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Honda Gold Wing GL1000

The 1975 Honda GL1000 was built not for speed like most of the other 1970s motorcycles who were in an on going race to build the fastest, best performance motorcycle. 

No, the Honda GL1000 was built with one audience in mind, and that was the widening gap in the US market for power cruisers and long distance touring motorcycles.

Sure, Harley Davidson was running the ‘touring’ show, but since Honda’s inception they were more than prepared to throw their hat in the ring and give the American’s some competition at their own game. 

Decades later, various updates, changes and advancements later, the GL1000 is solidified as one of the greatest long distance tourers of all time.

History of the Honda GL1000

It is perhaps ironic that the purpose of the Honda GL1000 was not for speed but to be a power cruiser and later touring motorcycle. The fact was upon its release it turned out to be not only the biggest and heaviest but the second fastest motorcycle in the world, second only to the Kawasaki Z1.

In 1972 a team was led by Soichiro Irimajiri to build a luxury touring motorcycle and the result was the M1 or Project 371. The bike was a flat-six, 1,470cc beast.

It would be a couple more years and toning down slightly of the engine before the GL1000 was first shown to the public in 1974 at the Cologne Show in Germany. Toshio Nozue who was also the brains behind the iconic CB750 developed the GL1000 and Honda dubbed it “the ultimate motorcycle”. 

The 1975 GL1000 had a liquid cooled, 999cc, flat four cylinder engine (this was a first for Japanese machines). 

The whole aim of the game was to be a motorcycle with power matched with agility and comfort. The flat-six on the precursor M1 left riders a little cramped and so a flat four shortened the drive train slightly increasing leg-room for the rider. 

With 80 horsepower, 85Nm of torque and 125mph top speed the motorcycle wasn’t slow by any stretch of the imagination. It was given a shaft drive for low maintenance performance and a five speed gearbox. 

Welded steel tubing made up the frame and the engine was supported with a double cradle design. Hydraulic discs and dual front brake made up the stopping power. 

The Honda GL1000 carried its weight notoriously low and balanced well, so maneuverability at slow speeds such as around parking lots etc. was incredibly easy despite weighing a hefty 295kg. 

A faux gas tank sat up top, which made for a small glove box, while the actual tank was under the seat, it was an innovative way to keep the weight down low. The bike came with a detachable kick start arm as back up for if the electric start failed. 

The 1975 GL1000 had intended to be released fully faired with panniers to make for the ultimate tourer. However, some mishap at the factory led to the molds being destroyed and so it was sent out as a power cruiser (although the public weren’t daft and were quite capable of seeing its touring capabilities). 

The Honda GL1000 could match the Kawasaki Z1’s speedy performance, but was tamer, calmer and well behaved right through the rev range. The torque and speed was there waiting to be called upon, however, even down to the quiet exhaust note, the GL1000 oozed with relaxed control, with no need to show off its capabilities. 

Instead of doing over 100 mph for a quick race on the track, the Honda could do 100 mph on the highway all day long and be ready to go again the next day, that was the point. 

In 1977 a LTD version of the Gold Wing was produced (2,000 units Worldwide) with LTD badges, gold striping, chrome radiator cover and unique seat and wheels.

1979 saw a new replacement produced named the GL1100 which would be built in the new $50Million, Honda Marysville, Ohio plant making it an official ‘American Made’ motorcycle, giving it even more kudos and respect to challenge the American manufacturers on their home turf.

A 1975 GL1000 in all its glory
A 1975 GL1000 in all its glory

Honda GL1000 Performance

From the outset the Honda GL1000 out performed the Harley Electra Glide, Moto Guzzi 850 Eldorado and BMW R75, the main competition for touring bikes at that time and it was also priced right in the middle offering an alternative price point for consumers. 

The GL1000 from Honda was an immediate hit and was received with great enthusiasm from the public and press alike with 13,000 units sold in its first year of production. 

By 1977, just 2 years after being in production the Goldwing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) was formed in Phoenix, which was a real testament to how quickly beloved the GL1000 was. 

There was only really one complaint from riders when the GL1000 was in circulation and that was the rear suspension was too stiff and the standard preload adjustment didn’t do much. New upgraded suspension was added in 1978. The cams were also changed and carbs reduced which gave a bit more low end grunt fitting into riders wanting the best midrange for touring.

The U.S Department of Transportation took an interest in a few reports of weak brakes in wet weather so new discs, calipers and pads were added as well as early models being recalled for dealers to fit new rear pads. 

Aftermarket manufacturers had a heyday and produced a whole range of fairings, saddle bags, windshields etc, so owners could really adapt their Gold Wings as their own.

Cycle World has named the Honda GL1000 the Best Touring motorcycle 10 times since its inception right across the decades. The 1975 GL1000 first won the category in 1977, beating away any naysayers left that the Honda was no match for other leading tourers. 

According to Honda over 97,000 Gold Wings were sold in the US alone between 1975 – 1979, with numbers over 100,000 for units sold Worldwide. 

To date the GL1000 remains a coveted collectors dream motorcycle. The Guggenheim museum picked the model for an exhibition they organised ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ which was limited to just 75 models of all time. 

