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honda gl1000 gold wing

The Wing Nut files: American Idol take 2

Honda's 1975 launch of the flat-four GL1000 Gold Wing was an incredibly bold move and for a while there it looked like it might fail in the crucial American market. A mere 49 years later, we've bought our second example. It's a grey-import from, of course, America

(Feb 2024, Guy 'Guido' Allen)

Honda GL1000 GoldWing 1975

Dammit! After all these years, you'd think you'd know better. But, no, muggins buys and sorts a first-model Honda Gold Wing then promptly sells it. It was one of those dopey situations where the thrill of the chase and the sorting was over, and I wrongly assumed that was as good a time as any to offload the thing.

                GL1000 GoldWing 1975

It was a red version (above) and immediately found a buyer at solid money.

Motorcyclists and car nuts are infamous for buying back their youth in the form of something they drooled over decades before, but this was taking it to a new level: buying back last week – or so it seemed.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

Anyway, young Brian Browne at TT Motorcycles in sunny Mornington (Vic) had one for sale and I snapped it up. It was a little rough around the edges, which was fine, and included a promise of a service and fresh rubber. The pipes that were on it were ropey, so I organised a set of stainless steel Delkevic replacements at a cost of Au$930. They make no pretense of looking like the originals, but seem to be decent quality and are road-legal on the noise front.

As much as I would have liked a set of originals, or decent replicas, they're simply no longer available.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

Why go to all this trouble? Two reasons. The first is I'm enjoying riding these old Gold Wings, which make an interesting counterpoint to the Hayabusas (and other indulgences) in the shed. They're quick for the era and fun to throw around.

Secondly, I have this idea that I want a big classic-era motorcycle that's reliable enough to tackle a trip across the country. I'm thinking epic. It's only a half-formed plot and the GL1000 so far meets the job description.

With the bike purchased and the basics sorted, we're right to go, yes? Well, not quite. This machine was bought out of the USA and imported some time in the last several years. However there are several steps from there to getting it on the road.

Depending on which state you live in, and the age of the bike, you will require:
a copy of the import approval, a VASS certificate to prove it passes the Australian Design Rules (ADRs) of its build era, plus a roadworthy certificate.

Now this varies from state to state. In Queensland, I'm told a copy of the import approval and a roadworthy would be sufficient to get it on the road. In Victoria where I live, you need the full set, including the VASS, if the bike was constructed after June 1975. Mine was imported as a December 1975 build.

The VASS itself costs around $600, which is the fee for an engineer to certify it meets requirements. Add in a roadworthy check and you're up around $800.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

A bit of advice: if you are going through a VASS process, have a chat with the engineer before the inspection and get a clear idea of what's expected. In this case there were a couple of potential wrinkles.

My Gold Wing had front running lights – that is, the front indicators have two elements (like a typical stop-lamp/tail-light globe), the 5W version of which are on all the time. Rather than mess with the wiring I simply blanked off the relevant globe contacts with a bit of tape for the VASS test.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

A bigger issue was that Australia had switched to metric road measurements by 1975, so my GL was supposed to have a km/h speedo to pass the period ADR, which of course it didn't. The solution was to find an aftermarket instrument that fitted and use it for the test.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

The VASS inspection plate was fitted to the nearest piece of available frame, under the dummy fuel tank.

That space was getting crowded, as I'd already fitted a custom-engraved ID plate with maker, model, date plus chassis and engine numbers – another VASS requirement. It was sourced relatively cheaply through Ebay and pop-riveted to a non-stressed frame member.

While this bike isn't exactly a concours classic, I decided I wanted to keep it more or less in American spec.

With all that done, we're fine, yes? Almost. Here's a weird thing: both this machine and the previous example at some point deteriorated and ran poorly. In fact they were both bastards to start, were difficult to get off the line and seemed to have lost much of their famous bottom-end grunt. In both cases I discovered the timing plate had slipped (presumably through vibration), over-advancing the ignition. A quick adjustment back (turn the plate clockwise) did the trick. They're not difficult to tune to a healthy state.

As a result I've paid particular attention to fixing the timing plate in place.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

A GL1000 comes standard with points ignition (two sets of breakers), which I have no problem dealing with. However this bike has a Dyna solid state replacement – I'm tempted to get another unit, since it doesn't cost a fortune. Well, not compared to being stuck in lower Yunta on a Sunday afternoon with no spares.

Back in 1975, the GL1000 qualified as seriously weird cattle in the motorcycle world, with its flat-four liquid-cooled powerplant, belt-driven cams and sometimes odd architecture. Such as:

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

The camshaft-driven fuel pump hanging off the right-side cylinder bank;

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

The ignition timing set hanging off the left-side bank;

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

The fuel gauge on the dummy fuel tank cover – the fuel tank is largely under the seat;

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

Much of the electrical system, including the regulator/rectifier set living behind the left-side of the dummy tank;

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

While the coolant reservoir and kickstart lever live under the right. The latter is about as much use as an ashtray, unless you're simply trying to turn over the engine without actually getting it going.

So what's to like?

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

The engine is a winner. Notoriously strong, it is largely owner-servicable. Honda's advice on cambelts is to inspect every 100,000km (!), while the valve clearances are screw and locknut. The plates for the wet clutch can be replaced without removing the engine from the frame.

It claimed 84hp (62kW), which doesn't sound like much these days but was enough give bikes such as a Kawasaki Z900 a hurry-up. It's at least as fast as, and probably quicker than, my CB750-Four K1 and shows a surprising willingness to rev into the redline if you don't watch it.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

The weak points were the clutch would not take abuse such as dragstrip-style launches, closely followed by a clunky transmission. A strength was the relatively neutral shaft drive.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

Braking was by single-piston discs all round, which was okay for the era and requires a bit of extra space in modern traffic.

As for handling, it's big, fairly heavy and very 1970s. I've ridden much worse and you can sling it at a corner with a reasonable degree of confidence. It's not sharp, but it generally tries not to kill you.

One of the several things that intrigue about the GL is how it has 'shrunk' over time. Not literally, but in relation to what we have become accustomed to. Back in 1975, this was a ridiculously big motorcycle for many folk, famously derided as the Lead Wing for its size and weight.

honda GL1000 and GL1500CF

However these days it's nothing special – a biggish motorcycle, for sure, but dwarfed by later models. It looks petite when put beside my 2001 Valkyrie Interstate.

honda gl1000 and gl1500cf

I've recently taken the precaution of doing an end-to-end fluid change, which should see it settled for a while.

Was it a good decision to get it? Yep, so far. I always look forward to throwing a leg over the thing and come back with a grin.

1975 honda gl1000 gold wing

Now, about that cross-country trip, it needs to be big. Epic. Let's say 2025 to celebrate the machine turning 50...


honda gl1000 gold wing

honda gl1000 gold wing

See our GL1000 profile

More on this bike: The Wing Nut files: the great owner manual hunt

See our first GL1000

See the Classic Two Wheels 1975 Gold Wing road test

More features here

See more of the bikes in our shed


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