Saving an old machine.

Back in 2013/14 I came across a very neglected 1987 Honda VFR 400 cc (nc 24 model), whilst helping someone clean out their garage. Apparently the machine had traveled from workshop to workshop, with the owner seemingly unaware of its existence. I was told that the owner had originally brought it to a workshop to have some cracks welded, and in the end never came to collect the bike. This little machine intrigued me. My mind was ablaze with all the possibility such a bike could offer. Back then I was still riding a 125 cc, and had a lot of free time. Logically, I saw a machine that could keep me busy for a while and offer me a lot more power and speed than I currently had available on the 125 cc. So I set out trying to track down the registered owner of this machine. Long story short, I found the owner, discovered the history of the bike and purchased the machine from him. So I became the registered owner of my first project bike.

At first glance, the bike seemed mechanically and electronically sound, however there was some frightening cracks along the right side of the frame. This forced me to tear the bike apart completely, in order to send the frame away for specialized welding. Also giving me opportunity to prepare the front and rear sub-frames along with other bits for a fresh coat of paint.

At that time 2014 had commenced and all my free time had been spent on getting the damaged frame and foot peg welded and machined to fit together again. Along with this my schedule (and budget) also took a turn for the worst, keeping me busy from early morning till late at night. This meant that the little Honda rebuild had to be placed on the back burner. So the bike bits were all tagged and bagged and stored in the garage, until I would be able to afford, and have enough time, to complete the rebuild.

Several months had passed since I had last touched any part of the bike. 2014 had nearly come to an end and the little machine was still no closer to being a bike again. There was still hope, a small glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Nearing the December holidays of 2014, my father and I finally had the funds and time to complete what we had set out to achieve.

With fresh wind in our sails, we cruised through the largest parts of Gauteng and the Northwest Province, searching for a fairing kit, headlight and indicators for the little Honda. We were lucky enough to source most of the needed parts, in quite good condition, from salvage yards we often do business with. Along with some minor repairs, the panels were prepped for a fresh coat of undercoat.

With all of the bits prepped we set about giving all the cosmetic bits a coat of undercoat. Instead of watching the paint dry, we set about in the downtime to unpack all the pieces we had set away for storage. Everything being neatly packed on the garage floor in a similar position as to where they would be when fitted to the bike.

In the true spirit of D.I.Y. and backyard mechanics, we had set up a makeshift spray rail in the far corner of our property, doing pretty much all of the cosmetic work our self. Being brave enough to D.I.Y. sometimes meant that we had to R.I.Y (Redo It Yourself) when ever we made a mistake in the coat thickness or some sort of spray nozzle setting. This had happened quite regularly, but in the end we got the hang of it.

I chose to spray the bike yellow, as this was the colour the bike was originally registered as. The sticker kit had been printed as close to the original as possible, making some custom colour changes to make the kit fit with the new colour scheme of the bike. A coat of clear was later applied to seal the new paint job and sticker kit from the elements, the added bonus is giving the entire faring kit a nice shine in the process.

After all the painting and finishing, assembly could now commence. This was in January of 2015, my learners permit would expire in June of the same year. This meant that there now was a deadline attached to this little project of mine, as the 125 cc bike I was currently riding would not be suitable for the driver’s license test. (In South Africa there exists two motorcycle license codes, A1 and A. The A1 test can be done on a 125 cc or less, but this limits you to that engine capacity as a maximum. A on the other hand does not limit the maximum engine capacity of the bike, but must be done with a bike with an engine capacity exceeding 125 cc.)

With this deadline looming, ever-present in the back of my mind, I spent every second of my free time in an attempt to get the little monster back on two wheels and roadworthy. By the end of March 2015, the bike was nearly complete. However we had discovered that we had some serious issues with the valve clearance and carburetor settings. Both these areas fall outside my field of expertise, which meant the bike would have to be sent to a mechanic who knew how to deal with these gremlins.


Several weeks, and mechanics later, the little machine was back in the yard and ready to be buttoned up and presented to the world. All the fairing was reattached and the bike was sent for a roadworthy certificate. This meant that I could finally have a license disk issued and drive the little monster on the roads.

