“This was saving a piece of drag racing history.”
In 2020, motorcycle racing lost one of its legendary builders and fabricators, Todd Schuster. Schuster got his start doing pre-delivery inspections for Oscar Liebmann’s renowned racing shop, AMOL Precision, and gained national recognition as the fabricator behind the Butler & Smith BMW Superbikes of the late 70s.
“Todd and team boss Udo Gietl, were masters of reading the AMA rule book, finding the gaps and filling them with the among the most imaginative creations ever seen in motorcycle road racing. Look at the Butler & Smith BMW R90S ridden by Reg Pridmore to the very first AMA Superbike Championship in 1976 and you’ll see innovations dreamed up by Gietl and brought to life by Schuster.” —Cycle News
Later, Schuster worked with Gietl for Honda’s factory Superbike team, working on 1000cc brutes for the likes of Freddie Spencer and Mike Baldwin.
Besides his masterful fabrication skills and mechanical ingenuity, Schuster’s humor and soul left an impression on people. Says Skip Vezzetti:
“Todd was more than a mechanic or fabricator; he was an artist. You can’t speak about or think of Todd without smiling. He’ll be missed by all his friends.”
Cook Neilson, former Cycle magazine editor and AMA racing pioneer, says of Schuster:
“We got to be friends drag racing back in the early Sixties, and stayed friends for close to 60 years. Beyond his mechanical skills, his warmth and generosity, his loyalty, and his work ethic, he was the funniest human I’ve ever been around. There will never be another like him.”
“At the same time a good friend back east found a custom-built Honda CB750 drag bike that was up in the rafters in a New Jersey barn for over 40 years. Mike and Grant, the guys putting on Born Free, said we could bring the Honda drag bike back to life as our build, so we bought it.”
As soon as Karl and Josh took delivery of the dust-covered drag bike, they realized it was something truly special. With a little Googling, they realized they were in possession of Schuster’s “Tokyo Rose”:
“This Honda drag bike was built by Todd Schuster in 1970 — it had a 1969 CB750 engine. The bike raced from 1970-73 in New Jersey when the engine blew a rod.”
Karl and Josh set to work bringing the bike back to life — a departure for the duo, who are scratch-builders, but the restoration proved incredibly rewarding.
Along the way, they got in touch with Schuster’s nephew, Reggie, who provided invaluable photographs, magazine articles, and support. Says Karl:
“The photos of the drag bike’s evolution over time were GOLD; they answered my question about why a hole was here or a bracket there.”
The donor engine is from a 1976 CB750F, utilizing the original cylinders from Todd’s bike with new 900cc sleeves and 10.5-1 pistons.
The ’76 head was modified to handle a Web high-performance racing cam, electronic ignition, and pair of Weber 45 carbs with a trick aluminum manifold.
The duo worked hard to make the bike appear as if it had never quit racing,reverse engineering Schuster’s work from the photos — and they also built a custom platform that details the racing history of the bike on one side, and Schuster’s life and work on the other.
The Tokyo Rose weighs 330 pounds and makes 115 horsepower — Karl says it’s a thrill to ride:
“I’ve owned a 700 hp ’32 Ford, so I’m ok with speed, and this bike is Scary Fast!!!”
Below, we talk to Karl and Josh for the full story on the build, and special thanks goes out to Tony Colombini of Blacktop Magazine, who was kind enough to supply the photographs from BF-13.
The Tokyo Rose: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Karl Ardo: I built my first Hot Rod in 1966. Since then, I’ve built over 15 hot rods and about the same number of Triumph motorcycles. The most recent Triumph build is a 1973 OIF frame drag bike with a 1959 Triumph 650 per unit engine and slick-shift transmission.
