Honda Gold Wing

Having caught most of the world off guard with the introduction of its CB750 in 1969, Honda introduced another ground-breaking road bike in 1975 that was equally unexpected – the GL1000 Gold Wing.

The element of surprise was compounded by the number of radical innovations that the Gold Wing featured. As the 40th anniversary of the Gold Wing looms in 2015, it’s time to take a look back at the history-making motorcycle that started it all, the GL1000.

These days, the Gold Wing is regarded as an Alpha class touring machine, but according to Honda, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. Honda literature says: “Not originally positioned as a touring bike, the GL1000 was intended to be, quite simply, the best motorcycle ever built.”

Be that as it may, the GL1000 featured a buttermilk-smooth 999cc (72mm x 61.4mm) SOHC liquid-cooled horizontally opposed four-stroke four- cylinder engine that produced 80 horsepower at 7,500 rpm.

That put it near the top of the performance range of bikes generally available in 1975. With nearly vibration-free, whisper quiet operation and a touring-oriented five speed transmission with low maintenance, long-lived shaft drive, it was a natural long-range touring choice.

Despite the power train superbly suited for long-range work, the original Gold Wing came naked; no fairing, windshield, lowers, top box, hard bags, sound systems, adjustable footrests or backrest. Demand for after-market touring equipment quickly led to fully-equipped Gold Wing touring bikes appearing in the Honda line-up.

The original GL1000 had a number of unusual design innovations. For example, the “gas tank” wasn’t the gas tank at all. Instead, the fuel tank was moved under the seat, allowing for a lower center of gravity and that thing that looked like a gas tank was actually a storage pod and service bay housing the fuse panel, tool kit, removable back-up kick starter lever and access to the coolant tank cover. Filling the five gallon fuel tank required raising the seat—a rather uncommon approach.

Other unique design features of the first Gold Wing included activation of the four 32mm Keihin constant-vacuum carburetors by a slick linkage system that allowed all four to be controlled by a single cable.

Though the ignition system had capacitors, it had points and coils; digital electronic ignition had not yet arrived on the scene. The GL1000 had electric start, of course, but included a kick starter as a back-up system.

The alternator was gear driven and counter-rotating to the engine to partially cancel out the torque reaction of the engine. The clutch and five speed transmission were pulled up under the engine to keep the driveline as compact as possible and a shock absorbing system was built into the countershaft to smooth out power delivery for the most luxurious ride possible. No detail was too small to consider; even the gear shift lever was fitted with a widened pedal.

The Gold Wing was designed with the wide open spaces and Interstate highways of North America in mind and according to data from Honda, of the 5,000 units sold in 1975, about 4,000 were sold in the U.S.

Before long, as sales grew, the Gold Wing itself grew and changed. By 1980, the 1000cc four cylinder engine was pumped up to 1100cc, in 1984 it grew again to 1200cc and in 1988, a major overhaul of the model that was the result of the one of the most exhaustive development projects in Honda history, the motor sprouted two more cylinders and grew again to 1500cc.

That model, the GLX1500 came with premium features such as stereo radio and tape deck system and an on-board compressor to not only air up the tires no matter where you were but to power the air-adjustable suspension that enabled the rider to adjust suspension firmness from the saddle while underway. As a practical matter, it also provided reverse. By 2001, the flat six engine was pumped up again, this time to over 1800cc.

The physical size of the bike has changed dramatically over the years as well. In 1975, the GL1000 had a 60.6 inch wheelbase; today’s Gold Wing is almost half a foot longer with a 66.5 inch wheelbase.

In 1975, the GL1000 weighed in at 650 lb.; today it tips the scales at 933 lb., depending on the options selected. Fuel capacity has increased from 5.0 gallons to 6.6 gallons. Perhaps the most exponential increase in size is that of the price tag. In 1975, the GL1000 would set you back $2,899; for 2015, suggested MSRP starts at $23,999.

Stay tuned to Ultimate MotorCycling for more features on the Gold Wing as the 40th Anniversary of this history-making motorcycle rolls up in 2015.