Mike in Ohio purchased my nicest Midnight ever (#4). Part of the deal included taking this one (#5) on trade. It is my 5th Midnight Special and my first 1981 model. The midnight’s were only made for 2 years; in 1980 and in 1981.
Overall the bike is not too bad and I think it has very good potential. The biggest downside is the black chrome exhaust, which has some serious damage to it and I may not be able to salvage it easily if at all. The seat has a tear in it. All of the brakes are shot. But the seller did say that he was able to start it up and he did hear it running!
I’ll take some time to decide whether I want to restore this one or customize it. It does look like this one might make another nice theme/tribute bike.
I put the battery pack on it today just to see if it would start up. And it did! It started right up but is pretty loud due to a big hole in the muffler. I even got it to idle but I can tell the carbs need worked on. The turn signals, horn, green neutral light and the tach are not working. The charging system checks good, putting out 14V. Compression = 120,90,120,120…I’m not overly concerned about the low #2 cylinder. I think that 90 should come up once the bike is running for a bit. I added some rislone to let it soak in the low cylinder (Frank’s trick).
I discovered that not only was the left muffler cracked from where the center stand was pushed through it, but the frame where the center stand mounts to was cracked as well. I have never attempted any type of welding in my life, so anytime something like that needs to be done, I go to Frank.
He did a nice job welding the frame and brazing the muffler. Now the question is whether I can smooth out the brazing on the muffler well enough to make it look presentable.
I was reluctant to coat the brazed area with JB weld, but I wanted to experiment and see what happens. Well it didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped it would. I don’t see a good way to get the JB weld smooth enough for painting.
When I removed the exhaust system last month, I broke one of the studs. Today’s project, to drill and replace the broken stud was quite a project! But somehow I managed to get it done and now I’m ready to rebuild the braking systems so that I can safely take this thing for a test ride, mainly to see if the tranny is good. But also to determine if this bike has a future!
I’ve discovered that the braking system on this 1981 model is totally different than all of the other Yamaha’s that I have worked on. It is a linked system. The rear master cylinder operates not only the rear brake caliper but also one of the front brake calipers simultaneously. The front master cylinder operates only one of the front brake calipers. The big problem that I have discovered with this system is that the rebuild kit for the rear master cylinder is no longer available. Hopefully I can just clean it and save it, but if not then I will need to purchase an 82 XJ1100 rear MC or convert the linked system to a standard previous year XS1100 system that uses independent front and back brakes.
The carbs look to be in pretty decent physical condition. Actually I think they are totally unmolested. Judging by the condition of the phillips screws, they look like they have never been taken apart before. The brass pilot mixture screw plugs are still in place. I’m really happy to find that all of the jets broke free pretty easily. This set of carbs should clean up really nice!
Now that the carbs and the brakes are done and since it was 50 degrees outside today, I decided to put the bike back together and take it for the first test ride. It was a lot of work since I had it stripped down thoroughly so that we could flip it upside down for Frank to weld the center stand bracket. After putting it all back together, I got it running just well enough to take it for a ride. My goal was simply to see how it shifts and to also listen to the engine under load. These important factors will determine the future of this bike.
The ride went great! The bike runs good, pulls strong and hard, and shifts perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for better results. Now I am comfortable proceeding with a complete restoration or possible customization. There is still a lot of work to do, but nothing as major as an engine or transmission rebuild.
Some of the other problems that need to be addressed are:
The rubber manifold boots are cracked. The right front rotor is rubbing something. The tach is erratic. The green neutral light doesn’t work. The brake lights are not working. The turn signals won’t even light up at all. The horn doesn’t work. The fuse box needs to be replaced. The JB weld on the exhaust seems to have held up under the heat, so the exhaust system needs to be finished. The center stand needs to be taken back off and adjusted somehow. It is very stiff and won’t retract back to the up position. And of course a complete paint job, including the engine!
So there are lots of fun things to do to this project over the winter!
