1980 XS1100LG Midnight Special #3 (2016)

April 2016

I had been looking for another project bike for months when I hit the mother load! I found 2 Midnight Specials for sale by the same owner in the state of Indiana. I was excitedly looking forward to the road trip!

AT 3:45 AM Sunday morning Frank and I jumped into my van and headed off to Lyford, INDIANA! It really wasn’t a bad trip at all. Frank and I are old friends and I enjoyed the camaraderie as always. It was an easy drive with very little traffic and only a few quick stops. 460 miles and 8 hours later at 11:30 am we arrived at our destination.

I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed in what I saw. I wasn’t surprised at how rough the parts bike was but I was expecting at least one of the bikes to be in better shape than what they were.


After looking through some of the many boxes of parts that came with the bikes, I thought that this could still be a very worthwhile deal. It felt like we were on the TV show “American Pickers”. There were parts in the garage, in the shed, in the barn, in the attic, in the rafters…Frank and I started loading up the Van and trailer. It seems like he did most of the work and it was quite a task too. A special thanks to Frank for being there, He was a huge help. I would have died trying to do all of that by myself! Almost 2 hours after arriving, Frank had the van loaded to the ceiling and 2 midnight specials on the trailer. At aprox 1:30 pm after stopping at Subway for a take out lunch, we were on the road again.


The drive home wasn’t quite as easy. We had to stop a few times to check the trailer and fasten down the bikes. The traffic was a lot heavier now. We were both tired, but Frank kept me awake and on course. It was a long 18 hour day and 925 miles round trip. At 9:30 pm Sunday night we were back at my house. It was an adventure and I think we both enjoyed it, but both of us were glad to be back home too!

Let the project begin!

The next day I unloaded the van and inventoried most of the parts and was excited to see that there was even more than I imagined. The first step as always is to clean the bikes up and begin troubleshooting. I put the tanks and seats on the bikes and discovered that the bike that I was disappointed in and considered to be in just fair condition turned out to be a pretty good looking bike! So all in all, I was very happy with the deal.


After a few quick checks, the compression and spark look ok.  I sprayed a little starting fluid in and it fired right up for about 2 seconds! And that was the first and last time it fired.

Frank came down to pick up an exhaust system from the Indiana deal and while he was here, he helped me do some troubleshooting. We added oil to the pistons, tried more starter fluid, retested everything including the spark and valve clearance, which is a little too tight, but still I thought that this bike should start up. A second check of the compression shows only 40-50 PSI…way too low. I didn’t know why it changed, unless something happened after the momentary startup. I devised a little leak tester to try to determine the cause of the low compression.  A trip to the auto parts store for a tire air valve, and old spark plug, a little drilling, and you have a home made compression leak detector for only $3.00.


All you do is screw the leak tool into the spark plug hole, add a little air from an air compressor just like you would add air to a tire, and listen for the air leak. The cylinder must be at TDC on the compression stroke. I could hear that 3 cylinders have leaking rings and one cylinder has a leaking exhaust valve, which indicates an engine removal and a complete top end tear down! As a last resort, I added 20w50 engine oil combined with some marvel mystery oil to each cylinder. I let it sit for a couple of days. Hopefully the rings are just sticking and will unfreeze.

No luck, I still only have 60 psi compression in all 4 cylinders so it looks like a top end rebuild is called for. Frank agrees and wants to help me do it just for the fun of it. We haven’t done an engine rebuild since we were teenagers! And that was a long  long time ago! After further research, I don’t think we have to pull the engine for this job.

May 2016

Frank brought down his motorcycle lift today so that we didn’t have to crawl around on the floor. After a good bit of struggle, and a lot of pounding with a rubber mallet and a block of wood, we managed to pull the head and cylinders off of the motor. And sure enough, just as we suspected, the rings were frozen inside of the piston grooves. Fortunately everything else looks good, no scoring of the cylinders and no burnt valves.


And my home made valve spring compression tool $3.88!


The top end rebuild turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected. But it was interesting and fun. I took my time and it went pretty well. The hardest part was scraping off the bottom gasket, which took hours! The motor now has new rings, new valve seals, new gaskets, valves lapped and re-shimmed, and cylinders honed. The zip tie shim removal trick worked really well. First compression test after reassembly: 90 PSI.

June 2016


The bike started right up after the rebuild and it sounds pretty good. Though it is smoking a good bit, which I expected. I ran it several minutes to get it good and hot, varying the engine speed, shutting it off, restarting it several times, and so far so good. I don’t want to run it too much because they say it is best to ride it after a rebuild to seat the rings properly, But with no brakes, probably not a good idea!

July 4, 2016

Independence day for this bike?

I rebuilt the front and rear brake master cylinders and calipers so that it was safe to take it for the first test ride. The most I can say about the ride is that it went OK. I really just wanted to see if the transmission shifted ok and also to break in the new rings a bit. It was a very short ride. The bike isn’t running very good at all, but then I really couldn’t expect it to with a tee-shirt wrapped around the carbs for an air filter! I only got through the first 3 gears but the tranny did shift, so that was somewhat of a relief. It was still smoking a good bit out of the right side exhaust and the front brakes are dragging a bit. So there is still a lot to do on this project.

I pulled the carbs back off and bench synched them. I put the airbox and filter and carbs all back on the bike this time. I was able to synch and colortune the carbs and the bike seems to be running MUCH better now! But I won’t really know until the next test ride.

July 19, 2016


The final test ride started out with some missing and sputtering but as the bike warmed up it began running better and better. I’ll have to see if it is a cold engine sputter or if it just needed the cob webs blown out. After today’s 30 miles test ride, I am very satisfied with the results. There are still some minor glitches to work out, such as:

1/8 throttle hesitation,

small exhaust header leaks,

recheck the valve adjustments.

And I forgot to put the horns back on. BUT all in all, the bike ran good and the major work on it seems to be DONE! (and it looks good too!)

July 2017

I ran an AD and it took awhile, but a  guy from North Carolina contacted me. He was seriously interested in the bike because he had one of these  back when he met his wife many many years ago. After a few emails and a few phone conversations, Bill wanted to buy the bike if I would meet him half way. We agreed to meet in Beckley WV.  About a 5 hour drive for each of us. Bill and his wife Sharon were very nice. He was very excited to find his old bike! And it made me feel good that the bike went to a guy who really appreciated and enjoyed it. It has been very interesting for me to meet so many nice people from several different states in this hobby of mine.

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