1980 XS850 Midnight Special (2012)

I finally found a Midnight Special!


 Over the next 2 years, after buying the XV1100 Virago, I purchased a few more  XV700 Yamaha Viragos. They seemed to be readily available and cheap to buy.  They were fun to ride but I got bored with working on them and decided to move on to something different.  

I had still been searching for A Yamaha XS1100 Midnight Special, but the few that I found were really rusted out junkers. I was starting to believe that the few that were produced were all gone by now. And then I found an XS850 Midnight Special, XS1100’s little brother. This is not what I was looking for, but it was as close as I could find.

I drove 240 miles to different cities in 2 different states (Steubenville, Ohio  and Wheeling, West Virginia) on 2 consecutive days. I returned home with a 1980 Yamaha XS850 Midnight Special and a 1980 Yamaha XS850 Special.


 The XS850 Triples are an inline 3 cylinder bike, thus the nickname “triple”. My goal is to restore this Midnight Special as close to original as I can.

Neither of the bikes run and I know positively that the midnight’s engine is blown. It actually has a hole blown out of the side of the casing. I was told that the other special did run ok at one time before being parked many years ago.  All I can do is keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best with that one. 

Step 1

Strip both bikes down to the frame and remove the motors.


Step 2

Paint the silver 850 motor black since the original black midnight special motor is blown up. 


I swapped the black and gold engine side covers from the original Midnight to the newly painted motor. Then I painted the engine fins gold.


Step 3

Reinstall the motor back into the frame, an interesting challenge since this was the first time I had ever removed or installed an engine on any bike. Next I cleaned and rebuilt the carbs and put them back on. 


And much to my surprise and delight, I actually got the bike started! This was a huge step in the process since I wasn’t sure if I bought a good motor or not. Unfortunately it was only running on 2 cylinders, so had to pull the carbs back off and discovered that one of the floats was not adjusted properly. I reinstalled the carbs and got it running fairly well, good enough for now anyhow.


Step 4

Discovering all the other needed repairs:

I discovered a pretty serious oil leak. I ordered a clutch push rod seal from Mike’s XS and another new engine side cover gasket. And it worked out great, no more oil leak. The next problem to address was an engine ticking noise. Luckily that was just an exhaust leak which was easily resolved by replacing the exhaust header gaskets.  The front brakes are locking up. I ordered a master cylinder rebuild kit from MikesXS. I synched the carbs with a home made oil filled clear plastic tubing device, but the battery went dead before I finished synching. I made the mistake of leaving the charger (10amp) on the battery while the bike was running and melted an ignition switch plug. I couldn’t turn the bike off with the key. The wires had melted together and were shorted in the on position, I had to disconnect the battery to shut he bike off.  I Cut and spliced the wiring to the ignition switch. Hoping there is no other electrical damage, The charging system seems a little weak but it is working. 

Step 5

 Next I painted the airbox and painted the entire exhaust system with Krylon 500 degree high temp ceramic black gloss paint. It looks really good but 500 degree paint is not hot enough, most of it burned off the headers within 15 minutes. 


 Step 6

I rubbed down the burnt paint off the header pipes and the original black chrome looks great! To my surprise, the residual burnt paint must have filled in and covered up the flaws. I reassembled everything while waiting for parts. After all of this work, I still have not ridden this bike yet. I’m just hoping that the transmission is good and there are no 2nd gear issues. 

All of a sudden cylinder #1 stopped firing, no spark. The ignition coil appeared to be open, but after taking off the tank to replace the coil, I found out that the spark plug resistor cap was bad. Since I had the gas tank off again I decided to check the valve clearances, they are on the tight side, but close enough for me. I had to order a new valve cover gasket. I took apart and cleaned the 2 sticking front brake calipers while waiting for the master cylinder rebuild kit.  

Step 7


 I put the valve cover and gas tank back on. I rebuilt the master cylinder, the brakes are working well now. It started right up, but now it’s only running on 2 cylinders again. Fortunately I had the parts bike, I swapped out the ignition unit and what a difference! I put on my helmet and took it for a ride. A big sigh of relief to find out the transmission shifts perfectly and I discovered that this bike is probably the best running and fastest bike I have ever owned!  

It took a lot of time and effort to restore this midnight special. It has been an ambitious and satisfying project. I know there will be more tweaking and maintenance, but I’m calling this project DONE!   

The Show

 My friend Don, (the only other midnight special owner that we know of in the area) invited me to join him at the Shriner’s Motor Show. I was hesitant but decided why not. It will be a new experience for me. It was kind of a long day but at the end of the day I was really excited that my 850 triple actually won! Granted, there were not a lot of bikes entered…BUT I’ll take it!  


The thing that makes this special for me is that I didn’t just buy this bike and enter it into a show. I think that I can make the case that I built this bike! (or at least rebuilt it).

 I can’t remember where the guy was from that bought this bike, but I think it was fairly local, because he rode it back here one day to pick up a part from me. When he pulled the bike into my driveway  I immediately regretted selling this one!

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