Buying a used GL1100

By Steve Saunders


The Honda GL1100 Goldwing was introduced for the 1980 model year. Unlike the previous GL1000 - which initially was not the quickest mover off the showroom floors - the 1100 was an instant success. It was the first real specific supertourer and was marketed as such. An impressive array of Hondaline bits and pieces helped to add even more comfort and functionality to a machine that Honda couldn't roll off the production line quick enough to satisfy the list of eager punters with cash in hand. Many European customers paid over the odds to get their hands on one instead of waiting until halfway through the year. After some model changes (both major and minor) over the next few years, the model was superseded by the GL1200 in 1984. By the time the last 1100's were produced in 1983, you could buy the Aspencade model with digital instruments, eleven spoke alloy wheels, linked brakes, onboard compressor for the suspension etc. and this helped the transition to the GL1200 the following year. In fact, 1983 will probably be remembered as the year that Honda started to throw everything except the kitchen sink at the Goldwing and to hell with the weight! In general, the GL1100 shares the reputation for reliability that we Goldwing owners tend to take for granted, but of course there are things to look out for and bearing in mind that this motorcycle has been out of production since 1983, vigilance is required when checking out a prospective purchase. Really clean low mileage examples are very scarce now, so bear this in mind when looking at the average one that you might otherwise pass up in the vain hope of finding a mint example.



1. Exhausts usually rot around the area where the main silencer joins the narrow section under the panniers. The joints and the clamps usually fall apart when you try to undo the bolts too and you have to buy a complete silencer/downpipe unit as they are one piece. Honda OEM silencers are very expensive, but fortunately there are many good systems available at reasonable prices. Motad make a stainless system for around one-third the cost of the Honda unit.

2. Engines are the usual reliable flat four cylinder, in this case of 1089cc capacity. I know of many examples with over 150,000 miles which have never had to be overhauled. A few rattles from the large hyvochain are not unusual and should not give cause for concern. At over 40,000 miles, timing belt tensioners can dry out and squeal and should be replaced before disaster strikes. A puff of grey smoke on start-up when cold usually indicates worn valve stem seals. If the smoke disappears after a few minutes then don't worry. This can happen even on low mileage engines because the seals become dry and cracked and is more a case of age rather than mileage. A deep rumble on idle doesn't always mean a clapped crankshaft, if the noise goes away when you pull in the clutch lever then the noise is slightly worn gearbox bearings (usually mainshaft) and they can stay like this for many thousands of miles before attention is needed. Valve clearances are adjusted manually and even well maintained engines have a characteristic tappet sound. Starter motors can give trouble on all the four-cylinder Goldwings and what usually happens is that the starter operates fine when the engine is cold but when warm the starter turns slowly and the owner thinks his battery is going flat. What happens is that the bushes (usually the one in the starter end plate) that support the armature wear out and allow the armature coils (which expand slightly with the heat from the engine) to short off the motor housing. If you run a multi-meter from the housing to earth, sometimes you will find the housing is live! If you get the bushes sorted out sooner rather than later, you will save the expense of a new motor. The brushes mounting plate can come loose too because it is held in place with tabs and rivets, and these can eventually develop play, which leads to a bad connection, overheating and sometimes the plate welds itself to the tabs! Twisting the tabs for a better connection will delay disaster in this area, soldering them will be even better. Allowing the brushes to wear down will result in the slip rings on the armature wearing down and they are so thinly coated that they can't be skimmed down to good copper. None of the electrical specialists in Ireland that I know (and believe me I know plenty of them) can repair the armatures because of the way they are made. Many engine parts on the GL1100 are the same as on the GL1000, such as front & rear cover gaskets, valves & valve springs (up to 1981), valve seals, rocker cover gaskets & sealing washers, timing belts, oil filter & drain plug, clutch springs, exhaust gaskets etc. The point being that parts for the GL1100 can often be sourced from suppliers that cater for the Classic motorcycle.

3. Brakes are adequate for a motorcycle of these proportions and they do tend to suffer with age. The usual seized calipers and pins, brake hoses swollen with age etc. can be brought back to their former glory with a bit of work. The Aspencade (on 1983 models) have linked brakes that help to minimize rear wheel lock-up (to a certain extent) and from 1982 both wheels are smaller in diameter by 1" each. 1983 wheels are 11-spoke alloys instead of the previous Comstars. Front tyres for the 1980-81 models can be hard to find and the choice is limited, usually only cheap and nasty Chinese rubber can be found now. Still no problems getting decent tyres for the 1982-83 bikes.

4. Fork seals seem to give up in record time, especially in the Aspencade, with air assisted front end. Aftermarket seals tend to do a better job than the Honda items and heavy duty fork oil helps no end.

5. Carburettors need regular balancing to keep the dreaded low idle stutter at bay. It's an easy job once you have the gauges. Stripping bad carbs on the 1100 is straightforward enough but beware of jets and seats that can often be welded in position from oxidization and can lead to the heavy handed ruining the whole carb. Incidentally, if you do not have access to vacuum gauges and have the carbs assembled on the bench, it is quite easy to balance them using feeler gauges to measure the butterfly clearances. In fact, this is the preferred method for many older bike mechanics and involves less effort than the other way (assuming you had to remove the carbs in the first place). Fuel pumps hardly ever give up the ghost.

