A quick look at the beginning
of the Honda Gold Wing

To start with, I don't think its at all strange for me to be excited over this project. I have always been in awe of the Gold Wing; its quiet smooth running comfort is legendary, to anyone who has been around motorcycles more than ten minutes. At one time, had it not been for a discourteous salesman I would have joined the ranks of many happy Gold Wing touring riders. I am no expert on Gold Wings or even Honda history, most of what you will read here has been lifted out of "Gold Wing the first twenty years". I am however in love with motorcycles and their history. The very beginnings of this venerable machine are just too interesting to those already in love with Gold Wing and believe it or not the rest of us motorcycle enthusiasts. With all of this in mind let's take a look at the development of a legend.

Honda M1 test mule
Honda Project 371 Test Mule

The M1's left side, the BMW transmission can be seen. Notice the distributor and it's a six cylinder. The reason given for the GL 1000 being only a 4 cylinder it was feared that the market would have thought the six would be too complicated; little did they know…

When the Honda engineers began building the Gold Wing they didn't have a clue what or how it would turn out. The world of motorcycling in 1973 was still pretty raw. All motorcycles then were air cooled and pretty simple in their design. The venerable CB 750, the first inline 4 cylinder motorcycle was already making waves. Honda was now the worlds largest motorcycle manufacturer and needed or wanted to have a flag ship model and so design started.

Honda has their own way of doing things and in so doing started out with a concept which they really had no way of knowing what the finished product would be. They encouraged their engineers to think outside the box and innovate.

The Gold Wing or known then at the Honda factory Asaka-dai Japan as project 371. All of the engineers who would head up the project had extensive experience riding, none of them racing; although some would later move on to Honda's Racing design teams and other projects. They were also hands on individuals who would design and test themselves to get a better understanding of the problems with those designs.

Honda viewed their new flagship as a Grand Tourer, in the '70s that was an abstract idea especially in Japan. Touring the long distances which the machine has become legend was not practical; nor was it in vogue as it is today. Looking over the competition; the BMW which just introduced their /5 models were too expensive and Harley Davidson required considerable maintenance. But, the Honda engineers recognized the best in both of these and incorporated them into their design.

1975 GL 1000
The orignal GL1000 Gold Wing, powered by a 999cc liquid cooled , horizontally opposed four cylinder engine, revolutionized motorcycle touring. The faux fuel tank contains electrical components and storage space. Spoked aluminum rims are standard. Note the black exhaust system, with chrome heat shields and tailpipes.

1980 GL 1100
The introduction of the second generation GL sees the standard version joined by the first Japanese turn key tourer, the Interstate model. Both are powdered by a new 1085cc engine with electronic ignition; no more points. The chassis boasts air suspension with a single inlet equalizer system at each end. Black reverse ComStar wheels, adjustable seat, and bigger tires. The Interstate sets new standards for touring with its full fairing, saddle bags and trunk, and optional stereo.

1984 GL 1200
This year sees the Wing once again rewrite the rules for touring, with the all new GL 1200s. All three models are motivated by a new, 1182cc engine with hydraulic valve adjustment, and a redesigned chassis sports a 16 inch front wheel for steering lightness and precision previously unseen in the class. The Aspencade distinguishes itself from the Interstate with LCD instruments and special rear light bar as well as a new Type III audio system that combines AM/FM radio bands, cassette and intercom.

GL1200 Engine

1988 GL 1500
Honda ups the ante again with the ultimate touring bike, the fourth generation Gold Wing GL1500 six cylinder. The 1520cc six sets fresh standards of smoothness silence and power for the class, while an all new chassis redefines the limits of handling and comfort. A unique to motorcycling reverse gear and single key operation of the saddlebag and trunk lids offer unparalleled convenience.

Some of Honda's original goals for the new machine it had to be compact light and high performance. The design weight was 463 lbs distributed over engine and chassis 40/60 - power was to be 61 bhp at 7500 rpms with peak torque not at its highway cruising speed but further up at 5500 rpms. Their goal was a 13 sec quarter mile machine, faster than their own CB 750.

You have to remember this was the 70s, the muscle car years and performance counted. Kawasaki had already introduced the Z1 which out ran the CB 750. None of this was lost at the Honda factory.

The very first machine they built was the M1, it would be the test mule for their ideas. This motorcycle would later many years later show up in bits and pieces in later Wings. It was a flat six cylinder engine motorcycle; and a rather good looking machine. Its flat six engine and design had hidden benefits, its lower center of gravity made the bike feel lighter than its 484 lbs. It was well liked by the testers and design team that it became the focus of the whole design.

In fact it has become a passion at the Honda factory ever since, mass centralization has been applied to all the Honda models, this hasn't been lost to the rest of the motorcycle manufacturers; with them following suit.

The original Gold Wing, the GL 1000 was introduced in 1974, it boasted the first liquid cooled engine and was capable of 13.0 second quarter mile times at 102 mph. Doesn't sound too quick when you compare it to any of the 600 super sports of today but back in '74 it was hot. Over 5000 of them were sold in the first year in the United States. Over 400,000 of them have been rolling out of Ohio since 1975.

During it's design and testing they considered many innovative items for the Gold Wing which at the time (1970s) were almost unheard of. Water cooling was one and it did make it to the final design. At the time water cooling was for cars and trucks and was generally considered to be too complicated for motorcycles. But to insure the engines high performance and reliability it would be necessary. The constant changing of internal clearences from expansion and cooling of air cooled engines; their being dependant on the air temperature cooling them, just wouldn't work for this new machine.

During the testing of the new machine in the heat of an Australian Outback Summer, warm air from the radiator was entering the intake air stream and causing the engine's fuel air mixture to change. This wasn't apparent at first; after all they had very little experience with water-cooled motorcycles. The innovative new machine's air intake was on top of the engine. The faux gas tank actually concealed the air intake system. This problem eventually led them to raise the air intake out of the hot air stream from the radiator; but not after some considerable hair pulling and testing.

Fuel injection was only rejected because it was too difficult to repair in the field. An automatic transmission with a torque converter was also designed, but it was too heavy and made the machine too long. Antilock brakes where considered but were just not sophisticated enough at the time. They even designed several electric and hydraulically operated center-stand but it was just too heavy and unreliable.

During the development it was decided that the new flag ship machine should be shaft driven. Chain drives were messy, and required constant attention (the o-ring chain had not been invented then) and Honda wanted the flag ship model to be bullet proof and reliable. The M1 was fitted up with a BMW transmission and drive shaft to speed up testing. Hirotake Takahashi was assigned to develop a shaft drive for the machine. This turned out to take three years; it seemed that every day they tore up his drive system. They even developed a special method to test his designs; they called it the hop method. A test rider would get to a pre-determined speed, put the bike in neutral and then pop it into first gear. After three years of this torture testing, he developed an almost indestructible shaft drive system.

Later on motorcycle magazines would test the new GL 1000 only to rave about being able to rev the engine and pop the clutch and leave with a smoking tire.

There's more to the Wing's history, it's still evolving and looking at a new 2006 you can see it's honest to its own heritage. It has become one of the world's most recognized motorcycles and its reputation has become legendary for its touring prowess. It has become the measuring stick for touring motorcycles.

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