The Honda Goldwing motorcycle first saw the light of day at the Cologne Motorcycle Show in October 1974, as the flat-four cylinder, 999cc GL1000 Gold Wing and was released to the world for the 1975 model year. While this first production version of the now famous Goldwing was ultimately deemed to be a success (it was after all the birth of a legend), it's place in the world of motorcycling was not entirely cast in stone at the beginning. Part of the reason for this was the fact that the GL1000 didn't really fit properly into any particular motorcycle class, even though it was officially tagged as a tourer. Weighing in at 584lbs dry, it was far too heavy to be called a sports bike and the upright sitting position also helped to kill of any such sporting pretensions. The rear coil spring suspension wasn't up to the job of handling all the weight when the rider was pushing it through heavy going, such as the winding country roads that all bikers love (at least occasionally) to tackle. The total absence of touring kit fitted as standard didn't help the official touring image either, Honda didn't make their own saddlebags and trunk available for the GL1000 until it's last year of production in 1979, in spite of promising to do so in 1975. A Honda fairing was not even an option until the GL1100 Interstate was released in 1980! Honda's claim that the GL1000 was a tourer must have rang hollow in the ears of many owners keen to have their machines kitted out for the job. It's almost like the design team had a picture of what they wanted to make, but no clear idea of where to fit it once it went into production. More than one GL1000 owner has told me that their early impressions from the press reports was that Honda seemed to be more concerned with emphasising the outright straight-line performance of the beast, and cementing it's role as a proper touring motorcycle seemed to be of secondary importance at the time. One has to bear in mind that Honda (and all the other major motorcycle manufacturers) were trying to develop many models in the 1970's, this being the biggest boom time for motorcycles ever, period. This was a time when everyone and his sons bought motorcycles and paying attention to the needs of different types of riders (cruiser types, racers, commuters, tourers etc.) must have been very difficult during those hectic days.
Nevertheless and in spite of all the confusion about the Goldwings role in life, the GL1000 proved to be a very reliable motorcycle, quite capable of going very long distances without missing a beat and almost immediately the aftermarket fairing & pannier suppliers started to cater for the requests of those who wanted to use the GL1000 for more than just popping down to the shops or Sunday morning posing at the local meet. This is what finally gave the Goldwing it's place in the motorcycling world, it really became a touring motorcycle because it's owners shaped it into one and Honda, always keen to keep an ear to the ground, listened to what the customers wanted (just as well too or they might have killed the Goldwing off before long, not least because expected sales of the Goldwing in the first year of production were less than 10% of what Honda had predicted) and started planning the next incarnation of what has turned into a legend in the world of touring motorcycles.
In the meantime, 1976 saw the standard GL1000 unchanged, apart from a badly needed grease nipple on the driveshaft. A limited edition LTD model was rolled out alongside the standard model and the LTD had some nice badges, pinstriping, a better seat, flared mudguards, gold coloured wheels and spokes and some more nice but otherwise unimportant cosmetics, all at a fairly hefty extra cost of course. The LTD version of the GL1000 was only available for that one model year.
1977 saw the first tentative model changes based on customer feedback to Honda (hands up all those who can remember filling out those early questionnaires at rallies) and the Goldwing got higher handlebars with neoprene grips, dual contoured saddle and chromed heat shields on the header pipes. Chromed upper engine mounting brackets were a nice touch. More importantly, the steering head bearings were now tapered rollers instead of quick-wear & seize ball types. Front & rear engine and rocker covers were now thicker and this was designed to reduce noise, but no-one really noticed. The fuel tank had an internal coating applied to prevent rust.
Smaller carburettors, shorter valve timing and increased spark advance in 1978 were designed to give the GL1000 increased roll-on performance in top gear, which translated into slightly less top speed but more torque, which apparently is what the long distance rider needed. The camshafts were severely detuned in order (along with the carb revisions) to improve low speed performance. It's generally accepted that these well-meaning changes really blunted top-end performance, while doing very little good for the low-end.
