samurai sword — more sophisticated in style, mechanics, and handling.
“The 400 simply looked perfect, with just the right, understated amount of chrome, monochrome paint in blue or red, no stripes, foofraws or furbelows. That tapering, breadloaf-shape tank, the flat bar and slightly rearset pegs gave the requisite sporty riding position — and there sat that tiny four-cylinder engine, a totem for acolytes of Honda’s Grand Prix excesses in the ’60s.” —Motorcyclist, 2009
The 408cc CB was not a big sales success, owing largely to the fact that most red-blooded American buyers were more focused on cheap straight-line speed than sophistication, though journalists and magazine testers did their damnedest to communicate the bike’s appeal:
“They noted that when you wrung it out close to its 10,500rpm redline, the 408cc four wailed like a banshee. They pointed out that the CB400F was faster on the drag strip than a Suzuki GT380. And since the Honda was fitted with low bars, motojournalists proclaimed it was a café racer.” —Motorcycle Classics
Over time, however, the exquisite Honda 400 Four would develop a cult-like following, becoming a favorite of riders and collectors across the world — particularly in America and at home in Japan. One of the bike’s more fervent acolytes is our friend Toby Jones of North Georgia’s Chattahoochee Skunkworks, who has some of the best advice we’ve heard in some time:
“My advice to younger folks is, if you’re not rich or famous by the time you get to my advanced age, retire and spend your spare time fooling around with old motorcycles. Several years ago a good friend that used to collect cars switched over to motorcycles and told me the reason for his switch was ‘you can fit at least five times as many old bikes in a garage as you can old cars.’ He’s a very wise old friend.”
We can say the same of Toby himself, whose builds have long graced our pages — including several CB400 Fours.
“Although we’ve built a lot of different bikes, the CB400F Honda is by far our favorite platform to work from. Their timepiece-like engine, six speed tranny, light weight, and Formula One howl just trip my trigger.”
Toby got the CB400F as a basket case and decided early that he wasn’t going to do a stock restoration, but more of a British-inspired theme that would retain most of the original components:
“The off white with orange stripe on the Triumph TT Special has always been a favorite. I even took the TT theme further by adding fork gaiters, Honda CB350 headlight mounts and an old fashioned ‘cocktail shaker’ muffler.”
The result is one lovely 400 Four that retains its original charisma…with a nice dose of British style.
“When you can build such a cool custom and not completely redesign things, it says a lot about what went into it 50 years ago.”
Below, Toby gives us the full story on the build.
Honda CB400F: In the Builder’s Words…
My name is Toby Jones and my little shop, the Chattahoochee Skunkworks, is located up in the foothills of North Georgia. I’m retired and spend my spare time fooling around with old motorcycles. My advice to younger folks is, if you’re not rich or famous by the time you get to my advanced age, retire and spend your spare time fooling around with old motorcycles. Several years ago a good friend that used to collect cars switched over to motorcycles and told me the reason for his switch was “you can fit at least five times as many old bikes in a garage as you can old cars.” He’s a very wise old friend.
Over the past few years my little shop has turned out quite a few vintage Japanese bikes and even a couple of British ones, but my absolute favorite bike to work with is Honda’s little CB400F. At last count I believe I’ve done five or six of them and they are great bikes to work with. This particular bike came to me as a basket case that the previous owner had intended to restore, but like often happens, life got in the way, and he was unable to finish his project. I’ve done so many that I have a good supply of spares and that always helps.
I decided early on that the bike wouldn’t get a stock restoration, but would retain most of its stock components. Color always gets a lot of consideration when I start on a build. The Japanese built some great motorcycles in the 60s and 70s but I’ve never been a candy and chrome person so I made the decision to go with a classic British paint scheme. The off white with orange stripe on the Triumph TT Special has always been a favorite. I even took the TT theme further by adding fork gaiters, Honda CB350 headlight mounts and an old fashioned “cocktail shaker” muffler.
The little bike was completely disassembled and the frame/swingarm was sent out for powder coating. The front and rear fenders were sent out for blasting. While the front fender remained stock, the rear was sectioned, about three inches removed, and it was adorned with a Lucas-style tail light. Both fenders then received a traditional Honda Cloud Silver paint job. The stock fuel tank was treated to the white/orange Triumph livery.
The little SOHC four engine was in great shape so aside from cleaning, polishing the cases and replacing the needed gaskets and seals, it was left as is. I think alloy rims are very classy and laced up new ones to adorn the project. Of course I finished it up with new brakes, bearings, shocks and everything to make it mechanically sound.
It’s a great little, good handling, good running bike and a tribute to the Honda engineers of that era. When you can build such a cool custom and not completely redesign things, it says a lot about what went into it 50 years ago.
Nice conservative build, just the right amount of mods. I take exception with calling out 2 strokes as ‘blunt instruments’, Looking at past road tests in Cycle News and Motorcyclist magazines; the X6 Hustler, 400cc RG GAMMA Suzuki were quite a bit faster.
I think you are comparing old apples and newer oranges. The X6 was a 60’s 2-stroke twin, while the RG400 was an 80’s 2-stroke, square 4.. The CB400F is a mid-70’s bike so the comparison to the mid 70’s RD350 and the GT380 triple is spot on. While the RD350 may have been faster and better handling, especially on the race track, as a street bike, the CB400 four was much more refined, smoother and more sophisticated. You could live with a CB400-F on a daily basis. RDs rocked … but like all air-cooled 2-strokes, they were rather manic, vibey and prone to seizure. I do agree with you that this CB is very tastefully done.
Nice restoration, I still my 400f that I bought in my late 20’s and have now turned 60, its still a great little bike to ride and easy to handle. I share it with my wife who loves the size, powerful enough to get you around but light enough to move around.