Buying a Honda GL1000

Finding a 1970’s Honda GL1000 isn’t all that difficult and they are available at a reasonable price for being the classic bikes that they are. In the US you can expect to pay on average $5,000, but closer to $10,000 for an 100% original and immaculate collectors find. 

Clean, low mileage Gold Wings are relatively scarce and therefore they come at a premium when they do appear. 

You would likely be somewhere between £4,500-£6,500 in the U.K. 

Cycle Trader is currently advertising 4 early Gold Wings ranging from $3,500 to $6,250. 

The $6,250 example is a 1975 GL1000 bought by the current owner in 1983 with 18,000 miles on the clock. The owner is a retired motorcycle mechanic and has looked after his Gold Wing with tremendous efforts. It’s a very good looking GL1000 that is in excellent condition. In my opinion it would be well worth the extra money compared to the cheaper advertised options. 

Car and Classic has a 1976 UK GL1000 advertised for £4,750 which is in pretty good overall condition and by all accounts well serviced and looked after. 

There are various other early GL1000’s (with my focus search up until 1979) advertised varying from £3,995-£10,888. 

There are some things to watch for as with buying any older motorcycle. The key things to look for and be aware of going in to purchase a GL1000 are as follows:

  • The GL1000 is now over 46 years old so there will 100% be some cosmetic or mechanical issues that may or may not have been addressed by previous owners. 
  • Finding a GL1000 with as much service history and maintenance records as possible is always the best choice as you are then most informed on the backstory. However, if not possible, factor this into potential future costs and treat it as if it hasn’t been serviced etc. 
  • “Barn-find” bikes may have been cleaned up and look pretty. However, it is always best to go for a bike that is running, cosmetic issues are easier to sort than mechanical. 
  • Clarify your intentions, do you want to ride it or have the bike in museum worthy condition in your collection. This will clear up your budget, how much work you want to do, and how original the Gold Wing needs to be. Many GL1000’s will have been equipped with Post 1980 accessories such as full fairings and saddlebags etc. The first GL1000 did not come with these and will drive down value for serious collectors. 
  • Make sure engine and vin numbers match as well as check it’s running the correct carburettor for the year. Engine swaps are common. 
  • Look for rust on the frame, in extreme cases where the frame is severely rusted underneath particularly in the joints, they have been known to collapse.
  • Check the spoked wheels for corrosion or loose spokes. 

Restoring a Honda GL1000

Generally you shouldn’t struggle to find parts for your restoration of a GL1000 and theoretically  with the range in prices, the initial donor bike shouldn’t cost a fortune either. Here are a few tips when entering into your restoration project:

You may find it a bit of a struggle to find replacement stock exhausts for the ‘75-’77 models. The original OEM muffler was one of the quietest and best performing for the time and if your bike is missing the original, value can be somewhat undercut when the time comes to sell.

There are plenty of aftermarket companies that make exhausts for the GL1000 but they are lacking in style and performance compared to the original.

Timing Belt maintenance is essential with the GL1000, it is something that should almost always be replaced when doing a restoration to avoid any issues down the line which could be very damaging.

On the whole the GL1000 had solid reliable electronics however, with a bike over 40 years old, you are bound to have some issues however minor. The good news is this will likely only be down to poor connectors or worn-down wires, simple easy fixes.

If you have found an early Goldwing that has fairings etc added, you want to be sure to remove these and check any wiring/connection. Remember that the original bikes didn’t have the full touring package and so if you want to restore back to 100% original you need to be sure the additional accessories over the year haven’t been too damaging to the bodywork underneath. 

Each updated GL1000 was assigned specific paint scheme so to ensure originality you will want to check this against your model. 

A good place to start looking for parts in the US is David Silver Spares there is also a UK website store available here.

Is the Honda GL1000 a Good Investment?

1975 honda goldwing
An early Honda Goldwing in blue

The original Goldwing remains a highly collectable motorcycle today and as time ticks on they will remain to be so. 

The most collectable and therefore the best to invest in where possible is the 1975 first year model followed by the 1976 LTD which was produced to commemorate 200 years of the United States. The 1976 K1 models are also valued quite highly among Gold Wing fans.

Less favourable with collectors thanks to some styling changes are the later 1978 and 1979 versions. However, they are still desirable just not as much as the earlier versions. The good thing about these though is that they are likely to be found on the market cheaper and therefore may be a good option for those on a tighter budget or just wanting an original GL1000 to ride. 

Gold Wing Verdict

Today Honda motorcycles still get a bit of a bad rap for being boring and practical. I think it is perhaps one of the most unjust stereotypes in motorcycling culture. 

Since 1949, Honda has built some of the best performing motorcycles the world has seen. I’m thinking the CBX 1000, the VFR750R, the CB750, the NR750 and of course, the RC51.

Crap names I grant you, but each made technological advancements way ahead of their competitors.

They researched the market, gathered intelligence on other marques, took massive risks and created motorcycles that the world wanted. This could not be more true than with the GL1000 and it’s evolution. 

The GL1000 was built for a purpose and if looked after, will be just as reliable crunching down the miles of Route 66 as it was back in 1975, not too many others could do this.

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