The fuel, coolant temperature and voltage gauges were fitted to a pod and mounted on the tank, which made fitting a tank bag rather difficult, but few really objected as they looked good. The awkward but functional kick starter was omitted this year (the broken ankle brigade may have sparked fears of litigation) and the troublesome wire wheels were replaced with five spoke Comstars, although they didn't fare much better in terms of longevity. Gone was the worry about rusted or loose spokes on wire wheels, now owners were fretting about cracked rims and loose rivets on the Comstars. The stepped saddle was introduced this year and has been a feature of all Goldwing models ever since. A fully chromed exhaust system which didn't rust as fast as the earlier painted ones, rear indicators moved from the frame to the rear mudguard and shocks with much welcomed and long overdue two-stage damping (in addition to longer forks & springs) completed the picture. The beast still handled like a brick when pushed hard, in spite of the new FVQ (often called fade very quickly) shocks and the better forks. The new exhaust made the machine sound livelier and the smaller mufflers allowed easy access to the clutch, which was just as well as this was a problem area on the GL1000 in those days.
1979 saw big discounting on GL1000's as the replacement model was eagerly anticipated and the last remaining numbers of the original (quite large numbers too and new GL1000's could still be sourced from storage for several years after production ceased) could be had with some minor changes in the shape of a then very cool looking CBX style tail light with two bulbs, rectangular indicators and brake fluid reservoir and black brake and clutch levers instead of the previous unpainted alloy ones.
This last year for the GL1000 was an opportunity to lose some of the excess weight and regain some of the performance the model had lost in previous years (particularly in 1978), but alas a final opportunity to remedy some of the more persistent GL1000 problem areas was lost and the cosmetics were the only areas attended to at the end of the decade. Thus the Goldwing continued it's slide down the credibility scale until the 1980 model year. Honda managed to keep the lid on the replacement for the GL1000 until the last possible moment. To this day and to their credit, Honda are probably better at keeping secrets than the CIA or the KGB etc. The GL1000 bowed out at the end of it's production cycle a bit less powerful and slightly heavier than the first models at 604lbs dry.
The GL1100 was announced for the 1980 model year and this time Honda got it right. This was the first ever Japanese mass produced motorcycle to roll off the production line fully kitted out as a proper touring motorcycle. Full fairing, trunk and panniers on the Interstate model (the unfaired model was called the GL1100 Standard), all at a time when injection moulding for motorcycle plastics was in it's early days and to Honda's credit, the quality, fit and finish of the stuff was first rate. The new frame was stiffened considerably to cope with the extra poke and the not inconsiderable extra weight of the Interstate. The bigger 1085cc engine was still a flat-four, but gave more torque and also ran smoother and less truculently than the previous model, due in no small part to the smaller carburettors and electronic ignition. The suspension was air assisted and this greatly transformed the handling and comfort of the beast and inspired much more confidence when the going got a tad aggressive, in spite of the weight increase of the dressed models to 672lbs. The forks could take between 14-21psi of air, the rear shocks 29-42psi. The Standard model weighed 18lbs less than the last GL1000's, which showed how more modern production methods could be used to reduce weight by using more in the way of lighter plastics for parts like mudguards, dummy tank etc.
Motorcycle magazines immediately gave the new machine the thumbs-up and customers all over the world hassled their dealers for a machine that Honda couldn't kick out of the factory quick enough to meet the demand. Even in the USA, bikers who were used to the home grown tourer in the shape of the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide were gobsmacked at the new standards of reliability set by the Goldwing. The big Honda went and stopped very respectably for such a beast, kept all of the engine oil actually inside the engine instead of all over the ground and it's reliability meant that the Goldwing rider didn't have to fill the luggage space with repair tools every time the machine was taken out. The GL1100 was the Goldwing that the original model should have been, but the faithful had to wait since 1975 for the opportunity to get their hands on this magnificent machine.
1980 was a big year for Honda Motorcycles in other ways too. In May the first Goldwings started rolling off the production line in the new plant in Marysville, Ohio, USA. This was a very clever and well thought out move by Honda, creating jobs for Americans to produce their flagship motorcycle in the USA would see the Goldwing (and by association other Honda products) more widely accepted in the biggest consumer market in the world.
