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honda gl1000

Model profile – Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

(September 2020)

Honda GL1000 gold wing

Alien Technology

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

          
Honda stepped well out of the comfort zone when it dreamt up the first Gold Wing

All these years down the track – 45 to be exact – it's difficult to overstate just how bold and perhaps even bizarre the arrival of Honda's first Gold Wing truly was. It might as well have been a spaceship. That great hulking engine, with a radiator to match, left people gobsmacked.

A writer on the Classic Wing Club website in the USA describes it this way: "The 1975 Gold Wing was the most un-motorcycle looking motorcycle in modern history. Upon first examination at the now-defunct Midwest Honda in Lenexa, Kansas, this writer was flabbergasted. It looked as if the bike was one of those sideshow freaks – mommy was a car, daddy was a motorcycle and junior is…well, rather odd looking."

It wasn't that the Gold WIng was actually using alien tech. To a large degree it took no big tech risks, but what was brave was the packaging and positioning. When the M1 project was first mooted within Honda, the intention was to come up with a new sports or general purpose bike, something that would leap-frog the firm's wildly successful CB750 series and Kawasaki's convincing one-upmanship in the shape of the Z900.

Famously, the M1 prototype ran a 1500cc boxer six, a configuration that wasn't to see the road much later, with the release of the GL1500 series in 1987. The company changed focus, and its ambitions, to a boxer four touring model, aimed very much at the US market and coded as project 371. Project leader was Shoichiro Irimajiri, who had an impressive background with the company's two- and four-wheeled competition products.

(The US market was so important, Honda was to manufacture later series Gold Wings at its Ohio plant from 1980 to 2010.)

Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

Holding the plot together was a twin-loop steel frame steel frame with conventional fork front and twin-shock rear. It boasted disc brakes all round and initially rode on wire-spoked alloy rims. Those were changed for ComStar wheels (above) in the third update series, the K3 of 1978.

Much of the innovation was in the driveline, a liquid-cooled boxer four with five-speed transmission and shaft final drive. The engine ran 9.2:1 compression and fed from a bank of four CV carburettors. They in turn were supplied by a mechanical fuel pump driven off a camshaft. Output was pegged at 80hp (60kW) at 7500rpm, with max torque of 85Nm chiming in at 5500.

Honda gold wing gl1000

As we intimated before, aside from the big boxer engine (the first liquid-cooled mass-production motorcycle four-stroke out of Japan, by the way) it was the packaging that got a lot of attention. For many the most interesting feature was the fuel tank was now located under the seat (hence the need for a fuel pump), while the dummy 'tank' housed an air-filter, electrics and a demountable kick-start lever.

That lot added up to package that weighed (for the time) a formidable 265kg, albeit with much of the weight carried very low. To put that in perspective, a 1975 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide weighed in at closer to 340kg, albeit with panners and windscreen. It claimed 58 horses (43kW).

Honda's new toy was first shown at an American dealer conference in late 1974, then more widely at the Cologne show the following year. If the intention was to get attention, it was an outstanding success. However reports on the first year of sales (1975) seem mixed, but you get the impression it was a little slow to catch on, taking about a year for the market to get comfortable with it.

If that's true, it's not entirely surprising. Here you had something that flipped what people thought constituted a touring bike, particularly in the land of the interstate. Up to then it was Harley first, Moto Guzzi Eldorado series a distant second, with BMW boxers a comparitively expensive third.

Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

A glaring omission of course was the absence of factory screen and panniers. There's a story that Honda had in fact contracted designs for these, but something went horribly wrong with the moulds and they didn't make it to market. Whatever the truth of the situation, it represented a massive opportunity for aftermarket suppliers who took to the design with gusto.

So did the American market, eventually, to the point where the series ended up as a prominent feature on the touring scene and along the way giving the good folk at H-D HQ in Milwaukee a very nasty fright.

Servicing, despite the sophistication, is pretty straight-forward, with the engine developing a reputation for being robust. Back in 1975, cam belts were a comparitively novel thing to have to deal with for motorcyclists, and accepted intervals (suggested by cautious belt makers, rather than Honda) are five years or up to 100,000km. There is evidence that they will run a very long way past those limits and Honda's approach was to suggest you inspect them periodically and replace them as part of a top-end rebuild – not before.

The engine is an interference design, so damage from a failure could be significant. This of course has lead to all sorts of online debate about whether you should cut the intervals to be on the safe side.

Valve clearance adjustment is by screw and locknut, with easy access. Really it's a job that is within reach of a careful home mechanic.

In reality, most people settled for changing the oil and plugs periodically, setting the tappets and that was it. Cam belts didn't seem to enter the thinking of many owners.

Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

So what were they like to ride? Big, but not particularly daunting to throw around, once you got your head around the fact the appearance was far more intimidating than the ride. For the time they were ultra-smooth and exceptionally comfortable.

The engine was no rocket, but offered a fat mid-range and overall the package was respectably quick. There was enough performance to overwhelm the suspension if you pitched it at some gnarly roads. However, for its time, it was a very predictable and acceptable package with pretty good braking.

Of course our mental goal posts have changed when it comes to motorcycles, so a GL1000 is neither particularly big or heavy by current standards. But there's no denying we're talking 1970s dynamics, so these days you might be a little circumspect about how hard you throw the thing at a corner.

Honda Goldwing

There are signs the GL1000 is finally garnering some collector interest, but it's hardly overwhelming. Prices at the time of writing (September 2020) are all over the place. We've seen very workable if not completely original examples going for Au$5000 (US$3600, £2800), while an apparently exceptional low-miler (just 20,000km, above) has been advertised on Bikesales for Au$14,000 (US$10,200, £7800).

This is a hugely important model in Honda's history, and the nameplate is still going in a much-altered but still recognisable platform. As a classic bike, they have the aditional appeal of being a very comfortable and reliable ride – two things beyond the reach of many classics!

See the contemporary road test from Classic Two Wheels

Honda GL1000 gold wing

SPECS:
1975 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

ENGINE:

TYPE: Liquid-cooled, two-valves-per-cylinder, SOHC boxer four

CAPACITY: 999cc

BORE & STROKE: 72 x 61.4mm

COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.2:1

FUEL SYSTEM: 4 x 32mm Keihin CV carburettors


TRANSMISSION:

TYPE: Five-speed, constant-mesh, 

FINAL DRIVE: Shaft
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:

FRAME TYPE: Twin-loop steel
FRONT SUSPENSION: Conventional 37mm telescopic fork, 148mm travel

REAR SUSPENSION: Twin shocks, 84mm travel

FRONT BRAKE: 2 x 232mm discs with two-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE: 250mm disc with one-piston caliper


DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:

DRY WEIGHT: 273kg

SEAT HEIGHT: 810mm

WHEELBASE: 1545mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 19lt

WHEELS & TYRES:
FRONT: Wire spoke alloy rim 3.50-H19
REAR: Wire spoke alloy rim 4.50-H17

PERFORMANCE:

POWER: 60kW @ 7000rpm
TORQUE: 85Nm 5500rpm
TOP SPEED: 180km/h

 

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