There are an elite few in the motorcycle world whose influence will be felt for generations to come. In the same way the vast majority of modern sportbikes were influenced by the designs of Massimo Tamburini, most of today’s racing frames bare some noticeable resemblance to Jeff Cole’s C&J frames.
“Jeff’s a brilliant fabricator,” explained co-host and producer of The Hog Radio Show, Steve Johann. “He could translate rider feedback, whether highly technical or casual commentary, into geometric expressions that helped racers win. In many ways, his revolutionary frame designs changed the racing landscape.”
The AMA Hall of Famer’s path to legendary status was a rather unusual one. Jeff didn’t grow up riding, he didn’t ride at all in fact. Cole was raised on a large ranch in Santa Ana, California. While he didn’t have any formal training, Cole’s cousin, Don Edmunds — an avid racecar driver — taught him how to wrench on vehicles.
In 1957, Edmunds was crowned Indianapolis Speedway’s “Rookie of the Year”, though the following year a violent crash would nearly claim Edmunds’ life, prompting him to retire from driving and focus his attention instead on building and prepping four-wheeled competition machinery. After finishing high school, Cole enrolled at Menlo College where he studied business for a brief time before dropping out in ‘62, at which time Edmunds offered him a job working for his race team in Indianapolis. Cole began his race career as a pit board holder, though when he wasn’t leaning over the wall on the main straight, Edmunds was giving Cole a first class education on race chassis development, design, and fabrication.
By the end of the decade Cole had climbed his way up to shop manager, working side-by-side with his cousin, churning out high-performance sprint and Indy cars. Though he was running the shop, Cole still felt a strong desire to start his own operation, and not wanting to be a competitor of Edmunds, he opted to go into the motorcycle business.
So in 1970, Cole and a former high school classmate, Steve Jentges (who was only with C&J for a little over a half-decade) founded C&J Precision Products. Interestingly, another former classmate of theirs was National dirt track racer Dallas Baker, who helped the pair better understand the fundamentals of motorcycle chassis design. The new operation just so happened to be located only a stone’s throw from Kawasaki’s R&D facility, and it wasn’t long before the close proximity spawned a working relationship.
First Team Green asked C&J to build fuel-tanks for their race bikes, but before long Kawa tasked C&J to produce a frame for Brad Lackey’s KX450 and Lackey proceeded to win the 1972 AMA Grand Prix on the C&J-framed bike. There’s a cool little mini-doc on Lackey that I recommend checking out as it’s a really cool story:
From this point on, C&J frames became some of the most sought after chassis in the world and business started booming. Numerous big-name factory teams entrusted Cole with assisting in (or being entirely responsible for) the development of their competition frames. Some noteworthy examples being Honda’s RS750, and more recently, Cole supposedly worked on Indian’s FTR750. Over his expansive career Cole has made frames for legendary riders like “King” Kenny Roberts, Bubba Shobert, Scott Parker, Ricky Graham, and Chris Carr, just to name a few. C&J frames have also been piloted to some 20 AMA Grand National Championships. C&J were also supposedly the outfit tasked with building the rocket that Evel Knievel used in his failed 1974 attempt to jump Idaho’s Snake River Canyon.
Using aircraft-grade 4130 chrome moly tubing, Cole produced trick racing frames until 2004 when he sold the company. Even after letting go of C&J, Cole continued to work on various projects such as debuting a new flat track racing frame for Yamaha’s FZ-07 in late 2014, and as of a couple years ago, Cole was still serving as a consultant for Harley and Indian.
One of the most popular C&J framed machines from its heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s was the C&J HPF — or Horse Power Factory” — Honda XR500. Offered in the form of a kit, this C&J-framed offering radically transformed the stock twin-port exhaust single into a bonafide racer. These early four-strokers appear to have a pretty decent sized cult following, at least based on the number of message board discussions.
This particular 1979 C&J HPF XR was purchased by its current owner in ‘96. It was then raced from ‘97 through 2000 in a total of nine vintage events before undergoing a major restoration in 2001. Following the refresh, this example sat unused on display until 2016 when it was given a once over and prepared for sale. The seller also says they have records dating bike to ‘96, including all the restoration work, as well as some cool 35mm photos from ‘95.
Aside from what might be a few minor dents in the tank, this example appears to be fairly pristine. The plastics look brand new, as does the motor, suspension, frame, etc. Though this would admittedly make for an awesome display bike, I really hope whoever buys it, races, or at least rides it.
You can find this 1979 C&J HPF Honda XR500 for sale here on Craigslist in Tacoma, Washington with a price of $10,000.