I got side tracked with another project over the winter and am just now getting back to this one. I traced most of my electrical problems down to the fuse box, which is a well known common problem with these old bikes. The fuse holder clips get brittle and lose their tension, that along with corrosion causes all kinds of electrical gremlins. In this case, the bad 20 amp turn signal fuse holder was causing the green neutral light and red oil pressure lights not to light up as well as no brake lights and no horn or turn signal lights. I found an inexpensive fuse block at the auto parts store, less than $20. It is Bussmann part number 15600-06-20. three of the four 12 volt inputs are common so I was only able to use this for 3 of the 4 circuits. For some reason Yamaha has the tail light/brake light on a different 12 volt line from the ignition switch. To keep it simple, I’m just going to add a separate in line fuse for the blue wires.
The final electrical problem (hopefully) was the turn signals not working. I don’t know why I always struggle with that. I have had this same problem before with the OEM flasher. I think it may be related to replacement bulbs not being the same as OEM bulbs. The solution is easy though once you spend a hundred hours eliminating every other possibility. Just replace the OEM flasher with a generic 2 prong car flasher! However you lose the auto cancel function by fixing the problem that way. I’m sure I have read somewhere that there is a work around solution for that also, but I’m not really too concerned with the auto cancel feature.
I’ve really been struggling with what to do about the exhaust system flaws. Both mufflers have a section on the end of them that has been ground off.
And the JB weld coating idea was a complete failure.
I’ve been watching ebay for months trying to find replacements, but black chrome pipes are nowhere to be found so far.
I’ve been experimenting with solder and was surprised to find that it sticks very well to steel. I always thought it was used strictly for copper pipes and copper wires and such. I sanded down a section of the pipe to do a solder test. It even held on strong after taking a hammer and chisel to it!
So will it hold up to the heat of the pipes? The charts say that the solder melting point is 360 degrees. But I found that my 40/60 solder was melting at around 300 degrees. However I don’t know how accurate my IR temperature sensor tool really is. But regardless, the muffler that I want to solder doesn’t get that hot. The temperature readings on the header pipes is around 550 and reads cooler as you move back towards the muffler end. At the muffler / header joint I am reading about 225 – 250 degrees and on the muffler itself (which is where I want to solder) , 130-150 degrees. So I feel confident that the solder will hold up at the end of the muffler where the flat spots are in need of repair.
I started with the smaller flat spot first and found it so much more difficult coating the surface with solder as compared to filling the hole on my first test. I really struggled with the propane torch and then found out that my 1500 watt heat gun worked a lot better. I was able to control the heat so much more accurately with the gun. It took a long while but I think I have the flat spot covered pretty good. Now as long as it sticks, I should be able to file it down nicely.
I took the pipes up to Frank’s place today and asked him to do some more brazing on them. The lead solder was working ok but I’m sure brass braze will be much better. We have the bulk of the pipe damage filled in now. I’ll try smoothing it out some more with the lead.
I needed to take a break again from the exhaust pipes. They are frustrating me. So on to the engine painting now. I de-greased the engine with simple green and then rinsed with the water hose. Then sanded the fins which is always quite a tedious job. This time I used an air tool to do some of the sanding but there is no avoiding the inevitable task of hand sanding each fin inside the crevices. It looks like they still need a little more work. After I paint the top end of the engine pictured below, I’ll remove the valve cover and sand and paint it off of the engine. That will also give me an opportunity to check the valve clearances.
And look at the cracks in those manifold boots. They are the worst I have ever seen. The bike would never run right with those kinds of air leaks. Sometimes cracked boots are not cracked all the way through but these ones are. As a test, I sprayed carb cleaner around the cracked areas while the bike was running and the engine speed altered significantly.
I love this paint…Dupli-Color engine enamel with ceramic (500 degrees). I use it on everything, not just the engine, (except the exhaust).
Next step is to remove the valve cover to re-paint it. The allen bolts were all very tight. I don’t think they have ever been removed before. I was able to crack all but 2 of them loose. One of those two I was able to break loose with vice grips, but the other one wouldn’t budge. I tried vice grips, hammer and chisel, PB blaster, propane torch heat. It just wouldn’t budge. Eventually I ended up cracking the aluminum valve cover that I was trying to remove for painting and valve clearance checks. I ended up cutting the head of the bolt off with a dremel tool. Even after dremel cutting and drilling the bolt, I still ended up breaking the valve cover to get it off. And then the bolt shaft was still stuck in the head, but With a lot of effort, I was able to successfully remove the stud with vice grips.
This is not the recommended way of removing a valve cover!