For some time now, Honda had been producing accessories for their own motorcycles, under the imaginatively thought out Hondaline brand name. For those who weren't satisfied with the already comprehensive kit on the GL1100, Hondaline had such luxuries as a full radio/cassette, CB radio and lots more bits at exorbitant prices that didn't seem to deter customers one bit. Honda knew that the typical Goldwing rider was past the first flush of youth and probably had his mortgage (or most of it) paid off and had cash to spare for the luxuries that a younger rider would rather forego in order to feed his children, keep the wife content and maintain a roof over their heads. The aftermarket suppliers too were quick to adapt to the new challenge (no doubt they all knew that the Goldwing was here for the long term) and before long one could buy countless accessories for the Goldwing, from many suppliers eager to meet demand and fill the large gaps that Honda had left. This pattern has been repeated for every Goldwing model ever since and the GL1100 is the machine that really saw the Goldwing accepted as the ultimate tourer, a title that the Goldwing has held more or less unchallenged since then.
1981 saw some minor tweaks and improvements, such as a reshaped saddle which was slightly lower than before. As on the 1980 model, the saddle could be adjusted forward and back by about 40mm, but this time with a press of a lever instead of the previous fiddling with Allen keys. The saddle on the Goldwing has probably seen more changes than any other area of the machine over the years. Almost yearly there are subtle changes to the shape and foam density and no matter how much effort Honda put into this area, there are always plenty of people whose rear-ends don't quite fit comfortably enough. The rear shocks could now take up to 57psi of air, this being the limit for the rest of the GL1100's production life. Orange & Gold pinstriping this year, a scratch-resistant windshield and better instrument shielding to stop unwanted reflections on the windshield all showed Honda were keen to refine the beast. Saddlebag liners were available from this year as well, at extra cost.
The 1982 GL1100 had some major improvements in the new Aspencade. This machine had an electrically operated air pump for the suspension, accessed from the top of the dummy tank, instead of the previous tyre valve setup (retained on the Standard and Interstate) which required the rider to either keep a manual pump handy or go to the local garage to pump up the suspension. Two-tone paintwork was applied to the Aspencade and all the GL1100's got smaller wheels (18" front, 16" rear) and twin pot brake calipers. The wheel rims were now wider (2.5" front and 3"rear) to allow for wider tyres on all models and self-cancelling indicators were fitted to all models from 1982. All GL1100's from 1982 got neater crash bars which replaced the previous shin bashers (although the new ones weren't perfect either) and dual piston brake calipers all round. The Aspencade also got vented stainless steel discs, two-tone seat and trunk pouches, the Clarion type 2 AM/FM stereo radio, digital dash, CB radio (US machines) and a clock. The stereo, CB radio and air pump are available as options on the Interstate.
1983 was the final year of production for the GL1100 and Honda didn't disappoint, even though the model was being replaced the following year. All models got flatter footpegs, the passenger ones being slightly adjustable. The Aspencade now had eleven spoke aluminium wheels instead of the previous troublesome Comstars (which were never really able to cope with all the weight), had the suspension pump controls mounted on the handlebars just below the dash and finally got linked brakes which were much welcomed by the Goldwing community. The Aspencade now had an LCD dash with advanced (for the time) features. The choke lever was now operated by thumb on the left handlebar. Anti-dive forks (TRAC) helped considerably to reduce wallowing. Changes to the gearing saw better fuel economy, a shorter first gear made the machine faster off-the-line but top gear acceleration was now a bit more sluggish. Changes to the forks helped prevent bottoming-out and stronger springs in the rear shocks meant that the bike could be ridden without any air in them, although this wasn't always entirely wise, especially when travelling two-up. The self-cancelling indicators had some improvements to make them more reliable and the seat was redesigned to give the passenger more room. Locating the trunk both higher and further back gave even more space for those passengers who were never completely happy no matter how much Honda improved the Goldwing. The standard had been set for future Goldwings and whether you loved them or not, everyone knew that the beast was going to get bigger and more luxurious as time went on. The Aspencade now tipped the scales at over 700lbs! Comfort and size were the criteria from now on. When the replacement for the GL1100 was announced, this time there was no major discounting of prices on the last of the outgoing model. Dealers had no trouble shifting existing machines and there was no panic in trying to offload them. A far cry to just four years back. Interestingly, this has been the case with the arrival of new Goldwing models ever since and reinforces the belief that the GL1100 was the machine that rubberstamped the Goldwings seal of approval with long-distance riders all over the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the GL1100 was the make or break Goldwing, a repeat lukewarm reception by the buying public for this model (similar to that experienced by the GL1000) would surely have seen any further development of the Goldwing stopped at this point.
