Goldwing GL 1000 history

5 Jan 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Goldwing GL 1000 history
Honda GL 1000 Gold Wing

Flies on the Walls at RD

Flies on the walls of Honda’s RD meetings would probably have heard discussions about the wisdom of developing a specific motorcycle from scratch to go after what was then a niche market. Long distance riding still regarded as a risky, eyebrow-raising venture, undertaken by men possessed of extraordinary spirit and a who may have been a bit foolhardy. And that was due in part to the bikes available then.

Honda, by characteristically engineering its way into new untested and surprisingly large untapped markets, had proven that markets which conventional wisdom regarded as but dirt to be trampled underfoot had the potential to be pure gold. Conventional wisdom was about to be challenged with some very unconventional engineering.

As the bounds of workable displacement were being pushed farther back (CB 450, CB 750, Kawasaki Z-1) every few years, Honda began an engineering project to explore the outer limits of motorcycle design. It was again time to build a corporate flagship and revise the limits of what was possible. But just how big, how powerful, how wild could a two-wheeled vehicle be and still be a motorcycle?

In the closing weeks of 1972, Honda put together an engineering team led by Shoichiro Irimajiri, to attempt to ask and answer that question. His background in five and six-cylinder Grand Prix racing engines, and later automotive work gave him an ideal experience from which to draw, since the M1 project would involve elements of both.

The fruit of their labor was casually called the King of Motorcycles or King of Kings, code named the M1. It was conceived and executed by engineers, not stylists, marketing types, accountants or even the public.

For the sake of smoothness, engineers chose six cylinders, laid out in a horizontally opposed configuration, similar in concept to a Corvair engine. Displacement was 1470cc, 2cc shy of doubling the CB750’s 736cc displacementlarger than some cars. Final drive was shaft and liquid cooling was used instead of the conventional air cooling.

Single overhead cams were driven by belts and the alternator rotated opposite crankshaft direction to reduce lateral torque. Sound like a Gold Wing? It wasn’t.

Though the M1 laid the groundwork for developing the Gold Wing, the M1 was an engineering exercise, not a prototype of any kind. Today, with more then 32 years of Gold Wings burned deep into our consciousness, the M1 looks familiar, like a stripped down GL 1500, but in the context of its time, it was as different as a fish with feathers.


The M1 was built to find out what was possible, says Honda.

Its large displacement made several things very possible. One was sizzling performance. Some within Honda wanted to tune the engine for maximum power, up to this point the single most important factor in the public’s eyes.

N'ezie, that’s what the initial Ml project goals called for: very high performance, 61 hp at 7500 RPM, maximum torque at 5500 RPM, weight of 463 pounds and compact size.

Others saw it as more of grand touring engine, with a nice, fat power band, tons of roll-on torque and silky smooth power delivery.

Even Mr. Honda himself had reservations about the MI. He believed that buyers had a psychological threshold of 750cc, and that anything larger would be ill-received. Mr. Honda also favored the simplicity of air cooling.

Many of the styling mockups and artist’s renderings portray 750s: GL 750 Four, Gold Wing GX 750, X-I 750.

As development progressed, the ebb and flow of engineering and corporate politics pulled the M1 in the direction of grand touring on a grand scale, yet another uncharted direction for motorcycling in general and Honda in particular.

GL 1000: The Dynasty Begins

Drawing from the engineering done on the MI, a new concept began to take shape. Many ideas engineered into this new touring machine were unprecedented in modem motorcycling: engine configuration, liquid cooling, dual disc brakes, hidden fuel tank and midrange power delivery with emphasis on torque.

Other ideas were experimented with, but rejected: Fuel injection was dropped over concerns of side-of-the-road repair difficulties. Automatic transmission was scrapped due to excessive size and weight Electro-hydraulic center stand was too heavy Anti-lock braking wasn’t practical on existing technology.

Honda GL 1000 Gold Wing

It took Honda more than a year to settle the internal six- vs. four-cylinder debate. Once the decision was made though, the six benefited from Honda’s engineering might to become the smoothest touring engine.

After two years of give and take, trial and error and countless hours of breakthrough engineering the first GL l000s landed in dealer showrooms. Landed just might be the right word.

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. ọma, rather odd looking.

But buyers of that first generation Gold Wing who saw past the unorthodox appearance, discovered a function that was unlike anything before. The heavy frame would gladly accommodate aftermarket accessories like bags and fairing’s.

The drive shaft eliminated the ritual of perpetual oiling’s and the associated mess. The whopping displacement whisked the weight of a pair of riders and all their luggage along endless miles of asphalt with ease and reliability that belayed much of the fear of striking out for a long-haul motorcycle adventure.

Honda’s ultimate touring master-piece, as the 750 Four that preceded it, will take off on a trip all its own, pioneering a sophisticated concept yet untouched, but soon to be pursued by those destined to follow the leader, wrote Motorcyclist in a quote picked up for the Gold Wing brochure.

Motorcycle News, a British publication, also praised the new Gold Standard, calling it, A superb example of Japanese engineering the biggest and heaviest Honda ever made is a complete breakaway from Honda’s previous designs.

The $2,900 GL 1000 had indeed set a new touring standard, though its true potential wouldn’t be fully realized right away.

Honda had hoped to recreate the wildfire success of the CB 75O Four, but the GL 1000’s first year sales of 5,000 units were a big disappointment. But as the formative machine began to be embraced by a new breed of rider, it did much to create, sales and profits would come.

Gold Wing On A Roll

maka 1978, as word got back to Honda about customer likes and dislikes, changes were made. A cluster of gauges appeared on the “fuel tank,” the classic spoke wheels were replaced by five-spoke aluminum Com-Star wheels and the engine’s state of tune mellowed a bit, giving up some top-end punch for improved roll-on power. A fully chromed exhaust system appeared for the first time, helping elevate price to $3,198

Honda GL 1000 Gold Wing
Honda GL 1000 Gold Wing
Honda GL 1000 Gold Wing
Honda GL 1000 Gold Wing

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