Josh Winderman: My passion for building cars started in my early teenage years. Growing up in Huntington Beach my best friend at the time was the youngest brother of a large family who build custom cars which ranged from the 30s-60s out of there backyard. Being around all of the metal shaping,painting and upholstery work really sparked my interest in creating which what I call functional art. Not realizing how much of an impact those early teen years would have on me now 25+ years later I’m still actively building cars and motorcycles with the same passion. Over the years I’ve had the chance to own and build many cars and few motorcycle along the way. Along that journey you end up meeting people who share your interest and passions for cars and bikes, fortunately for me I met Karl Ardo. His creativity, skills and way of life influenced me since the day we met. Collaborating on various projects over the past few years , Karl who fortunately came across a motorcycle with a special history not only the bike it’s self but the people who created it. Not only has this bike been brought back to life…it has created new friends and has sparked up old story’s of the past that would have been long forgotten.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
The Honda Drag Bike was built by Todd Schuster in 1970 — it had a 1969 CB750 engine. The bike raced from 1970-73 in New Jersey when the engine blew a rod.
Our donor engine is a 1976 CB750F. We used the bottom end and installed the original cylinders from Todd’s bike with new 900cc sleeves and 10.5-1 pistons. The 1976 head was modified to handle the Web high-performance racing cam, electronic ignition, and pair of Weber 45 carburetors with a trick aluminum manifold.
• Why was this bike built?
Josh Winderman and I were invited to build a bike for BORN FREE 13 this year. They saw our Triumph OIF drag bike at Born Free 12 and ask if we wanted to build a bike for BF-13. At the same time a good friend back east found a custom-built Honda CB750 drag bike that was up in the rafters in a New Jersey barn for over 40 years. Mike and Grant, the guys putting on Born Free, said we could bring the Honda drag bike back to life as our build, so we bought it.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
This was a very different build for us. We are both scratch builders and do our own thing. When my friend sent me a photo of the Honda in the back of his truck on his way home, I knew I was looking at something special. The bike was all there, but all the aluminum was highly oxidized from being in a New Jersey barn with no protection from the weather for over 40 years. The whole bike was covered in years of dust.
When the bike was delivered, the moment we saw it, we both realized that someone who knew what they were doing built it. We had the bike and the name of the guy that built it, Todd Schuster. (Google “The one and Only Todd Schuster.”) This is one of many articles about how important he was to the success of the AMA Superbike racing teams in the 1970’s with Butler & Smith BMW and in the 1980’s with American Honda racing team.
As his back story started to unfold, I discovered his nephew Reggie, who was handling Todd’s estate, had many boxes of Todd’s stuff. Over the next few months, Reggie discovered photos of the bike being built, racing at ATCO race track in 1971-73, as well as many articles and other magazines that Todd was in. The photos of the drag bike’s evolution over time were GOLD; they answered my question about why a hole was here or a bracket there. Two of the most profound additions were the fairing and the Weber carburetors.
This was not our build, this was saving a piece of drag racing history.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
We spent much of our time looking at the photos to duplicate what Todd did. Like running the hose lines, where the wiring ran, what types of clamps he used. Where we got creative was the platform the bike sat on.
We made copies of photos and articles that Reggie sent us as well as a number of magazines. One in particular was the centerfold of Todd with his knucklehead Harley in 1972’s chopper magazines, then the following year it sported a turbo.
One side of the platform was the story of the drag bike from Todd’s drawing — it raced over the three years and the photos of it up in the rafters. The other side is about Todd and some of his many accomplishments.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Painted from the gas fill up front to the front of the “seat” is TOKYO ROSE.
• Any idea of horsepower, weight, and/or performance numbers?
115 HP — around 330LBS — we haven’t raced it…Maybe a new owner will.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
I’ve owned a 700 hp ’32 Ford, so I’m ok with speed, and this bike is Scary Fast!!!
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of
We set out to bring Todd’s bike back to life but not make it look NEW. We wanted it to look like it never stopped racing since 1970. This was not easy; every piece needed to be cleaned, polished, and the lower half of the frame painted. To bring all these pieces to an equal level of finish was challenging and I believe we accomplished that.