Buying a used GL1500

By Steve Saunders


The Honda GL1500 Goldwing was announced for the 1988 model year. It's arrival came at a time when Kawasaki's Voyager, Suzuki's Cavalcade and the Yamaha Venture Royale had started to challenge the GL1200 Goldwing. Unfortunately, these challengers, while being great machines in their own way, concentrated on adding more in the way of luxuries to their machines and had they attended to the real needs of a touring bike, such as reducing weight and improving handling, there is no doubt that they would have been a real threat to the Honda flagship. Nonetheless, by 1987 the touring market was decidedly crowded and Honda had been working on the next Goldwing for a few years. The result of their efforts was an astounding machine that looked, handled and felt light years ahead of any touring motorcycle to date, period. Younger riders looking at the GL1500 years after production ceased cannot really appreciate it's impact when it arrived. This monster had a silky smooth six-cylinder engine that pulled like a train, a reverse gear and it's appearance was years ahead of it's time with a design that in spite of being the heaviest Wing to date, actually felt lighter and did the job a lot better than before. Such was the impact that the GL1500 had on the opposition that it ruled almost unopposed for more or less it's whole thirteen year production life, in spite of receiving few real improvements over the years. The late 90's seen the only real threat to the Goldwing in the shape of BMW's KLT1200 and in true Honda fashion, the 1800 Goldwing made it's appearance in time to set the standard for touring motorcycles once again.



1. Engines on the GL1500  proved to be the most reliable Goldwing lump during their time. They just go on forever, I know several owners with over 150,000 miles (I know there are some with double that) on their 1500's and they sound as good as new. A light rumble from the clutch area when idling (which goes away when you depress the clutch lever) is normal, I have had this on my two new 1500's as well as a seven year-old one! The engines from 1993 had needle roller bearings fitted to the rocker arms to make things even quieter. The 1990 models got improved driveability with tighter bodywork which made the bike rattle less. Gearboxes are quite reliable although the gearchange can be clunky, especially the 3rd-4th change, almost unforgivable on a machine that costs as much as a nice sized car. If the 1500 you are testing hops out of 4th gear, don't automatically assume the problem is only a dodgy selector. There were improvements in 1994. The twin carbs on early models can need balancing at as low as every 5,000 miles or you will experience a huge flat spot, later models can go 20,000 between balancing. It is worth looking down into the carburettor bodies when changing the air filter, the sliders are plastic and some corrosion from the body scratches the plastic, causing the sliders to stick. A finger of grease spread as best as you can fixes the problem for a while. The early (88-89) models had to have the carbs overhauled by Honda dealers because of flat spot & sudden surging problems.

2. Electrics are generally trouble free but get yourself a Honda shop manual because the amount of relays and wiring is huge. Woe to he who decides to replace any relays with cheapo car items, so don't say you haven't been warned! None of the alternator problems of previous Wings although the bearings can wear out which gives a peculiar wobbling sound and/or vibration when you rev the engine to around 2500rpm. If left unattended the back plate on the alternator will wear and have to be scrapped. It pays to replace the bearing early, before it starts spinning in the cover. It's a doddle to remove the alternator so no excuses for letting it fall apart. The rubber damper blocks in the engine that the alternator slots into can also wear or break up and this results in the same wobbling/vibration. Also it's worth noting that after Honda stopped producing alternators in Japan during 1996 and started having them made in China instead, the quality suffered. This is down to the inferior wiring used in the China made units and is another victory for the bean-counters at the expense of the customer. Many later GL1500 and GL1800 alternators have been know to fail suddenly, even when quite new and with low mileage. I've seen one on a new (in 2000) GL1500SE fail within a week and only 26 miles. Honda did replace the alternator under warranty, with another new Chinese unit which lasted just over a year.
Starter motors are extremely reliable compared to those fitted to all the earlier Goldwings. The 1500 starter has a lot of work to do as it operates the reverse gear as well and Honda really engineered this one well, so no criticisms here. Some electric fuel pumps have been known to give up the ghost at low mileages although these are in the minority and not confined to any particular model year. The LCD clock display on 1996-97 models can be inclined to go wrong and were replaced under warranty at the time, this of course is no use to those whose clock only ran amok a couple of years later. The jury is still out on the actual cause of the clock problem, I know of two people who had the display replaced under warranty but the new ones immediately went haywire too! Theories about the cause of the problem are still doing the rounds on the newsgroups and message boards but nothing concrete yet.

3.Steering head bearings can need re-torqueing around the 8000 mile mark but oddly enough probably only every 20000 after that. A slight wobble at low speed is usually down to an underinflated front tyre or one that has too much mileage on it (even though there may be lots of tread left). I've seen 1500's with only 2-3000 miles on front tyres that developed flat spots, this is caused by the bike not being used for a while and up on the main stand, the weight presses down on the tyre and over a period of time the tyre goes out of shape. If you feel that you have to drag the 1500 around corners instead of it going with you, the fork oil has probably turned to mush, this makes the front end sit lower, thus increasing the weight on the wheel. Progressive springs improve the 1500's front end immensely, they banish the dreaded high speed wallow when negotiating the twisties.

4. Exhausts are longer lasting than on earlier Wings and when they do go they still look good while the insides are rotting but they start to sound more raspy, some owners like the change from the usual quietness of the 1500! Eventually the joint where the tailpiece joins the silencer blows a big hole and that's your lot. When removing the dead mufflers it isn't uncommon to find the collector box rotted as well, the first unwelcome sign being the mounting pipe that the muffler bolts over having rotted off and stuck inside the muffler. Collector boxes are not cheap for the GL1500.

