16 February 2016

Seventies Sales Superstar

Best-sellers in their day, the Honda CB350, CL350 and SL350 twins are still a great vintage value.

The US motorcycle market in the 1970s was a juggernaut, well over twice the size of today’s market. And certain breakout models like Honda’s twin-cylinder 350cc range were a big part of it. From 1968 through 1973, the CB350 streetbike sold 319,712 units, the CL350 street scrambler sold 215,497, and the more dirt-oriented SL350 sold 90,830. Altogether, that’s over 626,000 machines – more than the entire bike industry now sells in a year.

Honda’s 350 was somewhat smaller than its name suggests – the engine was actually a 326cc air-cooled parallel twin with a single overhead camshaft, twin carbs, a five-speed gearbox, and a reported 36 horsepower at an impressive 10,500 rpm. The bikes clearly bore much of Honda’s DNA for the time: well engineered, nicely styled, and free of hiccups like hard starting, oil leaks and wonky electrics. And they were fun to ride, with both electric and kick-starters, well-lit instrumentation, and lively enough performance. They also honored Honda’s reputation for quality, thus appealing to a huge swath of riders.

Such massive production means Honda 350s remain plentiful and affordable today, with ample parts likewise available. Prepare to spend a few hundred dollars for a project bike to $2,000 for a nice runner and $4,000 or so for a restoration. Due to the high production volume, there is little hope of large future price gains – but buying right may allow full cost recoupment or even making a bit when you sell. Here’s a brief Hagerty guide to the three model choices.

1968-73 CB350 – The most popular bike of its time, the CB350 remains full of versatility and virtue. And that’s because it never pretended to be anything but what it was – a good, honest, hard-working middleweight streetbike. Fast enough for the freeway and light enough (375 pounds wet) for easy handling around town, the CB350 served multiple purposes with distinction. Most models had drum front and rear brakes, but a hydraulic front disc arrived for the final ’73 model year. (When shopping, don’t confuse the twin-cylinder CB350 with the rarer four-cylinder 1972-74 CB350F.)

1968-73 CL350 – A slightly smaller fuel tank, high-mounted chrome dual exhausts, cross-braced handlebars, and a larger 19-inch front wheel identified the CL350 as a “street scrambler.” Although it actually wasn’t much of a dirt bike, the added ground clearance afforded by the high pipes, and the bigger front tire diameter, did pay modest dividends off-road. The CL350 exists near the top of Honda’s period street-scrambler range, which extended from the lightweight CL70 single up to the high-revving DOHC CL450 twin.

1969-73 SL350 – Chasing the off-road boom, for 1969 Honda introduced the Motosport line that ultimately included models from the kid-sized SL70 all the way up to the SL350. Trademark features included a bespoke dirtbike-style chassis and suspension, a racy megaphone exhaust system in avant-garde black, high-mounted fenders and abbreviated seating. In reality, the SL350 was still overweight for a dirtbike, hampering its advertised mission. Honda kept at it though, and the final SL350 model received a 21-inch front wheel, which remains the standard for dirtbikes today.