Fortunately I have an extra one in the shed. All 4 of the exhaust valve clearances were too tight and out of spec, 2 of the inputs were also too tight. So it was worth it to remove the valve cover after all. I think that too tight on the exhaust side can cause valves to burn or other possible engine damage.
The new valve cover is painted but I have to let it dry for a few days before I add the gold stripes on top. In the meantime, I painted the engine side covers. They were in pretty rough shape with a lot of scratches and stone chips. The challenge is to sand them down and paint them without losing the factory gold. In the past I’ve coated the gold trim with a water base grease and then just washed it off, But I ran out of that grease so I decided to try a light oil coating instead. Mainly because I had this thin nozzle bottle of oil and it was easy to spread the oil around the grooves. Later on I found that an ordinary can of 3 in 1 oil worked well also.
The idea of course being that the paint won’t stick to the oil. But it is quite a challenge to keep the oil off of the main surface to be painted. The trick to it is to paint it immediately after applying the oil, before the oil has a chance to wick up to the painted surface. And then as soon as the new paint dries, , a blast with an air hose flushes out the oil and leaves a nice gold groove. I’ll do a little more clean up around the gold trim areas and I think it will be nice. I don’t know when and I really don’t remember making a conscious decision to restore this bike rather than customize it, but spending all this time and effort on the engine side covers to retain the factory gold is certainly the first step to restoration!
Well, I had a perfect black paint job on the valve cover and I rushed into painting the gold stripes. I always do that even though I know better. You really should wait at least a week before painting over top of new paint, other wise it crinkles. I managed to salvage it but it really should’ve turned out better. Most of the flaws will be hidden under the gas tank anyhow, so I think I’m going to use this as is. I can always go back later and re-do it. I’m going to wait and see how this bike turns out before I worry too much about the fine details (which nobody except me really notices anyhow).
Next Up is to adjust the cam chain tensioner while I have the side cover off. It’s leaking oil anyhow, as many of them do. A new gasket and some RTV should fix the problem. AND then back to the dreaded exhaust!
I never would have thought that a 1500 watt heat gun would melt solder and heat the metal hot enough for the solder to stick, but it does! It took me quite awhile to figure out the best way to do this. The mufflers are round, the solder is round and if a piece of solder drops to the pipe before It melts, it just roll off the pipe. And if it melts to a liquid state, it still just rolls off like water. So I discovered that if you take a hammer and flatten out the solder, then lay it on the pipe and melt it till it is very soft but not quite liquid, you can spread it around with a piece of wood. Like spreading peanut butter on toast. I used a carpenters pencil to spread it but any small piece of wood should work. After a lot of trial and error I began to recognize when the solder was too cold or too hot and when it was just right for spreading.
The belt sander seemed to work best for quickly smoothing out the solder and braze.
There are still pinholes and little dimples, which I could keep soldering and working with it more and more. But I’m going to primer the repaired area with very high temperature primer, them use some auto body glazing/spotting putty to fill in the tiny flaws and then another coat of VHT paint over that, and then the final coat will be 500 degree paint on the mufflers, but not on the headers. They will require a higher temperature paint.
I soaked the header pipes in a tub of evaporust for a couple of days. I am always impressed with that product. I’ve used this same batch over and over again to clean several rusted gas tanks. I’d say at least 90-95% of the rust is gone now. I can even see some of the shininess of the black chrome has returned. Just a little more scuffing and cleaning and they are ready for paint.
Well, It’s not black chrome but it’s black!
2 or 3 coats of VHT flat black over everything first, then 2 or 3 coats of Rustoleum High heat Ultra over everything and finally a couple coats of Dupli-color Engine enamel over just the mufflers. I hope that’s not too many coats, but I guess time will tell.
In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for some OEM black chrome pipes.
A new month and a new idea!
Bill, an old friend stopped by today and I was showing him my recently acquired 1982 XJ1100 Maxim. It is quite a unique bike that was only made for one year. He commented on how different the gas tank was and how much he liked the style. I have to say that I completely agree with him. I really like the shape of the XJ gas tank and it’s larger capacity, which I believe is 5 gallon compared to the MNS’s 4 gallon tank. With Bill’s encouragement, I decided to try to swap the tanks just out of curiosity and sure enough, with a few modifications, We were able to fit the 82 Maxim tank onto this 81 MNS. AND we think it looks awesome! MY excitement about this project has been renewed by just that one simple change. This may be the only Midnight ever, to have a Maxim tank on it.
