Full On with the Ferret: Past to present with the iconic Honda CR750 classic racer
Friday 18th Mar 2011, Dubai Autodrome, Re-creating the ‘Sound of Music’………….With a twist!
In 1971, there was a very important birth, no, not mine! That was some ten years previous…Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe…
Motorcycle giant, Honda, had just pieced together another CR750 motorcycle. A beast of a bike which produced a staggering (at the time) 93bhp and emitted a howl which would have terrorized a pack of banshee’s. With a redline close to 9000 rpm, this was a formidable tool and in which Honda had high hopes of taking top honors at the highest levels of racing. This particular machine was destined to have a rather successful career ahead of it, with some of the best riders around at the time, either riding it, or riding against it!
Back to the future.
A certain local Frenchman, namely Eric Charles had earlier purchased this machine from M3Racing in the USA where Mark McGrew and his team had rebuilt the bike in 1996-97 back to the highest standards so as to compete in the AHRMA series. All the parts which were used for the rebuild had actually been stored by Mark who, at one point was the main parts Manager for Honda bikes during the 70’s & 80’s, in anticipation of the day when the machine would be rebuilt.
With the bike not having turned a wheel in anger for quite some years, it was quite a task to get the machine ready for its maiden outing here in the UAE at the Dubai Autodrome. This task was undertaken by Eric’s long time friend, Gilles Chauve, an experienced racer, mechanic and fellow enthusiast…
It was one of those conversation stoppers when I was asked by Eric if I would like to come along to the Dubai Autodrome for the bikes first outing to a race track for many years and to actually ride this historic machine. It took all of a millisecond to reply!
The rest of the conversation was a blur as I thought about the honor which had just been bestowed upon me. My poor family had to listen to me jabbering on about the coming weekends track day, about how awesome this machine was, who had ridden the bike, the history behind it blah blah blah!
Thursday afternoon. “Hi Eric, just checking to make sure all OK for tomorrow?” I need not have worried, everything was sorted, we were to meet at the circuit at 12.30…It was on!
That night I prepared everything in readiness for the following day. Leather race suit (thanks for the loan Alan) boots, which were my treasured, signed ex-Kenny Roberts Jnr Nankai boots bought at the children in need auction and lovingly stored for such special occasions! Rest of the gear packed, it was off for an early night in anticipation of the day ahead.
Rolling up at the Dubai Autodrome more or less at the same time as Eric, we both got signed on and awaited our riders briefing. The bike eventually turned up with Gilles some time later and was an instant attraction. With all the younger riders with their latest, all singing all dancing race replica’s the CR looked worlds apart but, little did they know what this ‘old lady’ had in store for them.
Once off the trailer Gilles quickly checked her over and dropped in a bit of fuel and we were ready to hear the sound of the four handmade, works replica exhausts play their tune…
After ten minutes of kicking, tired legs were replaced by more modern electric rollers, later we discovered that the fuel tap was in the ‘off’ position Doh! With the fuel on and flowing into the 31mm carbs, the starter rollers whirred into life, seconds later the four cylinders chimed into life with a deafening roar….Everyone in the pit & paddock area was taken aback at just how good this machine sounded. We now had our own instant fan club!
Eric was to take his pride and joy out onto the circuit for the first of its 20 min sessions. As he fastened up his helmet and pulled on his gloves, Gilles warmed the engine with quick, sharp twists of the throttle, the noise was incredible, and with that, he rode her out through the holding area and onto the track for the first time in many years. I had ventured onto the track to document this outing with my camera, Eric’s only request, “I need a picture of me with my knee down Darren” Sorted! To hear the bike coming down the straight was music to anyone’s ears, especially to those who loved and understood what it is to see and hear such classic machines doing what they were built to do, and not standing in a museum or shop collecting dust!
All too soon the session was over and now it was my turn. I couldn’t wait. The smile on Eric’s face said it all, he was a very happy man…The only words of advice was “don’t forget the gearbox has a race shift’ which basically means that it works in the opposite direction to a standard motorcycle gearbox. To select first gear you lift the shift lever up with the remaining 4 gears needing you to press the lever down and visa versa…Whereas with a conventional motorcycle gearbox you would press down for first gear with all the rest needing the lever to be lifted up…Sound confusing, try doing it at speed on the circuit!
Oh, and just so as to make sure I remembered that, he did tell me the cost of a replacement gearbox…..No pressure then Eric?
I cannot imagine what Eric was feeling as I pulled through the holding area and down pit lane. I would hope it was one of excitement at seeing and hearing this beauty take to the track once again, not one of ‘what if’..
The first lap out was a steady lap as the riders sorted themselves out into their respective comfort zones. As I hit the start finish straight for my second lap, I now had some clear space in which to get me head down and see how quick a 93bhp machine from 40 years ago felt. In short, it felt quick in an un-rushed manner, almost gentlemanly…Tipping it into turn one at a higher speed this time was all to easy, quick scrape of the knee slider tells me that it is as far over as needs be. Twisting the throttle had the power surging me towards the 90 degree left and then quickly followed by the 90 right taking me onto the back straight…Up through the gears and tucked in behind the huge screen, the bike made quick work of eating up the tarmac. With so much engine braking available when dropping down through the gearbox, the front disk brakes had no trouble in stopping her for the hairpin.
The slight uphill to the bumpy off camber management building hairpin was effortless and we were on our way to the fast left hander leading to the bowl section. With the bike tipped in, it held a perfect line without any problem at all, shifting up through the box and up over turn 15 and the drop down to turn 16 with the smallest amount of input needed to change direction and keep her on the racing line. The handling for such an old machine was a revelation; you barely needed to look at where you needed to be on the track and hey, she stuck to her line like she was on rails. After a few more laps, though, I felt a misfire on the engine and not wanting to take any chances I coasted around on my last lap and back down pit lane. I was greeted by Gilles who had heard the misfire but was smiling, he had forgotten to put more fuel into her between sessions….Phew, thank goodness!
Unfortunately, Eric’s next session was also cut short due to a dead battery. Running a total loss system requires the battery to be fully charged and/or a spare which we didn’t have. So, the day ended with a photo shoot, two very happy riders, one happy mechanic and a whole lot of great memories from this wonderful experience.
I would like to say a huge thanks to Eric Charles for his more than generous offer of entrusting me with this stunningly beautiful machine. To Gilles for getting her ready for the days fun and of course to Honda for producing such a machine in the first place….I just hope that this isn’t the last time this machine laps a track, it sure would be great to hear that ‘howl’ once again in the near future…
For all the full specifications of the Honda CR750 please check out the following link, I think you will find it more than informative…
More of Eric’s stunning machines can be found here on his web site;
TTFN Northern Ferret…