A QUICK OVER VIEW OF THE V4 LINE
Here is how I see the V4 lineage. It is based on engine evolution and has nothing to do with the cosmetics, body styling, single vs dual headlights, single swingarm, etc etc etc. Minor engine characteristics such as cam profiles, valve sizes, are also too insignificant to really matter that much.
1st Generation: this began with 1982 V45 VF750SC Sabre, Magna Chain driven cams, forked rocker arms actuate a pair of valves each, shaft final drive, nearly vertical/horizontal cylinder orientation. Eventually included V65 VF1100 Sabre and Magna, and V30 VF500 Magna as well.
2nd Generation: began with 1983 V45 VF750F Interceptor Chain final drive, engine turns opposite direction, cylinder orientation tipped back. Eventually included the VF1000 Interceptor and VF700 & VF500 Interceptor as well.
3rd Generation: began with VF1000R; mainly seen in 1986 VFR 750 Interceptor. Gear driven cams. One rocker arm per valve.
4th Generation: began with the 1990 VFR750F Gear driven cams. Direct valve actuation with shim under bucket. Further details such as 180 vs 360 degree crank can be added but this set of factors should be sufficient.
To complicate matters, the progression is not a single line. For example, the current Magna motors have shim under bucket valve actuation, but use chain driven cams. They're an offshoot of the 4th generation motor. Then there is the ST1100 motor, a longitudinal V4, which probably gets a category for itself.
SO THEN : -
HONDA VF 750 to VFR 800
Honda can proudly hold high the VFR750 as a true sign of what the company can do. It's a superbly designed and executed motorcycle for the road which few, if any, machines can come close for quality, reliability, all round ability and refinement. The fact that they're a safe, but secondhand their used values make them hard to go past.
That's a big turnaround from the dark days of the early 1980's. The V-four Honda could have died a painful death back then, and no one would have missed it. Honda knew it was onto a good thing however, and forged ahead despite serious problems that stung the company's reputation and left a lingering mistrust amongst buyers.
The awful camshaft and cam chain woes are now but a chapter in the 16 year history of the VF series. Those troubles also helped shape the future direction of the bikes, and is partly responsible for the superb reliability and longevity of the VFRs. Honda set out to show its technical superiority, was shamed dreadfully by its failure to build a worthy product, and followed by going overboard on getting it right.
The big issues with these early bikes were pitted camshafts and short-lived cam chains. It was very controversial at the time, and Honda dodged the issue amid a barrage of accusations and criticism.
Only VFs are affected, not VFRs. The camshafts were, by all accounts, poorly treated, so the hardening on the lobes wore off. The rockers then suffered as well.
Some people believe bad oil flow exacerbated the trouble, hence the astute owner had a variety of top end oil kits avaliable to help keep the upper motor lubricated.
New cams and rockers were going into VFs every 10,000km at the height of the problem, and most bikes had modifications before being sold publicly. Honda never introduced new component parts, but the modification seemed to last lots longer. Honda probably got it right eventually, although it never let on what happened, or how it was fixed, they blamed irregular servicing and lack of morning warm ups for the problems.
Ivan Tighe Engineering in Brisbane (07) 3844 4283 did and still does guaranteed repairs on worn cams, and these were apparently the best fix for Aussie owners, and save money on the original replacements, cost about $230.00 max AUD.
Cam chains were not good either. The tensioner design was flawed; part of the tensioner wore into a groove and then jammed in place so there was no way to adjust the chain tension and the whole lot self-destructed very rapidly.
LED instruments with stopwatch and self diagnostics that you could follow on the dash didn't distract anyone from the dreadful chassis Honda wrapped around the first V-four 750. The headline read: "Tomorrow's motor, yesterday's bike". The engine performed beautifully, setting the scene for the broad power and real world ability of all the V-fours. But is was spoiled by the sit-up ride position, top heavy cornering, semi custom styling, shaft drive and use of a 16-inch front wheel when no-one knew how to make them work. Cams and cam chains sealed its fate.
