Automatic for the People: 1978 Honda CB400A

Nowadays about 4% of new cars sold in the U.S. come with manuals; the rest are two pedal-ers.  Even snooty Europe is seeing a greater preference for shiftless cars.  On two wheels the facts are much the opposite; manual bikes make up about 99.9% of the market.  Some manufacturers have tried to sell automatic bikes, but so far, no one has been successful.  Find this 1978 Honda CB400A Hondamatic for sale in Mountlake Terrace, WA for $2,000 via craigslist.

Honda gave the automatic bike a go with the Hondamatics in 400cc and 750cc offerings.  Not really true automatics, the Hondamatic still had the rider shift two gears; low and drive.  However no clutch was necessary for the nervous novice to master.  Our subject bike is a 400A or Hawk as it was known in the U.S.  You might think that the CB400A shared the same engine as the CB400F profiled here a few weeks ago, but no.  The CB400A was a 395cc overhead twin, vs. the inline 4 of the 400F.  The CB400A was tuned for more low down torque to help out the torque converter in the Hondamatic.

Instead of a tach on the right, the rider had a gear indicator for the Hondamatic.  Neutral, 1st or low to get moving and 2 or drive for cruising.  A parking brake replaced the clutch on the handlebar.  The big advantage for the new rider was that the bike could be left in 1st at idle and then just throttle could be used to pull away, negating he skill needed to learn how to coordinate hand throttle, clutch, brake and foot shift.  The big downside was that the engine and transmission shared the same oil which meant oil changes every 1,800 miles.

I really love the paint scheme on the CB400A, it really looks like an early 70’s Kawasaki.  I don’t particularly like the 5 spoke wheels, but I’m an old traditional spoke kinda guy.  Anyway, this bike has been sitting in the owners garage for the past few years and comes out once a month for a maintenance ride.  The seller says it starts up and runs, but recommends a carb and petcock rebuild. It comes with a mountain of spares including an extra engine and rare side covers.

See a better way to do the old one-two on two wheels? email us here:

Gianni is Daily Turismo’s Pacific Northwest correspondent.  He prefers to shift for himself on four, three and two wheels.