In 1972, Honda established a new design team, led by Soichiro Irimajiri, who headed up design of the five- and six-cylinder road racing engines of the 1960's. The team developed the M1, a top-secret prototype designed to explore the outer limits of the Grand Touring concept.
The first appearance of the Goldwing was at Cologne Motorcycle show in October 1974. It was a flat-4 999cc motorcycle. It got immediate attention because of some cutting edge technology for the time. This included:
- A water cooled engine, only the second Japanese motorcycle to have it (1969 GT750 Suzuki was a water cooled 3 cylinder 2 stroke).
- Virtually the first motorcycle ever to have a fuel pump. What appeared to be a fuel tank was actually the electronics bay and radiator overflow. The real fuel tank was placed under the seat.
- Shaft Drive. German BMWs were noted for using this on touring motorcycles, but it was a first on a large capacity exported Japanese motorcycle (Marusho Lilacs, a Japanese manufacturer of the 1950's and 1960's used shaft drive on all their models).
- Very quiet, partly by use of a one piece silencer box under the swing arm.
- Transmission underneath the engine (instead of behind it). This is a popular car layout (e.g. Mini Minor), but first use on a motorcycle.
The first production model GL1000 came out in 1975, and was in production until 1979. The bike was listed as a touring bike, but it came as a bare bike.
A large market developed offering fairings and luggage, the most popular being the Windjammer series by Vetter. Other than minor changes in the exhaust system, this bike remained virtually unchanged for its entire run.
During the final run of the GL1000 (1979), Honda finally released their own saddlebags and trunk (although they did not produce a fairing).
Changes this year included rectangular turn signals to replace the previous round ones, control levers in black rather than silverk, and twin-bulb taillight with CBX-type ribbed lens to replace the single-bulb unit.
First released in 1980, the GL1100 was made until 1983. For the most part, this was the same bike as the GL1000, but with some improvements. The engine was the same, but it was bored to a larger 1085cc cylinder, and electronic ignition replaced the older point system. The suspension was changed to an air adjustible system (a first for a production motorcycle). The kickstarter was removed because it was practically impossible to kickstart the large engine. Many parts were interchangeable between the 1000 and 1100 models.
The base bike was now called the "GL1100 Standard." In 1980 Honda also introduced the "Interstate" version of the Goldwing. This was the first production bike to come standard with touring accessories like a trunk, saddlebags, and a fairing.
In 1981, production of the Goldwing was moved from Japan to Ohio. This move brought manufacture of the motorcycle to its largest market and allowed Honda to market the machine as being made in America.
In 1982, the "Aspencade" was introduced. This was an Interstate model, with more options. AM/FM Radio, CB Radio, floorboards, and chrome were all standard on the Aspencade (these were options on the Interstate).
In 1983, Honda made a few substantial changes for the final year of the GL1100. This includes an LCD dashboard, anti-dive forks and a change to the transmission to improve fuel mileage. The size of the trunk was also increased, and the seat and footpegs for the passenger were moved to provide more comfort.
In 1984, the GL1200 was released, and was an immediate hit. This time the engine was totally new, and the size had grown to 1182cc. The frame was larger, and stiffened for a smoother ride. In the Interstate and Aspencade models the fairing was integrated into the main body, eliminating the appearance that they were "added on". Now the Touring models truly appeared to have been created that way.
1984 however was the last year of the "Standard" model. Over the preceding years, sales of the Standard had declined in favor of the Interstate and Aspencade models. This also lead to the decline of after-market manufacturers like Vetter.
In 1985, the GL1200LTD was introduced. This was a limited model GL1200 Aspencade, with even more technology. Standard on the LTD was electronic fuel injection, auto leveling rear suspension, driver-passenger intercom system, cruise control, a Panasonic stereo with Dolby noise reduction, rear seat stereo speakers, an improved seat, a more elaborate paint scheme and an exclusive color (two tone gold), additional marker lights and cornering lights, a more sophisticated instrument panel, and a sophisticated trip computer. It also had an increased alternator capacity, allowing even more electronics to be added to the bike.
In 1986 the LTD was replaced with the SE-i. This model had an even larger 500 watt alternator, as well as all other LTD features, and was also available only in an exclusive color to the SE-i, a white and beige two tone.
In 1987 the SE-i was dropped, but some of the features were moved to the Aspencade model including the intercoms, cruise control, and the upgraded stereo. A simplified version of the trip computer was carried over as well. Fuel injection was not continued.
1988 brought the most changes ever to the Goldwing.
The GL1500 completely outclassed all competition to such a degree that Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha eventually abandoned the market segment.
This both increased power, and reduced noise. Honda also enclosed the entire motorcycle in plastic, giving it a seamless appearance.
One major innovation was the addition of a "reverse gear". Because of the size and weight, it was felt that some people would have problems backing it up.
During the first year, only one model was available. In 1990 Honda introduced the SE, which was essentially a cosmetic improvement including things like two-tone paint, a trunk spoiler and some others.
In later years more features were added to the SE after criticism that the price premium brought little more than window dressing. In 1990 the Interstate was brought back as a more budget-conscious model.
In 2001, the first new model in 13 years was revealed. The security was so tight that nothing about it was known until it was first displayed to the public.
The new engine was increased to 1832cc, and fuel injected. At the same time, the weight of the bike actually decreased from that of the GL1500. This was done by making the frame out of high strength aluminum. This was an extruded frame, and was composed of only 31 individual parts (almost half the number of the previous frame).
ABS braking was an option, added because of the increased power of the new engine, from 74 kW (99 bhp) to 87 kW (117 bhp).
The 2006 model had an optional airbag. Other 2006 options were an in-dash GPS with audio information provided through the speakers and headset cables, and a rider comfort package including seat heaters controlled from the dash, heated handlebar grips, and engine-air vents (able to be opened and closed by a lever on the left side dash) located in front of the driver's foot pegs.
The 2010 model year was the last to be produced in the United States. The 2011 model year was not produced. The 2012 model year motorcycles are being manufactured in Japan.
In 1996, Honda brought back the modern incarnation of the "Standard Goldwing".
Renamed the Honda Valkyrie in the US and F6C in the rest of the world, it featured the same engine as the GL1500 in a cruiser style frame.
A version with a windshield and luggage was introduced as the Valkyrie Tourer in 1997.
A much more touring oriented version was introduced in 1999 as the Valkyrie Interstate with a full fairing, luggage and trunk.
These models were dropped due to slow sales, leaving the standard Valkyrie, which was discontinued after the 2003 model year.
In 2004, Honda released a "Limited Edition" model, the Valkyrie Rune, complete with 1800cc engine and unique styling. Originally conceived back in 2000 as a concept bike along with 3 other concept cruisers, the Valkyrie Rune was so well received that Honda decided to make it a reality. As a bonus, the original concept was faithfully reproduced with the production version, giving the Rune a unique and magnificent presence.