Buying a used GL1200

By Steve Saunders


The Honda GL1200 Goldwing motorcycle ceased production in 1987, after a four year reign as King of touring motorcycles. The GL1200, like it's 1100 and 1000 ancestors, enjoyed a reputation for reliability and endurance and this is one of the reasons that the model remains a popular buy thirteen years after the last one rolled off the line in Maryville, Ohio. It is worth bearing in mind however, that time takes it's toll on the mighty Goldwing as with everything else and there are a few things to look out for when buying one. I have listed the common areas worth checking out (based on years of feedback from other Goldwing owners) and will add to these as the need arises or more information comes in.



1. Exhausts usually rot around the area where the main silencer joins the narrow section under the panniers. The collector boxes rot under at the collar joints and the clamps usually fall apart when you try to undo the bolts. 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 last for huge mileages, each reincarnation of the flat four cylinder lump has proved to be more reliable and smoother than the previous version, Honda no doubt are determined to improve the King of tourers as much as possible over the years. I know of one GL1200 that has covered over 250,000 (and many more with between 150-200,000) miles that have never needed a major overhaul during that time. 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 and is more a case of age rather than mileage. The valve adjustment is hydraulic and needs no maintenance, but really high mileage units have been known to get a bit noisy and may require attention. The clunky gears are unfortunately quite normal. The pickup coils can fail and the symptoms are when the engine dies suddenly (usually when on the move) with no warning and even with the throttle open full. The coils require radiator & timing belt cover removal for access on the later models but the 1984 1200's have the coils located at the rear of the engine and the engine has to be removed for this. You can replace your alternator stator while you are at it! 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 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. 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.

3. Brakes are linked on this model and require a bit of work to keep them up to the job of stopping all that weight. Wings left lying up can suffer from seized calipers and will require stripping and cleaning to restore them to their previous efficiency.

4. Fork seals take a pounding from all the weight being thrown around and when replacing them, at least 20 weight fork oil is is preferred. The slider bushes are usually shot on more neglected machines when the oil has been allowed to turn to mush, so replace them too as the extra cost is quite small and may save you doing it all again.

5. Alternators are a common problem area on all of the early Wings, the GL1200 being the worst offender in this department. The connector block behind the left side cover in front of the battery suffers most because it collects all the muck from the road and needs to be cleaned and stuffed with dialectric grease regularly. The other connections involving the charging system that need checking include the connector just to the rear of the battery at the starter solenoid/main fuse connection and the one under the dummy tank to the left of the air filter which is the regulator/rectifier connector block. This one is the least likely to give trouble as it is protected from the elements, just as well too because the shelter assembly usually has to be removed for access to the connector block. 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 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 your self for a long weekend!

6. Swing arm bearings tend to be neglected by the time a Goldwing is on it's third or tenth owner and this can lead to some interesting and heartstopping moments when travelling at speed or on the twisties. Get this sorted asap, unless you are a lover of tight chests and pains in your left arm! Grabbing the rear wheel and pulling sideways and back and forth is not so easy with the weight of the differential, swingarm, wheel etc. in spite of what all the manuals say. Riding the bike is the real test (make sure the rear tyre has lots of meat left).

7. Steering head bearings are under a lot of stress with all the weight pushing against them and they are easily checked by slamming on the anchors at low speed. Worn bearings will make the front end clunk. Owners who neglect this area must love the hairy moments that such folly induces. Cheap to fix, so do it now and buy the chrome bits later on.

8. Rear drive can be a bit whiny on the 1200. Some earlier ones emitted a clicking sound from the rear of the bike and Honda did a recall. Some may have slipped through the net and it is worth listening out. The differential bearings can sound rough and Honda used to recommend that the diff was not serviceable and to buy a new unit. I checked the price of a new unit some years ago and almost collapsed with fright, so I stripped the diff and replaced the worn bearings (a fairly easy job) and it worked fine, not to mention saving a lot of dough. 1987 1200's were a lot quieter than previous versions. Some wheels have been known to strip the drive splines, all for the want of a little grease.

9. Plastics are generally quite robust. The trunk lid usually cracks at the corners and around the hinge mount. Plastic welding works for a while, the heavy lid usually puts paid to the weld after a few months. The panels are quite expensive and so are the stripe kits, so a cosmetically good and well looked after Goldwing with a high mileage can often work out a better buy than a low mileage one with tatty panels. It's worth noting that the "Plain Jane" unfaired GL1200 standard model (discontinued after 1985) went and stopped a lot better than it's overweight big brother.

10. Frames suffer on the GL1200 as well as the 1100, in certain areas. The side stand mounting point usually rusts away quietly from the road salt and the weight of the Wing  means the beast eventually ends up on the engine guards. The main stand mounts also corrode on the GL1200 (more so than on the GL1100) and if the rear wheel is touching the ground with the bike on the main stand you are looking at problems. The swingarm housing can rot from the inside out and if it's allowed to rot away without being attended to you can probably expect some interesting effects on the bikes handling.

Electrics are something to be wary of on the LTD (1985) and Sei (1986) models. The added complications of computer controlled fuel injection can be a worry on a bike this old and electronic parts for these machines don't come cheap. This is a case where the condition of the bike is really important.


What to pay for a used GL1200 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. Some examples will sell for more than the estimates below as quite often a potential buyer falls for a Goldwing offered for sale and common sense goes out of the window. Please feel free to use or ignore the valuations below, but please do not ask me for valuations on individual machines.

Standard (unfaired) GL1200's are still as popular as the GL1100 version and for similar reasons. Also, the fact that the Standard was discontinued after 1984 makes them rather thin on the ground and worth that bit more to anyone looking specifically for one. 4,000 is what a decent example will fetch and ratbags will still make 3,000. I've seen a minter go for 5,000 in the summer of 2002.
Interstate GL1200's are the most common garden variety, just like the GL1100 version was in it's day. The value of an Interstate is not particularly high, as most folks would prefer and Aspencade model with all the trimmings. Nevertheless, a clean Interstate from 1984 can fetch 3,500 on average. Add about 300 for an '85 and so on until 1987. A tatty example from any year can be yours for around 2,500.

Aspencade GL1200's are the most popular of the line. The extra cost of an Aspencade over an Interstate didn't deter thousands of customers one little bit and there are still lots of lovely Aspencades to be seen at Goldwing rallies each year. A 1984 or 1985 in good condition will probably be available for 5,000, perhaps another 500 will buy you a nice example from 1986. 1987 models don't command any more cash, as Honda replaced the digital dash that year with analogue instruments similar to the Interstate.
Otherwise, the 1987 models were well sorted, much smoother drivetrain and a better saddle being part of the improvements for the final year of the GL1200.
LTD and SEi versions of the GL1200 are of course worth a lot more than the Aspencade, the fuel injection and computerised trip display ensure that. They were much more expensive when new and even now a 1985 LTD in good order (very important for these machines) is capable of fetching 7,500 or more
, although as we enter 2005 I've seen some offered for as low as 5,000. The even rarer SEi of 1986 is still fetching an incredible 8,000 as in January 2005 and this is about 20% less than in previous years.





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