This week was for cleaning and painting. It’s a slow process, one piece at a time. Other than the frame and gas tank and wheels, they are mostly small pieces. The Maxim tank has a fair sized dent under the gold Yamaha badge. I am going to try to lead fill the dent like I did with the pipes. But there is always bondo if needed.
The lead solder seemed to work pretty good on the muffler so I decided to give it a try on the gas tank dent. Instead of plumbing solder, I wanted to try 40/60 electrical solder this time. I have several rolls and it has flux already in it. The dent is bowl shaped so the solder pooled nicely in the bowl and I could build it up slowly in layers without too much runoff. My concerns are: will the heat effect the tank lining and will paint stick with all of that flux flow?
I worked feverishly the last couple of weeks trying to complete this project in time for the Shriner’s Motor Show, but unfortunately I’m not going to make the deadline. The bike is about 90% cosmetically done but I wasn’t able to get the carbs tuned properly. I rode the bike and it runs good and strong, but the idle is erratic and the plugs are white indicating a lean condition. The carbs will have to come off and rejetted. There is also an ugly chattering under the right side engine cover at around 3k rpm that will have to be looked into. My first impression is a clutch chatter of some sort, but I’m not sure.
She’s looking pretty good, but I’m a bit frustrated and need to to a break from this project for awhile now.
WHEW!!! The engine noise really had me worried. It sounded like the clutch was chattering or the primary / HY-VO chain was rattling or chattering, or maybe even bad bearings. I even had a friend listen to it with me and he also couldn’t identify the noise source, but he said “it really sounds like something BAD!” I am happy to report that I discovered the noise was caused by a loose exhaust header pipe. The exhaust stud that I had previously repaired was not seating the exhaust flange completely, allowing just enough space for the loose pipe to rattle. It was an easy fix. All I had to do was add a couple of washers underneath the exhaust nut. WHEW!!!
Today I ordered a standard air filter. I want to replace the hi-flow K&N in an attempt to avoid re-jetting the carburetor. It’s a long shot, but worth a try I think.
I’m glad I took a break from the project. I was getting burned out!
The standard air filter made a big difference. With the K&N filter I couldn’t tune the carbs at all. Even with the mixture screw out way too far, the plugs were still white and basically nothing was really working right. The K&N was dry when I removed it but I am sure I sprayed oil on it before installation. Maybe I didn’t spray enough on it and that was the whole problem. All I know is that the carbs tuned easily after installing a standard air filter, so it’s staying in there. I think the mixture screws are still turned out farther than I like them to be, but it seems to be running fine now. The test ride went really well. And the plugs are a very nice tan color now.
However, now I’ve noticed that the engine has an annoying ticking sound. I suspect either an exhaust header leak or I may have one of the valves adjusted too loose. I’m going to replace the header gaskets first, which I should have done when I had the exhaust off the first time! I replaced the erratic tachometer and I found a nice looking seat on eBay that cost me way more than I wanted to spend! I’ve also found a source for a new gold gas cap which is also too pricey but I may bite the bullet and invest anyhow.
A partial “to do” list: Purchase new handlebar grips, the gas tank needs to be modified in some manner to allow a better fit for the seat and to prevent the triple tree from hitting the front of it, replace the XJ maxim fuel sender with an XS part so that the low fuel indicator light works, and maybe go one size larger on the main jets, Find a better exhaust system, this patched system just won’t do if I decide on going ahead with a 2nd restoration.
Today is a big day…I am planning on a good long test ride. Hopefully the ticking is gone and if all goes well…..
Well, the engine ticking is still there so I re-shimmed the valves. This time to the tighter end of spec. The range is .004-.006 on the intake and .008-.010 on the exhaust side.
Hooray! The latest test ride went great….No more ticking. The bike ran great once it warmed up. It was a little slow warming up and running a little lean now, so I’ll either raise the jet needles a notch or go one size larger on the pilot jets, maybe both.
A big challenge is getting the XJ Maxim tank to fit right. The wire harness is routed over top of the frame and the tank is sitting on top of it. I don’t like the way it is rubbing the harness and it would be better if I could lower the tank an inch or so.
