Everyone knows and loves the iconic Honda CB750, but have you heard of the Honda CB700SC Nighthawk? Honda marketed it in the US from 1984 to 1986, as an answer to the infamous 1983 tariff. But it was a pretty rad motorcycle in its own right, too.
In a bid to help Harley-Davidson, the US slapped a 45% import tariff on all foreign motorcycles over 700 cc. The CB700SC’s 696 cc inline-four meant it could sneak under the limit, and it still made a respectable 80 hp and 61 Nm. It also had a shaft drive, twin front brakes, and hot rod styling with 16” split-spoke wheels.
The Nighthawk design has aged uncharacteristically well for its era. So it’s no surprise that the owner of this particular Nighthawk opted for a tasteful restomod, rather than a full-blown custom. His name is Chris Wimpey, and he’s a photographer based in San Diego, California.
“For this build I started with something that many riders can relate to,” he tells us. “A somewhat odd bike, one that might be lurking in the back of a garage or barn, as this one was, literally. Maybe not the typical starting place for a custom build. Perhaps something very affordable, for builders on a budget.”
Chris started the project in a friend’s shop in Portland, Oregon, where he would occasionally visit, but eventually moved it to his home garage. He did most of the work himself, but outsourced the serious fabrication and welding bits, along with paint and upholstery. And he taught himself to use CAD software, so that he could have a few smaller parts 3D printed.
Inspiration came from Honda’s racing history—specifically the early superbikes and endurance racers that Chris is enamored with. His goal was to retain much of the Nighthawk’s mid-80s vibe, but make it “compact, muscular, and capable, and a bit lighter, both physically and visually.”
The donor was bought as a stalled project with less than 20,000 miles on the dial, but Chris took a peek inside the motor anyway. Luckily both the internals and oil were squeaky clean, so he simply treated it to a thorough service with new fluids and filters.
The bike had come with a partially disassembled airbox, but given that Chris wanted to keep the area under the seat clean, he had no desire to reassemble it. So he did some research, and designed an intake system that would match the original’s air volume, to run optimally. A friend welded the part up using aluminum, and it uses a K&N filter.
Chris then installed an aftermarket four-into-one exhaust system from M.A.C. Products, and dropped a DynoJet kit into the carbs to fine-tune the motor. “Everything came together very well, and the engine runs like a champ,” he says.
Moving to the chassis, Chris refurbished the Honda’s stock forks and brakes, and opted to keep its quirky 16” wheels, wrapping them in Pirelli Sport Demon rubber. The Nighthawk is sort of a rolling project, so in some photos its wearing its original rear shocks, and in others a pair of replacement RFY units.
A previous fall had left some light damage on the tank and fairing—but the Nighthawk came with a spare tank. So Chris sent the ‘neat’ tank off for paint, and then discovered after the fact that the filler neck diameters were different. So he very carefully modified the filler on the freshly painted tank with a Dremel tool.
The original, damaged tank was then hacked up, to make a tailpiece that would echo the same lines. The main electronic components sit under the hump, the seat sports a read leather cover, and everything sits on a fresh subframe. Overall, the setup complements the lines of the OEM parts beautifully.
Most of the Nighthawk’s cockpit is stock too, starting with the fairing. Chris had to do some fiberglass work to repair the dings, and painted the tinted screen black since it was badly scuffed. He kept the original instruments too, but swapped the bars out for his favorite retro superbike bend.
There’s a host of harder-to-spot mods too. The swingarm’s been braced, and there’s a Lithium-ion battery hiding in custom-made box. Chris installed LED turn signals all round, and sunk an LED strip into the rear of the frame for a taillight.
The Nighthawk’s new livery is striking, and is a direct nod to the Honda racing colors of the 60s. “One of my favorite bikes is the Honda RC166 ridden by Mike Hailwood,” says Chris. “A six cylinder wonder.”
Chris did all the sanding and priming himself, and then handed the parts to his painter friend, Joe Bell, who specializes in vintage and classic bicycles. The engine was done in black with red logos, and a wrinkle red finish on the valve covers.
This 80s wonder now looks a whole lot sharper, but still delightfully retro. And it’s a goer, too… “The bike’s handling is great. With its 16” wheels it is quick and agile, and the stock fork works well, once the proper fluid and air pressure are applied. The TRAC anti-dive unit is surprisingly effective, with a good range of adjustment.”
“At the time of its introduction, Cycle magazine referred to the CB700SC as the ‘California Hot Rod.’ I like to think that my version picks up where the factory effort left off.”