Joe Flores resurrects a tribute to a 33-year Air Force veteran…
The Tuskegee Airmen were the USA’s first African-American military aviators, best-known for their signature red-tailed P-51 Mustangs, which flew heavy bomber escort as part of the 332nd Fighter Group in WWII. In that role, they would earn three Distinguished Unit Citations, 744 Air Medals, 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 14 Bronze Stars.
Today, we’re thrilled to feature a CB750 that calls up the history of those famed Red Tails. It was originally given as a retirement gift commemorating the owner Lonnie Taylor’s 33 years of service in the Air Force. More recently, after falling into disrepair, it was brought to our friend Joe Flores (@makerofthings) of Atlanta’s Blackthumb Shop to fix, restore, and transform.
Joe is a third-generation builder, mechanic, and designer who’s been working on anything with “wings, wheels, or fins” for the past two decades. Not only that, but he’s big on teaching others to do the same — in fact, Caleb Swiney of this week’s Allman Brothers Sportster was a student of Joe’s at East Atlanta’s Brother Moto!
With this build, Joe soon realized the bike deserved more time and attention to be fully realized. It became a pet project of his during the covid era, as he worked to retain important details from the original build, such as the tail section and headlight cowl, while going with period-correct upgrades and refurbishments throughout the rest of the bike:
“I wanted to build a “cafe-ish” big motor bike with paint and setup more reminiscent of the craft made famous by the Red Tail squadron of P-51’s flown by the Tuskegee Airmen.”
While keeping a vintage feel and style reminiscent of iconic WWII fighters like the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt, Joe pushed the bike toward a more modern “fast line, flat spine” aesthetic. Warbird-inspired bikes can often come off too “theme-y” and overdone, but Joe has nailed this one, hitting just the right blend of inspiration and subtlety with the period-correct suspension / brakes, Ferrari Grigio Scurro paint, and red accents paying homage to the Red Tail squadrons.
“I’m a solo builder sure, but it takes a tight community to get bikes to this level regularly.”
Appropriately enough, the bike was unveiled at the 2022 Victory Moto Show, our annual hometown show, which is held at a veteran-owned establishment, Service Brewing, and benefits a different veteran nonprofit each year. Not only that, but there was a surprise in store for both Joe and the owner:
“Funny enough, this build has an even deeper meaning to me as the owner actually worked in the USAF with my mom years back. I didn’t actually realize that until my father came to the show in Savannah during its unveiling and he recognized the owner!”
Talk about full circle! You can’t ask for a better story than that. Below, we talk to Joe for the full story on the build. Special thanks goes out to our mutual friend Drew Perlmutter (@drewperlmutter) for most of the photos from the show!
Honda CB750A Café Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I’m a third generation builder / mechanic, designer, and since we last spoke, father of two!
For the past now nearing 20 years, I’ve been working on just about anything with wings, wheels, or fins, or teaching others how to do it too.
(On a side note, it was particularly nice to see someone I’d taught at Brother Moto build a bike that would share so much of the same build philosophy and surpass a bike like this one. So teaching is a big one, haha.)
I’m currently working for myself building, restoring, and/or modifying any number of hot rod, vintage, or performance vehicles in the Atlanta area when I’m not hanging with my kids, doing my main job as Dad.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
It’s a lineup of all the different years of Honda CB750, with the motor from a 76/78 SS and frame from a ’74 CB750A. The rest is various assemblies from the entire run of SOHC 750K Hondas.
• Why was this bike built?
It was originally brought to me as a customer project to fix and restore the original version of the bike. In its original form, the bike was a retirement gift commemorating his 33 years of service in the Air Force.
After a number of major changes, we decided this bike needed more and deserved extra time to get it to its current form. It then became a pet project I’ve been able to work on in the background of the “covid era” of my career.
Funny enough, this build has an even deeper meaning to me as the owner actually worked in the USAF with my mom years back. I didn’t actually realize that until my father came to the show in Savannah during its unveiling and he recognized the owner!
Kinda came full circle in a fun way. It’s a family built-bike in real sense, haha.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The bike originally had a general “wartime“ vibe with a paint scheme reflecting something like the P-51 or P-38 of that era (bright silver w/ broad stripes).
I wanted to build a “cafe-ish” big motor bike with paint and setup more reminiscent of the craft made famous by the Red Tail squadron of P-51’s flown by the Tuskegee Airmen.
Taking care to retain original details from the original build (rear seat cowl and headlamp cowl spec), I tried to use period specific setups for brakes, suspension, etc. to keep a vintage feel over all.
Pushing the style of the bike a little further into more modern cafe “fast line, flat spine” was what we wanted to see within those constraints. A darker palette still reminiscent of military aircraft and matching red accents are from various ends of the aero/moto culture. And I think the style derived from that paid off.
(Who’d’ve thought Ferrari Grigio Scurro would make such a sexy aircraft gray? Haha.)
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Funny enough, a whole lot while also not being as much as I typically do on my bikes, haha.
The common mods like the seat cowl and tank were modified to fit this bike and get its line, while the majority of the bike is a culmination of the best parts I could find from that era of CB750.
Things like the brakes were refurbished, polished, and hardware updated, but for the most part are Honda.
Most of the custom work lies in the details in between, like the electrical system and hardware/finish selection. Making sure everything, even if newer, matched the overall look of the bike.
The custom seat and pinstriping were done by local friends and I ended up doing the paint after the original finish had some trouble and I had to bust out the spray gun to get the color just right.
It took nearly a year just to find and assemble all the parts necessary for the build to happen!
That’s the appeal of this bike I think; it retains enough period-specific tech that works and uses a modern style to bring it together tastefully without being too “theme-y.”
• What’s the nickname and story behind it?
Red Tail Redux is new one for me. It’s nicknamed for the Red Tail squadron P-51’s and other aircraft that would hold the mantle since WW2. The red splashes around the bike are specific to that design spec.
Redux comes from the fact that it was a remix of the original project with details that respect the original build. It was given as a gift and I wanted to retain certain parts that would respect that.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
I’d say it rides like a really tight version of that bike from the 70s. It’s smooth and peppy. With the triple disc setup, SS Honda motor, and refurbed/modified suspension, it handles like a proper vintage bike built for “spirited city riding.”
It’ll make a great bar/cafe hopper.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Finding some of the oddball parts and assembling all of them tastefully is the pride point here. Like many of my bikes, I try to stray from over-specializing if it’s not the goal.
“No black magic. Accessible execution is key” is always a goal so everything on the bike is attainable if you’re willing to get this particular level of detail without having to spend a mint and plan ahead.
Careful parts/finish selection and making sure friends get a chance to show their skills and see what their support yields is what I’m proud of this time around.
I’m a solo builder sure, but it takes a tight community to get bikes to this level regularly.