Also Notice in the above picture the original tank mounting stud that I cut 1/2″ off because it was hitting the bottom of the new tank. Re-routing the wire harness was a much bigger job than I anticipated but eventually after a few nervous hours I managed to get it done.
the XJ Maxim Tank is longer than the original tank and the triple tree was hitting the front of the tank when I turned the handle bars all the way to the left or right. So I shimmed the rubber tank mounts about 1/4″ which prevents the tank from moving too far forward. I also had to cut 1/2″ of metal off of the back tank mounting tab to allow the seat to move forward enough so that the seat’s mounting tongue would engage the original mounting slot.
It took me 2 days to manipulate the seat mounting for a proper looking fit and to prevent it from rubbing the grab bar, the tank, and the frame too much. But I finally got it worked out and the new seat that I purchased on ebay looks great, almost like new.
I never really had a clear plan for this project from the beginning. This one is another example of improvising as you go with some opportunity modifications. It took one whole year and I’m very satisfied with how it turned out. I will put some miles on it this fall and if all goes well with the rides, I’ll likely have it professionally painted. I suspect this Midnight Special will be a keeper!
I sold a few spare parts and finally raised enough cash to order a very nice looking new gold gas cap and 2 new gold swing arm covers from Len at XJ4ever.com …. They were pricey but necessary and worth it! And now after seeing the quality of the parts, I’m going to order some more of the extremely hard to find gold trim parts from him too if he has them.
I’m looking forward to getting back to work on this project. I think the new parts will be a much needed motivation to do just that.
Now how is this for awesome? Thanks Len!
Len says he can re-plate the gold chrome grab bar. It keeps getting better and better! Now all I have to do is sell some more spare parts on ebay to raise some more cash.
Kudos to Len at XJ4ever.com! It took me a while to raise the cash and it took Len a while to get the gold plating job completed, but the gold grab bar and the 4 gold carburetor tops turned out awesome. I’m not going to install them yet though, not until everything else on the bike is completed.
In the meantime, I’m sending the 4 gold air box covers to Len for the last of the gold plating. Hopefully I’ll have a lot more of this project completed by the time they are done. I’m going to have more invested in gold plating that I ever expected to spend on this project, but I definitely think it will be worth it!
I received the gold airbox covers from Len. As was the case with all of the other golden pieces, he did a very nice clean looking job. Since the gold chrome on the left side of the airbox was still nice and shiny, and due to the cost, I decided to order the right side only. That was probably a mistake. I now can see that Len’s gold chrome is a slightly different shade of gold than the factory gold chrome. Therefore the airbox will have 2 different shades to it. However you can’t see both sides at the same time, so I’ll wait and see if it is noticeable or not. I may have to break down and purchase the left side also. I hope not though because it is very expensive!
After careful thought, I’ve decided that I would never be satisfied with the mismatch and the additional cost to purchase 2 more airbox covers is beyond my budget anyhow. Len has graciously agreed to take back the 2 that I already purchased for a full refund, since they were never installed. In the meantime, I’m going to work on shining up the one dull side of the airbox. After struggling with this final decision, it is time to get back to serious work on this project!
I found a black clamp on heat shield that I can put on the left muffler to cover up the flaws and imperfections that had to be brazed and soldered.
I also found a place in California that does black chrome, so I’m going to send them the handle bars to have them re-chromed. And I also purchased 2 new raised white letter tires from Dennis Kirk.
I think I have accumulated everything I need now to go ahead with the final restoration this month, which will include a complete repaint job. It’s going to be a busy fun month!
The triple tree hits the larger XJ1100 Maxim tank when the steering is turned all the way to either side, causing small dents and nicks in the front of the tank. First I tried shimming the rubber bushings but that wasn’t quite enough, so I shimmed the tanks mounting slots instead. As it turned out, I needed both.
The rubber shims moved the tank back far enough but also prevented the seat from moving far enough forward to latch the seat mounting bolts. I cut slots in the front of the mounting hardware to give the bolts a little more forward travel.
I found a pair of black mirrors, however they are not square shaped like the originals. These are oval shaped replacements for the Yamaha Virago mirrors. I always liked them better.