The GL1200 arrived for the 1984 model year and continued the trend set by it's predecessor. Competition from Yamaha's Venture (which many motorcycle magazines compared to the Goldwing) no doubt hastened the development of the successor to the GL1100 and the GL1200 was Honda's answer. There was the unfaired Standard, the dressed Interstate and the top of the range Aspencade, which had the Type 3 audio system. New, stiffer frame with major improvements, bigger and more responsive 1182cc version of the flat-four engine with bags more torque and hydraulic valve adjusters, better suspension and handling were the main attractions on the new Goldwing. A hydraulic clutch was another first for a Goldwing. Carried forward from the previous Aspencade were the now even better air suspension controls and linked brakes, and the new Aspencade had a more advanced audio system and upgraded LCD dash. The front wheel was a rather unusually small (for such a large machine) 16" and this gave the steering a very light and quick feel. The styling of the plastics was more aggressive than the GL1100, the fairing, trunk, panniers and lights all had a more squarish brute look which was evident on many motorcycles and cars for a while in the eighties. The flowing lines of the previous model were not quite as subtle on the GL1200, but the integration of the luggage was much better now because there were less gaps and spaces between the panels and much more efficient use was made of the available storage space. Four 32mm CV carburettors managed to give better response with a light feel, without the need for accelerator pumps. The GL1200 was the first Goldwing to drift away from the common Honda "parts bin" approach and most of the parts fitted to a GL1200 were unique to that machine and not fitted to any other Honda motorcycle. Hondaline could supply you with a CB radio and other fripperies considered essential by many owners of the new machine. The aftermarket suppliers had a field day, small cottage industries had sprung up everywhere to feed the habit and the vast range of chrome goodies, backrests, lights etc. available for the Goldwing rivalled that which could be had for Harley-Davidson owners.
1985 saw Honda drop the Standard unfaired Goldwing. Since the introduction of the GL1100 Interstate, sales of the unfaired versions had slumped dramatically and in spite of the predictable whining and howls of protest from the aftermarket fairing and luggage suppliers, this was the beginning of the era when accountants really did have a big say in marketing policy, so the Standard was unceremoniously put down by Honda. Alongside the Interstate and Aspencade, Honda brought in the GL1200LTD for this year only. The LTD had computerised fuel injection, auto levelling rear suspension and a sophisticated trip computer. The fuel injection, while not entirely without it's faults in the real world, transformed the GL1200 into a real animal which made the carburettor models seem sluggish in comparison. The LTD was only available in two-tone gold/brown. From 1985, GL1200 alternator capacity was increased (though still not by enough to cater for all the accessory lights that owners usually fitted) and the ignition pick-up coils were mounted at the front of the engine instead of the rear. An altered top gear made for smoother cruising in top and the fairing had better ventilation.
1986 saw mainly cosmetic changes to the Interstate and Aspencade, the LTD was replaced by the SE-i, which came in Pearl White only and had little over the LTD except for Dolby noise reduction on the Panasonic Type 3 audio system (the Aspencade got the same audio treatment), an uprated 500 watt alternator, a slightly better seat (which was also fitted to the Interstate and Aspencade) and different badges. The SE-i had ballooned out to over 770lbs. Many people who had bought the supposedly unique LTD the year before felt cheated by what looked like another LTD in the shape of the SE-i in a different colour, the general feeling being that Honda were just cashing in again this year. An Aspencade badge on the saddlebags of the SE-i didn't go down too well with buyers who wanted their own unique Goldwing to be distinct from the "lesser" models. The carburettor models were back to 30mm CV's with accelerator pumps, although it made little noticeable difference to the riding experience.
The final year of production for the GL1200 was 1987 and there was little change. No doubt Honda were saving the major surprise for the following year, although the Goldwing faithful had been expecting the rumoured "Super Goldwing" for the current model year. The SE-i was gone and the Interstate and Aspencade got a much plusher saddle, the best on any Goldwing to date. The Aspencade now had cruise control and trunk mirror as standard, and the lower cowl (oil filter cover as Honda called it) and side vents seen on the SE-i were now fitted to the Aspencade. Colour-matched riders footpeg accents with a nice chrome trim were also fitted to the Aspencade this year. The final drive and differential had been made much smoother and quieter and this translated into less chucking and jumping at trundling speeds. All of these improvements meant that the 1987 models were the quietest and best sorted GL1200's to date.