The Honda Goldwing Was The First Japanese Production Motorcycle With This Engine

The Honda Gold Wing belongs in the Motorcycle Fan Manual under "game changer." Alongside bikes like Honda's Super Cub and the Harley Duo-Glide, the Gold Wing transformed the motorcycle marketplace, opening up a whole new approach to engineering, customer engagement, and design. At the heart of that innovation was a brand-new engine.

At first glance, an observer not familiar with deep cuts in automotive history might suggest everything but the engine as the Gold Wing's transformative feature. The Honda Gold Wing was and is the gold star standard for grand touring bikes, the first ride to really prove that Japanese manufacturers, which historically favored smaller, simpler, more efficient designs, could beat big-metal icons like Triumph and Harley-Davidson at their own game. In the Gold Wing, Honda delivered a true thoroughbred cruiser, uniting Harley-level comfort and power with Honda's own signature reliability. At the heart of that innovation was the Gold Wing's unique engine.

Heart of a giant

From its first day on the drawing board, the Gold Wing was a gamble for Honda. Building a big, gas-guzzling, distance-eating grand cruiser ran directly counter to Honda's reputation at the time. As Silodrome notes, when design began in 1972, the Gold Wing was never even intended for production. It was a testbed for engineering theories. At the time, conventional wisdom ran, Honda was too busy motorizing Asia with over a hundred million fast, economical scooters to build a Harley killer.

But innovation begins where conventional wisdom stops. The design question that changed Honda engineers' minds about the future of the Gold Wing was simple: What if we gave it more power? Rather than economize to suit Honda's 70s-era business model, the Gold Wing team went big, installing a massive flat four in their still experimental cruiser. At the time, the 999-cc engine had far more displacement than Honda's contemporary superbike with comparable revs and torque, the still formidable CB750, which ChatGPT recently told Slashgear was one of the 3 best motorcycles ever made.

While the first Gold Wing, the GL1000, was a minimalist affair, it adapted quickly. The Gold Wing had a liquid-cooled 1085-cc engine, full front fairing, saddlebags, and robust front suspension for maximum comfort. In the words of Ben Branch at Silodrome, the Gold Wing "was a quiet limousine of a motorcycle reminiscent of a Rolls-Royce except with two wheels." That two-wheeled Rolls Royce then set about blowing Harleys and BMWs off the highway with lower prices and superior performance. The Gold Wing has been in production ever since, setting the bar for cruising bikes worldwide.