5. Swingarms can rot badly on very old GL1500's. They usually rot on the inner side of the legs, ie the part you can't see facing the tyre sidewalls. There is a recessed welded seam along which wet mud etc. can gather and start the dreaded tinworm. In severe cases the swingarm swells out along the rotted area and can rub against the tyre sidewall. It pays to inspect  and clean the swingarm when changing the rear tyre. A coating of body sealer (the rubbery stuff for sealing underneath cars) along the inner swingarm will prolong it greatly as the paint won't break down as quickly.

Bank Angle Sensors had to be replaced on GL1500's of all variants. The recall was announced at the end of June 1995. The purpose of the sensor is to shut the engine off if the rider is unfortunate enough to drop the bike. Many of the sensors failed (leaked or dried out the fluid) and caused the engine to cut out while riding. This happened to me in May 1996 while riding my 1989 GL1500, which only had 22,000 miles on it. I was only doing about 40mph at the time, but the sudden loss of power made the Goldwing feel twice as heavy as it really was, and coasting it across a lane of cars to get to safety wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs. Honda, to their credit replaced 54,388 units (many long after the recall was made) and I know of many owners who had their Bank Angle Sensors replaced free of charge up to three years after the recall. My machine was seven years old and two years outside the recall and Honda still replaced the sensor for free.

In the final few years of GL1500 production, Internet discussion groups saw a fair number of postings from owners who complained that the build quality on the Goldwing (since 1998) was not up to the same standard as earlier GL1500's. Exhausts and engine guards that rusted at the first sniff of rain, poorly fitting rear lights, uneven gaps around the headlamp, indicators and trunk, also alternators and often their replacements giving up the ghost at low mileages were the main culprits. This might have been the first signs of old age, or perhaps more likely preparing the production line for the GL1800 saw the existing resources being stretched.



Honda Recalls & Service Bulletins for the GL1500.

These are all Adobe .pdf files. Right-click and select "Save As" to save them to your hard drive.


Service Bulletin 1, March 1988. GL1500 Carburetor Vent Hose Routing. 2.82mbs.

Service Bulletin 2, July 1988. GL1500 Low Speed Driveability Improvement. 2.19mbs.

Service Bulletin 3, December 1988. GL1500 CB Radio Sub-Harness. 451kbs.

Service Bulletin 4, May 1989. 1988-89 Saddlebag Water Leakage. 483kbs.

Service Bulletin 5, December 1989. 1988-89 GL1500 Improved Windshield Seal. 450kbs.

Service Bulletin 6, June 1995. GL1500 (all 1988-93 models) Bank Angle Sensor Replacement. 1.5mbs.

Service Bulletin 7, November 1996. 1997 GL1500C Valkyrie Turn Signal Bracket Replacement. 1.25mbs.

Service Bulletin 8, June 1998. 1997-98 GL1500C/CT Valkyrie Hondaline CB Radio Kit. 1.39mbs.



What to pay for a used GL1500 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.
The high price of the GL1800 (35% more expensive when first launched new than the last GL1500SE was) has ensured that used GL1500's from any year have retained a high price tag. Basically you have a choice of taking out a second mortgage for a new GL1800, or just a small personal loan for a late model full-spec GL1500. With the low dollar affecting new prices during 2004-2005, this has changed things somewhat.

Standard GL1500's from 1988 & 1989 are just referred to as the GL1500, no Interstates, Aspencades or SE's in those first years of the six-cylinder monsters production. As such, they can be picked up in good condition for between
5,500 - 6,500. A 1990 GL1500 in similar good condition can be had for about 500 extra. The abundance of plastics on this machine means major expense for damaged panels and if there are more than a few cracked or broken panels then expect to pay at least 1,500 less for one of these GL1500's.
Interstate models are the ones with no reverse gear (you really do need it, no matter how big you are), cheap radio system, no suspension pump etc. As such, no-one really wants them and they can be had really cheap. An early 1991 can be bought for as little as
5,000 and one of the last from 1996 should see you with change from 8,500, if you really want one. It does represent a cheap way into ownership of a GL1500.
Aspencade model prices run about
800 less than a same year SE (prices below). The Aspencade is the second most popular model next to the SE, and even though it was never officially destined for Europe, such is the demand for this model that many hundreds of them have been imported to Europe from the US by dealers.
GL1500SE models from 1990 (in good condition) should be available for around
7,500. A 1991SE with two-tone paint still fetches up to 8,500. Add about 700 per year for nice examples, but only about half that for buckets or old tat. A year 2000 SE (US spec with CB radio, all the auxiliary lights working etc.) will still cost you up to 16,000 in a shop or 14,000 private as of January 2005. This is down a bit on previous years as the dollar slumps badly against the Euro and new GL1800's are about 20% cheaper than they were in 2004. It should be noted that the popular colours (ie Candy Red) are always in demand and can add to the price of an otherwise bog standard machine, likewise a US spec machine always attracts at least 500 more than a European or UK model. The much fuller specification on the US models ensures a healthy demand for them. One of the rarer Anniversary SE models from 1991 (two-tone gold & brown only) used to be worth a lot more than the "standard" SE, even though the only difference was the colour scheme and a couple of badges. An Anniversary model from 1991 can be yours for around 7,000, down substantially on last years prices. All models from 1988-91 will still fetch the same money as before, it's the later model GL1500's that have taken a hit in price with the much lower price of a GL1800.





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