Honda Gold Wing (1972-2012)

Honda Gold Wing: A Legend In Its Own Time

It’s a beloved motorcycle that has earned many titles, awards and nicknames over the decades: icon, legend, superstar, best-in-class, the definitive yardstick among touring motorcycles—and so much more. Year in and year out, such acclaim flows freely and rightly so; for more than 35 seasons, the Honda Gold Wing® first defined, then re-defined over and over again just how much performance and comfort a motorcycle can deliver to two people, whether the plan is a weekend ride or a cross-country adventure.

Three-and-a-half decades represents an eternity for most motorized products, yet as the Gold Wing enters its 36th year of production, it not only continues to lead all would-be challengers, it also continues to evolve. And so we see that the 2012 Gold Wing once again establishes a new and higher standard for what the good life should truly be at the cutting edge of long-distance two-wheeled motoring.

When initially released to the public in 1975, the first Gold Wing literally dazzled the motorcycling press and consumers alike. Never before had the two-wheeled realm witnessed anything like this machine, one that simultaneously wielded world-class power and incredible cross-country capabilities. In short, the 999cc Gold Wing immediately carved out an über-achiever niche all to itself, and to this day no other name offers such a complete and well-balanced blend of motorcycle touring qualities. As decade after decade rolled along, the Honda Gold Wing maintained its supremacy by not remaining static; growth and change have been constant by every criteria, be it displacement, number of cylinders, chassis configuration, power, handling, comfort or innovation.

Such top-dog status has been repeatedly confirmed upon the Honda Gold Wing by the most rigorous of all critics: the buying public. And the statistics don’t lie; having produced a total of more than 640,000 units over its lifespan, the Gold Wing outstrips all would-be competitors by such a wide margin it literally forms a class of one.

The first group of horizontally opposed four-cylinder Gold Wing engines steadily grew from 999cc to 1182cc over a dozen years’ time, and upon its 1988 debut, the 1520cc Gold Wing introduced the then-radical notion of a six-cylinder engine for a touring motorcycle. That powerplant configuration carried over into 2000, when the next-generation six-cylinder Gold Wing grew in displacement to 1832cc to gain a remarkable increase in performance throughout the powerband. Better yet, it also took on a dramatically new athletic nature with regard to handling, thanks in large part to its sportbike-like box-section aluminum frame. To this day, the 1800 delivers impressive performance when it’s put to the spurs—more than enough to astonish riders who have never experienced its capabilities first hand. Those in the know understand such capabilities fully, since the 1800 Gold Wing design team was headed up by a long-time Honda sportbike engineer who is also an avid sport-riding enthusiast.

Having eclipsed the realm of long-range mounts in terms of out-and-out performance, the Gold Wing also extends the horizons of comfort and amenities for rider and passenger alike. And because it’s a Honda, the 2012 Gold Wing incorporates innovative features that break new ground in the world of two wheels by offering an unparalleled level of technical sophistication.


Honda Gold Wing Timeline

In the world of motorcycling, technology presses forward at such a furious pace that very few models survive a span of a couple dozen years. But for more than three-and-a-half decades, the Gold Wing® has done much more than merely survive: This remarkable machine has continued to create and define an entire segment of the motorcycling experience, raising standards and expectations time and time again. The following timeline provides a glimpse into the many milestones that have made the Gold Wing the icon it is today.


1972 M1
A design team is established, led by Soichiro Irimajiri, who headed up design of the five- and six-cylinder road racing engines of the 1960s. The team develops the M1, a top-secret prototype designed to explore the outer limits of the Grand Touring concept. The super-fast M1 features a liquid-cooled horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine with shaft drive—features that surface in the Gold Wing line in years to come.


1975 GL1000 GOLD WING
The original Gold Wing was much, much more than just a new motorcycle. Powered by a revolutionary 999cc liquid-cooled horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, the Gold Wing opened new possibilities never before considered by the experts in the enthusiast press, much less the consumer public in general. What to make of this open-class machine with world-class power and cross-country capabilities? Gold Wing customers took to the open road in droves, and helped inspire an industry-wide paradigm shift toward long-distance motorcycling.


