Restored to Ride: The 1968 Honda CL450

After determining that his 1967 Triumph Bonneville was too pristine to ride, Mark Dickey started his search for a 1968 Honda CL450 to restore.

| September/October 2015

1968 Honda CL450
Claimed power: 45hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 105.74mph (period test)
Engine: 444cc air-cooled DOHC parallel twin, 70mm x 57.8mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 401lb (182kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 2.4gal (9ltr)/45-55mpg (est.)
Price then/now: $1,035/$3,000-$7,000

Forty years ago, a Honda 450 was easy to find. Thousands were built for people who wanted to get to school or work. They were well made and sold for a reasonable price to people who, as often as not, didn’t keep up the maintenance schedule. Most were used, abused and put away wet. Today, what was once a common bike is becoming a rarity.

This story starts with an email written by Mark Dickey in Tennessee to Don Stockett of Vintage Motorcycle Rescue in California. “Mark was looking for a mint 1968 Honda CL450 to purchase, and his intent was to ride it,” Don says. “He said he wasn’t a collector. His only other motorcycle was a mint condition 1967 Triumph Bonneville that he kept in his kitchen because it was too pristine to be ridden. He was just looking for a really nice bike he could ride.” Don knew finding one — especially a “really nice one” — would be difficult.

Getting to the 450

Honda started exporting motorcycles to the United States in 1959. After a rocky start, sales took off, especially after the “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda” advertising campaign. Yoshiro Harada, in charge of the development of the 450, is quoted in Honda’s official history as saying, “In 1960 the U.S. market for large motorcycles was approximately 60,000 units annually. Of these, most were imports from British makers. The Japanese market was comparatively much smaller, with monthly sales of several hundred units. But through our understanding of the situation we decided to develop a 450cc bike, specifically a mass-production model, that could be sold in the U.S. as well as Japan.”

The British manufacturers were coasting on their success, distributing as much of their profits to shareholders as possible and not upgrading their factories. In contrast, Honda had put its profits into a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Suzuka, Japan. Up and running in 1960, the new factory could turn out highly developed motorcycles at reasonable cost. Quality control — apparently of little interest to the British companies — was a byword in Japan. For some reason, the British believed that their Japanese counterparts had no interest in building large capacity motorcycles. They were wrong.

In 1964, the British industry received a shock when a visiting journalist discovered a mid-sized twin undergoing tests on the Suzuka track. Honda’s CB450, aka the Black Bomber, appeared in the U.S. in August 1965. Power came from a 444cc dual overhead cam parallel twin, making it the first mass-produced dual overhead cam motorcycle. Running 8.5:1 compression with a 180-degree crankshaft, Honda claimed 43 horsepower at the crankshaft and a top speed of 98mph.

10/8/2015 10:34:45 AM

My first big bike was a '67 Black Bomber that I bought in late '69 for $700. No one called them "Black Bombers" at the time. Modified (cams, exhaust, port cleanup, overbore) it would top 110, and it would always start with one kick. (I took the starter off "to save weight.") I now have a '68 CL 450 in the garage, awaiting some love to put it back on the street. It has an original, really good exhaust system with "perfect" original chrome; it's the rest of the bike that needs attention!

10/8/2015 8:54:54 AM

My first motorbike was a DOHC 450 Honda, very strong, reliable machine. That was in 1977, Lost it during hurricane Alicia in 1983...very sad.

9/2/2015 10:57:15 AM

Thanks for the great pics and informative article on one of my all-time favorite bikes. As a kid on a little Yamaha 125 twin scrambler back in the early '70s, the CL450 was an aspirational bike for me. What I always loved about it was the way the big cylinders with their shiny cam covers made it look like a 650. I remember riding a dirt road with a friend and coming upon an older kid with a blue CL450 who was taking a break. Even though the bike was clearly badged as a 450, I remember questioning the guy about whether that was really the case, thinking perhaps it was just a hustle to race guys with real 450s and take their money!

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