In the motorcycling world, technology presses forward with such irresistible force that very few models survive a span of 36 years. But for the past 36 years, the Honda 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. The following timeline provides a glimpse into the many milestones that have made the Gold Wing the icon it is today.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 direct it out of 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 turn-key, 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. Turn-key touring, Gold Wing style, is born.
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.
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 metallic gold paint.
Following the success of its Marysville Motorcycle Plant, Honda builds 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."
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.
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 CBR600F3. "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 Gold Wing's 20th anniversary represents a major milestone, an event that Honda celebrates enthusiastically with three commemorative models and the publication of a special hard-cover book that details the entire history of the Gold Wing.
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.
The word new cannot do justice to the GL1800. Exceptional power alone tells a big story. 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.
In 2006, Honda developed the world's first Motorcycle Airbag System for mass-produced motorcycles to mitigate rider injury in frontal collisions. This Motorcycle Airbag System was first equipped on the Gold Wing released in the US in the middle of 2006. The airbag featured on the GL1800 deploys in an extremely short period, and by absorbing kinetic energy of the rider's forward movement and reducing the velocity at which the rider separates from the motorcycle, the airbag lessens the severity of injuries sustains, if they collide with another vehicle, another object or the ground.
For the '07 and '08 models, we released machines equipped with airbags and navigation in Japan, Europe and other regions.
For the North American specification '09 model, we adopted the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) to monitor tire air pressure and inform the rider when it is low, along with an XM radio to allow satellite reception of digital music, traffic information and weather reports.
For the 2012 model, the production base was moved to the Kumamoto Factory in Japan, and together with a new styling, Honda equipped the Goldwing with a complete set of equipment, including USB (MP3/WMA music files)/iPod-compatible digital audio and Navi PC Link.
The 2015 model year marks the 40th anniversary of the Gold Wing.