A new model marks the Gold Wing’s second year as Honda graces the GL1000 Limited Edition with an assortment of special features, including gold striping, special LTD sidecover badges, chromed radiator shroud and screen, quilt-patterned seat, plus gold wheels and spokes.

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With more than 80 percent of Gold Wing production being exported to North America, a vital need arose to build a production plant in the U.S. Although Honda had been building overseas plants for more than 25 years, the move to America in the 1970s was risky. To most consumers, Honda’s quality was its strongest selling point, and building in America could jeopardize this hard-earned reputation—not just for the Gold Wing, but for all Honda products for decades to come. Nevertheless, Honda forged ahead, and on September 10, 1979, the first Honda of America Manufacturing (HAM) plant begins production as a group of 64 associates completes the first 10 Honda motorcycles built in Marysville, Ohio. Within three months, Honda’s top managers had sufficient confidence in HAM’s capabilities to proceed with building an automobile plant in 1979—the first Japanese car builder to do so in the U.S.


1980 GL1100 GOLD WING
Five years of continuous consumer input culminate in the introduction of the GL1100. More than a rehashed GL1000 with 10 percent greater displacement, the new Wing incorporates deliberately planned modifications that guide it away from the superbike realm and place it squarely into the touring category. The new 1085cc engine now favors torque rather than horsepower, a longer wheelbase provides more room for both pilot and passenger, and a new air-assisted suspension system gives the Gold Wing its most supple, comfortable ride to date.

The GL1100 also introduced another innovation that was arguably more important than its mechanical changes. Since the Gold Wing’s long-distance prowess had inspired the creation of an entire aftermarket of bolt-on touring accessories, Honda’s engineers clearly envisioned a new direction toward a turnkey, fully dressed luxury machine. In 1980, the innovative Interstate fulfilled that vision as the first Gold Wing available fully equipped with factory-installed fairing, saddlebags and trunk, plus the option of a stereo sound system. Turnkey touring, Gold Wing style, is born.

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In quick succession, Honda introduces the concept of luxury touring with the Aspencade. Amenities abound in standard trim, including LCD instrumentation, stereo, CB, on-board air-compressor and thoughtful touches such as the handy storage pouches in the passenger backrest. At the same time, through the use of Redpages in its advertising, Honda underscores its technological edge.

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The GL1200 brought the Gold Wing to the outer limits of the four-cylinder engine’s performance and sophistication. The added power and torque of the larger 1182cc engine made the Gold Wing the king of its class in 1984, with a combination of smoothness and low-rpm acceleration that couldn’t be matched. The addition of hydraulic valve adjustment now made the Wing virtually maintenance-free. At the same time, chassis improvements made the big Wing feel amazingly agile, and open-road comfort was superlative.


Honda marks the Wing’s 10th anniversary in two significant ways. First, with the Gold Wing so firmly entrenched within the touring realm, Honda decides to drop the standard, unfaired GL1200. Second, an ultra-luxurious Limited Edition arrives, complete with computerized fuel injection, four-speaker sound system, cruise control, auto-leveling rear suspension, a comprehensive electronic travel computer and special two-tone metallic gold paint.

Following the success of its Marysville Motorcycle Plant, Honda constructs an engine plant in nearby Anna, Ohio, to build Gold Wing engines. Just as Marysville’s success paved the way for Honda’s auto manufacturing in America, the Anna Engine Plant moved from manufacturing GL engines alone to building powerplants for Civics and Accords. At Anna, all the casting, forging, machining and heat-treating processes necessary to turn raw materials into finished, sophisticated engines reside under one roof. As one associate proudly observes, “We do what seven Honda plants do in Japan.”