Honda made a sportbike out of this one, and it was a good thing. A 750 that turned the day's litre bikes into dinosaurs. But it ate its own camshafts and cam chains. This is the model that really hurt for Honda, and for 1985 the company retreated to lick it wounds.
The VFR was a completely revamped machine. It had to rise above the damage done and it did, eventually. The VFR's engine brought many changes, including the move to gear driven camshafts (no more bloody cam chains) and a 180-degree crankshaft instead of the 360 of the VF. The twin spar frame was new too. The 16-inch front wheel makes for twitchy handling that is sensitive to setup.
The second VFR was a simple update, the main news being the 17-inch front wheel. This VFR was probably the only one which, judged against its contemporaries, succeeded as a top 750 "super sports" motorcycle as well as being a practical touring machine. After this the Sports bikes got harder while the Honda softened, especially after 1990. Many people say these early VFRs had more grunt than later ones.
Stringent noise laws came into force during this period and strangled performance to some degrees, with a restrictor plate fitted at the inlet manifold but, if is has been removed, the bike goes as hard as it should. This is also illegal thanks to the noise regulations, but it's unlikely you'll ever be caught if the restrictor has been ditched by a previous owner.
A single sided swingarm and dozens of other changes heralded the fourth incarnation of the Honda V-four streetbike. This was a bike in a league of its own for road going refinement and civility with performance. Softer than a race replica and still fun and fast in the bends, it was comfortable, carried luggage and a passenger and was bulletproof.
The same flavour came in a much tweaked package. The final VFR750 was a lovely refinement of the previous model. It was followed this year by the VFR800, another revolutionary step ahead for a bike, which is now well past the bad blood spilled in 1983.
The burgeoning cruiser market got a kind of reincarnation of the original VF750S without the Flash Gordon electronics. The V-four has some appeal as a cruiser powerplant, but having today's motor in yesterday's bike still doesn't seem like the way into tomorrow, even in the intentionally retrospective cruiser market.
WHAT ONE HAS TO LOOK FOR
Start by looking for a VFR. No one recommends the VF models, but if you must, find one that has evidence of good cams with good servicing since they were fitted. The Ivan Tighe cams are the ideal find. Most VFs are now too old and worn to be worth serious consideration unless you're on a tight budget. Go over the whole bike carefully, and price any repairs before you commit to buying because getting them done might cost as much as you paid for the machine.
There was a recall on the VF750F models to replace the handlebars, but verifying whether it was done may be hard after all these years, even Honda melbourne has no recollection of the problem, when asked.
Post 1990 bikes were built to Honda's voluntary 74kW limit until the 800 came along. There are no restrictors to easily remove. However, mufflers can usually be fitted without serious jetting changes, although full exhaust systems will probably need re-jetting of the carbs.
Honda has issued a modification order for 1996 models. When the engine is cold, the clearance at the ends of the cams allows them to move sideways. You can hear them knock when the bike is running. Your Honda dealer can fix it by drilling a 1mm hole in the end caps to allow oil to fill the gap while the engine warms and clearances close. It was done under warranty while the warranty was current but not afterwards because Honda says it is a nuisance problem that is not detrimental to the bike's running.
Regulators have a lifespan of about two years on all models. Later VFRs suffer cracked tailpieces, particularly if the bike has carried pillions regularly: They crack around the holes that accommodate the single seat cowl and at the window to the rear brake fluid level. Plastic welding these cracks is the best repair.
Electronic instruments on later models have presented no problems. The original chains and, particularly, sprockets are known to last 40 - 50 000 km if treated properly, and therefore come highly recommended.
Make sure you get the bolt on pillion grab handles with the second of the Pro-Arm models and the 800.
This article was taken from the October 1998 TWO WHEELS MAGAZINE in Australia. Any information that is contained in this article is from the magazine.
The 800 as you would expect is as reliable as the previous ones. Honda's more recent record is an accurate indicator. As a rule you can expect VFRs to be solid, reliable and long-lasting.There are a couple of minor things - the melting of the front cover over the instrument panel just above the speedometer, and the Variable Air Intake Control System. Neither affect the performance.