6. Plastics are becoming hard to get now, even from Honda and are expensive when available. The black matt area on the inside of the fairing usually cracks if you even look crooked at it and ditto for the lower fairing panels where they join the bottom of the radiator. Trunk lids go at the edges and the trunk base can crack right across from overweight pillion passengers resting against them. Bear in mind that plastic injection moulding technology on motorcycle fairings was in it's early expensive days and credit has to be given to Honda for biting the bullet when many of us were still wallowing about on huge fibreglass fairings.

7. Wheels are sturdy eleven spoke alloys on the 1983 models, the earlier ones have Comstars which have been known to develop play where the rivets meet the rim, no doubt down to the enormous weight on top of them. Cracks can appear in the wheel in extreme cases.

8. Swingarm bearings on all Goldwings tend to need adjustment regularly because of the weight and the handling can become very interesting if they are neglected in favour of fitting bits of chrome and lights! Some of the 1981 models had the swingarm incorrectly welded out of line and many owners were not too happy about how the problem was dealt with by Honda at the time.

9. Alternators are a common problem area on all of the early Wings (particularly the later GL1200). The connector block behind the left side cover collects all the muck from the road and needs to be cleaned and stuffed with dialectric grease regularly. The problems are compounded by owners who love to add lots of light bars and other power hungry accessories without bothering to check if they exceed the alternators puny capacity. The alternator itself can break down eventually on an old bike and requires engine removal to replace it. Honda never really got to grips with this problem (in spite of early recalls and uprating the alternators) and when replacing the alternator rotor, buy an aftermarket heavy duty item and dump the connector block and solder the wires together. When doing a quick check on an alternator, run a meter across the battery terminals with the engine running. Get someone to bring the revs up to about 2000 revs and if the reading is under 13 volts, prepare yourself for a long weekend!

10. Frames can suffer on older Wings, especially in countries were the roads are salted. The removable frame member under the left side of the engine is also the mounting point for the side stand and this point has been known to collapse on severely rotted examples. Swingarm housings will eventually rot away and should be inspected occasionally if you expect to live to a ripe old age. 


What to pay for a used GL1100 in Ireland.

This is intended as a guide only and will be suitable for Irish Goldwing sellers and seekers. The wide variation in new prices around the world has a major bearing on used prices and makes it impossible for me to accurately place a tag on Goldwings outside of my own country. Some examples will be worth more or less than my estimates and such things as a machines condition, mileage, history, location, how it has been stored etc. will have a bearing on it's value. Quite often a potential buyer will fall for a machine on looks alone and common sense then usually goes out of the window when negotiating. Goldwings have never been cheap to buy in Ireland, whether new or used and real bargains are quite rare. Compared to other countries, there are relatively small numbers of Goldwings in Ireland (several hundred here as opposed to several thousand just across the water in the UK), so this means less choice and more cost for a decent machine here. Bear in mind that buying a Goldwing from a motorcycle shop in Ireland will usually cost substantially (25-30%) more than buying privately and generally shops tend to put a large price tag on the machine and hope for the best. They usually get it too because of the small numbers around, and the increased and continuing interest in Goldwings from around 1992 has kept values of used machines quite high. The prices below are private, not shop or trade. Please feel free to use or ignore the valuations below, but please do not ask me for valuations on individual machines.

Standard (unfaired) GL1100's are still good sellers for two reasons. Firstly, the lack of plastics makes them easier to maintain both cosmetically and mechanically and thus easier to dispose of than a fully faired model with cracked plastics. Many people prefer the bare look too and the extra performance that results from the substantially lighter machine. A good clean 1980-81 will fetch up to 2,200 and a 1982 (with the smaller wheels which aid the handling) about 10% more. Add about another 400 for a 1983 with the alloy wheels. A ratbag Standard GL1100 can be had for as little as 1,500.
GL1100's are the most commonly spotted variety. This model spanned the whole production run and most GL1100's sold were Intertates. If there are any clean ones left, a 1980-81 model should get around 2,600 and a 1982 with the smaller wheels about the same, probably because the plastics hide the obvious difference in wheels and tyres. The 1982 Aspencade is sought after and a fully loaded one will easily exceed 3,500. The 1983 Aspencade is highly lusted after. This was the ultimate GL1100 and the extra refinements mean that you can expect to be relieved of up to 4,500 in a private sale, perhaps even more for this rarest of the species. Various colours were available for the GL1100's, Wineberry Red, brown, blue, black and a very rare green. The most popular colour is Wineberry Red and a clean example in this colour will always be worth a bit more and as such will be easier to dispose of when you get too old to hold the thing up on the road. A tatty example (cracked plastics, faded paintwork, engine paint flaking, rusted exhausts etc) of any year can be had for as little as 2,000, but if you want to bring it up to scratch it will cost much more than buying a clean machine in the first place. At 200
5 prices, try 250 for a full badge set for example, or 700 for the upper fairing. It should be noted that in general, Goldwings with lots of accessories don't always fetch more money than a less loaded machine. Many folks spend several thousands of dollars or Euros on extras, only to be insulted by the deal offered on a trade-in or from a buyer. Some extras will appeal to particular buyers and will prompt them to pay a bit more, but you will never recover all the cash spent on accessories when selling a Goldwing. The real value is on the machine itself and if a seller intends to buy another Goldwing of the same type, it would be wise for him or her to remove whatever extras that can be fitted to the new machine. The recent (late 2004-2005) price drop of new Goldwings in Ireland (due to the low dollar) has not affected the prices of GL1100 models. They are so old now that the prices are unlikely to drop further any time soon.





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