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1988 GL1500 GOLD WING
In 1984 a new design team began planning the next Wing. The new machine had to be superior in every aspect: extremely quiet and silky smooth, yet extremely powerful with superior handling. The GL1500 got there—the hard way. Thousands of hours were spent in testing 15 different machines in 60 prototype stages—the most comprehensive model development project in Honda’s history. These efforts culminated in a six-cylinder luxury motorcycle of such surpassing excellence it would establish a touring benchmark that would dominate motorcycling for more than a decade.

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The next-generation GL begins to take shape under the guidance of Masanori Aoki, a sportbike enthusiast who has already headed up development of high-performance bikes including the CBR250RR, CBR400RR and the CBR®600F3. “We set out to keep 80 percent of the Gold Wing’s touring capability,” Aoki said. But he also added, “My job is to add more fun factor, to build a Gold Wing with the kind of acceleration and handling people normally associate with sporting machines.” After considering flat-four, flat-six and flat-eight engine configurations and displacements up to 2000cc, customer response overwhelmingly points to a flat-six of about 1800cc displacement. In 1998, a full-scale model is created.


The one-millionth Honda motorcycle made in America rolls off the Marysville assembly line. Appropriately enough, the millionth model is a Gold Wing; this commemoration is altogether fitting, since the success of the Gold Wing and that of Honda in America are inextricably intertwined.


In January 2000, the Marysville Motorcycle Plant is thoroughly redesigned to build the new Gold Wing. As part of this process, the engine production line is transferred from Anna to Marysville to facilitate the new Gold Wing production. The Gold Wing’s new era officially begins when the first complete GL1800 rolls off the Marysville assembly line on October 10, 2000.


2001 GL1800 GOLD WING
The word “new” cannot do justice to the GL1800. Two numbers alone tell a big story: 118 bhp and 125 lb./ft. of torque. Don’t try to find other bikes that compare, because there aren’t any. In terms of power, the new Gold Wing is literally in a class of one. Likewise, the list of long-legged mounts offering a box-section aluminum frame begins with the word “Gold” and ends with “Wing.” And that’s only the beginning. Before the GL1800 was completed, Honda would patent no less than 20 technological innovations that were incorporated into this amazing high-performance luxury motorcycle.


2005 GL1800 GOLD WING
The 30th anniversary Gold Wing comes in a slew of colors, including Pearl Yellow, White, Metallic Silver, Dark Gray Metallic, Bright Blue Metallic and Candy Black Cherry. Special 30th anniversary color-matched badging on the front fairing, rear trunk and dash cover also distinguish the ’05 model, as does a 30th anniversary color-matched key, 30th anniversary opening ceremony on the LCD display, and unique carbon-fiber seat pattern on pearl yellow and metallic silver colors. To date, more than 500,000 Gold Wings have been produced.


2006 GL1800 GOLD WING
In 2006, the most potent Gold Wing ever produced now elevates luxury motorcycling to unprecedented highs. A six-speaker premium audio system with 80 watts per channel comes standard on every new GL1800, and riders may also opt for a satellite navigation system with color screen, a Cold-Weather Comfort Package and an industry-first fully integrated motorcycle airbag.


Manufacture of the Gold Wing shifts to the ultra-modern facility in Kumamoto, Japan, where production on a gigantic scale will see as many as 1800 motorcycles produced in a single day. The new 2012 Gold Wing brings upgraded styling along with a dazzling array of sophisticated electronic amenities including a next-generation GPS navigation system with user-friendly programmability for sharing favorite ride routes, which can be accessed online via computer, plus a built-in MP3/iPod® interface for the new SRS CS Auto™ technology surround-sound system. The 2012 Gold Wing also boasts increased luggage capacity, greater protection from wind and weather, revised suspension settings for enhanced ride compliance, and unparalleled comfort for both rider and passenger. In addition to its power-laden yet refined drivetrain and delightfully sporty handling, packages for ABS and airbag do much to further the Gold Wing’s reputation as the most celebrated touring machine in motorcycle history.



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