16 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Icross Camano Island, WA February 17, 2016 at 18:26
    The rest of the story is, 73-74 was the oil embargo and gas lines and rationing pushed massive numbers of people towards motorcycles. I work in sales at a Honda dealership and people would be literally lined up at the counter to buy. No selling involved - all we would say was "next." Bikes were in such short supply that guys would bring a second person with them to sit on the bike they wanted and that person would say "this one is sold" to anyone looking at it. If a buyer came in for a 450 and we were out of stock we could easily sell up or down in size to whatever model we had in stock. I remember a guy wanted a 350 and drove away with a shiny new 125! This was day after day, for almost a year - I am not exaggerating!
  • 2
    DonM Mariposa February 17, 2016 at 19:30
    I had a 70 CL 350. My first and only bike. I put 45K miles without even a flat ant then traded it an $300 for a 60 Austin Healy 3000 in about 1973.
  • 3
    Joe Central VA February 17, 2016 at 19:36
    Just sold a CL350 to a gent in Florida. It did not run but was complete, and it had no title (not an issue for so old a bike). He snapped it up at $400. I hate motorcycles, having lost a best friend on one, so I refused to sell it to any family members. Still, it was a reasonable small bike for pleasure riding out of modern traffic, and I am glad it found a home.
  • 4
    Gary Ellison Longmont Colorado February 17, 2016 at 20:55
    Great article about the Honda CB, SL, and CL cycles. I own a CL77 Scrambler, a CA95, XL250, CL70. Honda made some great cycles back in the day. And many if them are still running today.
  • 5
    Jay NJ February 18, 2016 at 14:41
    A day late and a dollar short - I just purchased a 1980 Honda cm200t. Now you have me wondering if I should have held out for a CB 350.
  • 6
    Checkmate Seattle February 18, 2016 at 02:43
    I've had bigger bikes, and much more powerful ones, but my first bike was a CL350, and it's the only one I really miss. It was nimble, with adequate power, and a whole lot more fun to ride than some 600 pound tank!
  • 7
    kevin otto Delano, MN February 18, 2016 at 14:47
    1973 CL350; My sister bought it new then sold it to our brother who then sold it to our Dad who thought it would be a great idea for me to get my motorcycle license at 16 (1994) I took the bike everywhere racking up close to 10,000 miles in the short two years I rode it. My wife even has a burn on her leg from the high muffer. After 19 years (2013) sitting in a empty hay barn my nephew pulled it out we put gas in it and a old battery that was sitting around. After two kicks it started. We buzzed around with it that summer keeping the speed below 20mph, thinking if the original front tire gave up it wouldn't hurt so bad when you got thrown off..... ok that might be a redneck idea. In any case my brother in law (the engine whisperer) rebuilt it and it's still fun to ride, now my 16 year old has it eyes on it. I guess being old is sometimes cool.
  • 8
    Scott Allred Chico, CA February 18, 2016 at 15:23
    My Uncle bought a CB350 new in the late '60s; it always had a distinct exhaust note. I can still hear it in my head to this day. (I noticed the one in the picture above has after-market pipes.) If I were riding in a car I knew without looking that a 350 was next to me. Always a nice bike.
  • 9
    James San Francisco February 18, 2016 at 16:19
    I bought my first bike in 1974 - a '71 CB350. The former owner had added the pipes from the CL so everyone thought I had a Scrambler. It looked almost like the one in the picture - good times!
  • 10
    Andy LI NY February 18, 2016 at 08:23
    I worked for Honda from 1971 to 1976. These were great sellers. The CB 350 far outsold everything else. They all ran forever. I personally owned the CB350-4. What a screamer. It was light and low enough for my wife to ride. I rode a CB750. The 350-4 was able to keep up with me cruising. For reliability you can't beat any Honda, 2 or 4 wheels.
  • 11
    Ed Guilford, Ct. February 18, 2016 at 23:23
    In 1972 I took a 1968 CB 350 as partial payment for a 1962 SAAB 96 2 Stroke. The bike was a wreck but I rebuilt it with readily available new and used parts. Tank, gauges, controls, front tire, chain, rear swing arm, fender, and tail light, carb piston with rubber diaphragm and some other parts. Drove it 3,000 miles before T boning a Saint Bernard. Handle bars where rubber mounted which affected handling on corners. Engine vibration meant sometimes it was hard to keep your feet from sliding off the pegs. Replace it with a 1972 CB 500 4 cyl. Much smoother, only 30 MPG.
  • 12
    Birney Montcalm Douglasville, GA February 19, 2016 at 08:13
    I used to get a big kick out of outrunning Honda 350's with my 1970 Kawasaki 350 Big Horn trail bike
  • 13
    Fred Columbia, TN February 20, 2016 at 08:53
    I wish you had pictured better examples of these bike rather than the 2 adulterated ones shown.
  • 14
    Mauricio Rosatti Fort Worth, TX February 23, 2016 at 23:14
    Guys guys guys! You can still buy a new bike that is just like this Honda, fun to run, economical and inexpensive to purchase. It's called the Suzuki tu250x! Cheers!
  • 15
    Jeff San Francisco Bay area April 1, 2016 at 21:33
    We all thought my grand dad was crazy when he brought home a '71 CL350 during the oil crunch. Then at 14, he graduated to a 550 with a big fairing, we thought it was huge!. I was blown away when he gave me the 350. I got a car at 16, and never looked back...til I turned 48. I saw one at Barbers Vintage rally, and it all came back to me, the fun, the freedom, the feel of wind in my hair. Then I was able to buy a '69 with 7k mi! So much fun! Im 14 again!
  • 16
    john marsox durango co October 2, 2016 at 03:02
    Back in 1973, A friend drove his brand new 1973 CL 350 Honda Blue from Lafayette Louisiana to Houston Texas to visit me. That is a long ride for this bike! When he told me he had to sell the bike because of money I really wanted it. Well, I ended up getting the bike of $600 because my GF bought it for me and let me tell you, we really enjoyed riding this bike. I could zip around the traffic with ease. I almost went down, but I never did. A drunk driver pulled out of a bar right in front of me. Me and My GF were out riding on a hot summer night in Houston. We loved riding at night because of less traffic, but at night it is harder to be seen. Anyway, as the rear end begin to skid to my left, I put my left foot down. I wore boots then and before I knew it, the bike had uprighted itself and we were past the car! After we got home, it hit us. We were really all shook up, like Elvis says. We wore helmets but that payment would of really scrapped us up and broke some bones. ( I assume) I do not know because going 40 miles an hour and doing a panic stop, when was my first, who knows what is going to happen. The next day, we were out riding again! Many years later I bought a Honda 650 and liked it and then I bought a really fast bike. FZ6! It cost around 10K and it was so powerful. I was out of my mind to buy that bike and after a short time I traded for the Yamaha FZ1. That bike was still fast, but compared to FZ6 it really was slow. Anyway, I wised up and got back into cars, even though I never had another close call. It takes a lot of luck and skill to ride a bike without going down.

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