I needed a few more bits of trim, but at least the bike was on the road and I was able to take it for a test drive. Alas… The test drive I was looking forward to the most turned out to be an utter disaster. The bike had absolutely no go. No matter how hard I turned the throttle the little machine struggled to reach 60 km/h. Something was drastically wrong. This was not a bike I could even think of completing the license test with, let alone use it as a daily driver. Remedy had to be sought.


Little yellow monster, once more on route to the “doctor’s office”

Once more the little machine had to be loaded onto a trailer. Through some of my father’s contacts we had been connected to a mechanic that specializes in dealing with these fussy small displacement engines. It turned out that the fuel tank had a lot of rust inside, tearing through seals in the fuel valve and clogging the carburetor jets. This, coupled with a little issue with valve clearance meant that the bike was starving itself and not running on all four cylinders. An inline fuel filter, tank re-lining and some minor clearance adjustments seemed to address the problem adequately. The major concern I had about the power of the machine was finally put to rest.

Finally back from yet another workshop, the last little bits (screen, tank pad, and grips) could be added and the bike finally being considered complete. Things were looking up. The bike performed better than I had expected and with a couple of weeks to spare before my test I could get a lot of practice in. The worst part was over… or so I thought…

Whilst using the bike as a daily ride to wherever I needed to be, the charge rectifier that had been installed left me stranded. The component had failed in such a way that it had melted the connecting plug before destroying itself. Leaving me next to the road with no power. I had to push the bike home… Luckily spare parts where just a phone call away. A reasonable secondhand rectifier from a CBR 600 should be able to last me long enough to take the driver’s test.



Parked in front of the licensing department, shortly after passing my test.

A few weeks later, the big day finally dawned. My test would take place at 1:00 pm later that Friday. I couldn’t wait to get it over with.

I had practiced the test course a few times, and knew exactly how my bike reacted to certain events. There should be no curve ball during the test. I must have checked over every bit of the bike at least three times before heading to the testing station.

All went without a hitch. The practice had paid off and the bike was on it’s best behavior. I had passed my license test pretty much with flying colours. Adding to that, I had passed the test on a bike that I had brought back from the dead just a few months prior. The joy and pride experienced on that day is pretty hard to describe.

At that time I had spent about 18 months and 99% of my savings on rebuilding this bike. In the end it was well worth it. Nothing compares to the satisfaction gained when one invests a lot of time and effort into a project and that project turns to be a success. Yes, there was a lot of blood and sweat spilled into this machine and several feuds between myself and my father. But if I had the choice to go back and do this entire project over again I definitely would.


Another burnt rectifier, this one nearly set the bike on fire.

I’ve owned this little machine for about three years now, and it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Anybody who owns some sort of project vehicle will let you know that any project has its ups and downs, even after you think it is complete.


For instance, the little yellow monster had another rectifier issue. A few months down the line the replacement rectifier that we had sourced had given up on charging the system. Once more this part was replaced with that from another donor bike. However this part had failed in such a manner that it nearly set myself and the bike on fire, causing major electrical damage. But a few more weeks of down time and parts hunting always seems to cure the ailment.

In review, this project had given me several headaches and has ruined my savings account, but it isn’t all bad news. The memories of rebuilding the bike with family, and all the destinations I visited with the bike does make it all worth while. This little monster now serves as my daily driver, getting me from A to B and back. On weekends it’s also my machine of choice for all the events that I try to attend. On the back of this little machine rests a history of new friendships and great adventures. This is truly something that I would not mind doing over and over again. It has given me safe rides and many enjoyable journeys.

Now, on behalf of the Little Yellow Monster, I would like to wish you a save ride and enjoyable journeys.




3 thoughts on “Saving an old machine.

  1. Great job on the little 400. My project bike was its big brother a 1994 VFR750 a fun little bike to ride. And like you I’ve cooked two regulators and a stator. I found you can get upgraded regulators and stators from Ricks Electrics in the States.

    There is something very satisfying about riding a bike you have fixed from the ground up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Yes the VFR range has always been nimble machines, and quite powerful despite the small engine displacement. It seems that regulators and stators are these bikes’ Achilles heel, as every one I have come across has had some sort of electrical ailment.

      I’ve heard about the upgraded components available in the States. However, I’m located in South Africa. This means buying and importing these parts is quite expensive. My budget simply does not allow it at the moment, but it is on the upgrade check list.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Heroes from our past | The Bike Addict

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