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Honda VF750S V45 Sabre – AKA The Chocolate Camshaft

The VF750S (aka V45 Sabre in North America) was Honda’s response to the challenge for top dog from Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki.

 All three of their Japanese rivals were producing dual overhead cam 4-stroke inline four-cylinder machines in the early 80’s and Honda were losing both ground and sales and needed to act fast.

Their answer was the VF750S, powered by a V4 engine that was to dominate the rest of the 1980’s.

Honda VF750S Review

Introduced in 1982, the VF750S was Honda’s attempt to design a motorcycle utilising the world’s first liquid cooled V4 engine for the general biking public rather than the speed thrill seekers. It would be the follow-up VF750F Interceptor that would be the bike made for speed and racing.

The 748cc, 90-degree, dual overhead cam V4 from the Honda VF750S V45 Sabre was also utilised in the Honda Magna and the subsequent VF750F Interceptor. Except for a few fuel and carburetion-related variations, the engines of the Sabre and Magna were essentially interchangeable.

For the 1982 model, the 748 cc V45 engine generated 82 bhp, and for the 1983–1985 versions, 86 bhp. However, despite the fact that the real, detuned horsepower values proved to be lower than stated, Honda continued to publish the same numbers for the whole generation.

 The new V4 engine from Honda had the advantage of having both the small width of a v-twin and the high-revving power of an in-line four-cylinder. The engine’s perfect primary balance, provided by the 90-degree angle of the V, allowed it escape the vibration issues that afflicted many in-line four-cylinder motorcycle engines without the need of bulky solid rubber mounts or counter-balancers.

In order to cool the engine’s internal liquid cooling system, radiators for the large V4 were placed both low and directly in front of the crankcase and behind the front wheel, with ducting directing airflow inward. The split coolers were created with the goal of minimising weight and shrinking the frontal area of the bike.

Honda showcased its technologies through the Sabres, particularly the V45. They included cutting-edge water-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree-V four-cylinder engines as well as hydraulically activated, one-way clutches, TRAC (Torque Reactive Anti-Dive Control) front suspension, Pro-link rear suspensions, and electronic speedometers and tachometers.

The original V45 included an LCD gear indicator that also served as an electrical fault display, a fibre-optic anti-theft system, self-cancelling turn signals, a built-in lap timer, and an electronic instrument cluster. Most of these mechanical characteristics were kept, however many of these electrical functions were removed from later V45s and the VF700.

Premature camshaft wear on the earlier model was the VF750S V45 Sabre’s demise. In hindsight, the wear was brought on by insufficient oil flow to the heads and cams, lengthy periods of operation at low engine speeds (under 3,000 rpm), cold starts, improper engine warm-up procedures, inaccurate valve adjustment, and poor maintenance.

Problems with valve clearance were also thought to be a possible contributing issue. Honda initially denied that there was a problem, then accused improper or insufficient maintenance as the cause. As a result the maintenance interval was altered, and a unique tool for “correct” valve-lash adjustment was created and supplied.

The motorcycles were ultimately recalled, the banjo nuts were changed for less restrictive ones, and kink-free oil lines were fitted. By cutting holes in the lobes and sealing the ends of the hollow cams, they also altered the cams. The issues continued after all of the modifications, needing more tests to pinpoint the root problem.

Honda ultimately solved the problem by recalling all the camshafts and replaced them with new parts after realising that the camshaft bearings had too much room. The issue was resolved by modifications to the engine’s design and manufacturing processes for later models, but it was too late to restore the engine’s standing.

The 1984 adjustment in import duties necessitated modifications to the V45 engine. Honda detuned the engine to lower the displacement to 698 cc, added a tooth to the clutch gear to make up for torque loss, and altered the model designation to VF700S. The VF700S model continued for only one final year. 

Honda VF750S Specs list

VF750S Price guide

Naturally, anyone searching for a VF750S will want to know if the bike they’re interested in experienced the infamous cam shaft wear problem. If you can find one for sale, opt for a 1984 model or later to avoid this issue because Honda had already repaired it by that point.

Due to only being in production for 2 years and the camshaft wear issues, many people tended to send them by the way of the scrap yard. As a result they are extremely rare and I’ve only managed to find one for sale in the entire UK!

The above 1983 model with 30,000 miles but restored and serviced well £3,500. It’s in very good condition but is it worth the asking price? If you really want one as a bike to use and have love for then maybe, but as an investment it’s probably not worth it right now.

Is the VF750S a future classic?

The Honda VF750S V45 Sabre hasn’t really hit it off with the collectors. A decent model is only about £1,500, and even a vehicle with near-zero mileage would sell for approximately £6,000. It’s obvious that the problematic V4’s reputation has devalued it, and because one of its successors, the VFR750R RC30, went on to become a legendary racing machine, it’s quite doubtful that the VF750S V45 Sabre will ever be displayed in a museum or become a prized collectible.

Verdict

The Honda VF750S V45 Sabre will always be remembered for Honda’s dreaded customer service response to the camshaft wear issues the bikes suffered. It’s certainly one of those ‘What if?’ situations on whether the VF750S would have been more successful if Honda had reacted differently and resolved the issues faster and with hands held up from the off.

Despite its tarnished reputation we must remember that it was the inception for what would be Honda’s racing rebirth that has continued on in Premier Motorcycle racing to this day.

Ideally of all of Honda’s V4 engined classics, the one we all want is the now infamous Honda VFR750R RC30. However this is a truly rare and desired collector’s item and fetching prices around £30,000!

So not something us mere mortals could hope to acquire, we need to look elsewhere to own a piece of this history. The VF750S V45 Sabre was the first but if you’re looking for something more, it was the VF750F Interceptor, that I recently reviewed, that truly started its journey to become a legend and given the choice, this is where I’d put my money.

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