I have been struggling with what to do with the gold airbox cover. It was pretty dingy and dull on the right side. After several failed attempts at polishing it, I noticed that I had polished so much and so hard that I rubbed through the finish. But it was still gold underneath. That’s when I realized that there was a clear coat on the covers. I used aircraft stripper to remove all of the clear coat and was surprised to find a really nice clean gold metal underneath. It is a lighter color of gold but looks so much better than the lackluster deeper gold color. I think I am going to do the same thing to the other side, even though the left side looks pretty good as is. I want the sides to match. I’m not sure how the lighter gold covers will look on the bike with the rest of the gold pieces being a deeper gold color. But at least it is nice and clean and shiny, so I’m hoping for the best.
Now that I am semi-satisfied with the airbox, it is time to work on the carbs. I am a trial and error carb guy. That seems to be the only way I can get them right. All of my attempts at troubleshooting or diagnosing carb problems using theory has never worked for me. I increased the pilot jet size because I was having problems tuning the pilot screws. The original pilot jets were 42.5 so I went up to 45. The tuning range is much better now. And after several attempts at trying different tuning methods (colortun…, by ear,… and by vaccum pressure level), I somehow managed to find the sweet spots. The latest test ride was impressive and all 4 plugs have a nice tan color to them.
*note to myself* When using colortune, turn the pilot screw in till missfiring and popping occurs. slowly turn the pilot / air fuel mixture screw out (counterclockwise) while listening to the idle and watching the color of the spark. The idle will increase and smooth out. the color will go through the blue range and change to orange. Once the orange appears, you have gone too far and the idle may be rough again. Turn the screw back in until the spark turns blue again and the idle smooths out. Reduce the idle for the next carb adjustment. then sync and repeat, sync and repeat. Until you find the smoothest idle as close to the top of the blue range as you can. And then a final synch.
I’m ready to move on to the final cosmetics….which will be a lot of work. I ordered some gold flake spray paint and some 2k clear coat to experiment with, but if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to go to a professional painter.
Let the final phase begin. I didn’t have much luck with the spray can paint so I stripped the bike back down again and I’ve decided to take the pieces to a professional painter (Frank’s Brother). He is going to paint everything plus the original tank too, in case I ever decide to eliminate the Maxim tank and go back to original tank.
What a nice surprise I had today… I have never changed a tire by myself before but thought I’d give it a try this time. My biggest concern was breaking the bead. Everybody says that is the hardest part. I put the front tire in my bench vise and was happy to find that with only a few tries, I was able to tighten the vice by hand until the bead broke fairly easily. The back tire wouldn’t fit into the vise jaws so I tried a big C-clamp instead. It worked almost as well as the vise! I tightened the C-clamp down by hand and pounded on the tire a couple of times with a block of wood and a big hammer and the bead broke fairly easily with this crude method as well! Last week I purchased a couple of tire spoons for tire removal from the rim. I hope that part goes as well.
I did it! I changed both tires and I hope I never have to do it again! Kneeling on the garage floor for hours, trying to get the tires on and off of the rims sucked! But it’s done and I now have 2 raised white letter tires on.
BTW, a lot of guys ask: “Can I put on a wider back tire?” The original factory size is 130/90/16. Pictured below is a larger 14/90/16 back tire that a previous owner had on this bike. I replaced it with the original size.
I received the re-chromed black chrome handle bars back from the chrome plater in California. I think they turned out pretty nice.
Bruce’s beautiful paint job is done, so now it’s just a matter of reassembly if I can remember how!
It took all week to finish up. I’ll try to get some better outdoor pictures soon, but these will have to do for now.
AND the Midnight Special rifle matches pretty good!
OH WELL… It only took 3rd place in the motor show…. It’s very hard to compete against those highly regarded and much more valuable classic Harleys and Triumph’s.
I really enjoyed a fun day at the show with my friend Don who owns the great looking gold trimmed 1987 Virago XV1100 that is parked next to me.
Here it is with the lower profile 1981 XS11 special seat:
This one has been a great project. Lots of fun as well as lots of frustrations. It was very cool to try out some new ideas and learn some new things with this one. However I am glad it is finally completed now. I think this one (and my Army Bike) will be my “forever bikes”.
I’ve been telling everyone that this will be my last project… but we’ll see… You never know when another Midnight Special will need to be saved!