Honda GL1000 and the Vetter years: 1975-77
1975: When the GL was new and I was 33
|Few know the extent that Honda and I worked together in the 1970s to develop fairings for the GL1000. Considering the fact that in 2010, the GL became an AMCA Classic, this is a good time to tell this story. |
The Vetter Windjammer fairing had been an instant success after its introduction in 1972. By 1974, over 35,000 Windjammers had been produced. The Windjammer III, the first version with Lowers, was about to be introduced. In August of 1974 (before anybody knew there was a GL1000) Mr. Cedric Shimo, VP of Honda International Trading Company, called me at my Illinois studio to discuss the possible manufacturing of a Honda-designed fairing. Would I fly to Honda’s Suzuka assembly plant in Japan to discuss it? There I saw the fairing they had designed. It looked like a slimmed-down Windjammer, but they would give me no idea which bike it was intended for. A month later at the Las Vegas Show I found out:
Las Vegas, September 1974: Honda introduced the GL1000 and Hondaline fairing
After seeing their fairing on this monstrous new Honda, I told Mr. Shimo that I thought the design would be a mistake because it was too small for the bike. I explained that the bigger Windjammer fairing was more appropriate for the way Americans rode. They insisted that this was what they wanted. Reluctantly, I agreed to produce it for them with the understanding that if they ever decided that it wasn’t right, they would come to me first for the next design.
Early in 1975, Honda delivered their fairing and the first three production GL1000s to Illinois. (A red one, yellow and turquoise) We spent the next year converting their technology for fairings (SMC) to our technology (Vacuum-formed ABS). Honda engineers came in from Japan regularly to follow our work.
|There was a reason why Honda enjoyed a great reputation. They were very competent. I was impressed. I would have liked to met Mr. Honda but he had just retired from active management of the company two years before in 1973. I am sure we would have liked each other. |
Finally, the Big Day came at Honda's facility in Gardena:
Look at those guys! Is this fun or what?
So, what does this have to do with the Windjammer story? As we got comfortable with each other, Honda gave us permission to use our loaner GLs to make hardware to fit up my own Windjammer III fairing. Consequently, we had Windjammer brackets for GLs before Honda dealers even had the motorcycles.
It got better:
Honda agreed to share their candy color paint formulas with us - which sometimes involved four different layers of metal flake and translucent paint! When the 1978 GL1100s were introduced, we had perfectly color matched Vetter Windjammer SS fairings and saddlebags.
1975: Vetter ad shots in Telluride, Colorado
In the meantime, Windjammer fairings had become very popular. In fact, over half of the GL1000s were fitted with Windjammer fairings. For our famous color ads of 1976, I prepared a special silver Windjammer III with orange pin striping to match the new GL. A 1975 turquoise GL with a silver Windjammer III still makes my heart beat a little faster.
The Honda GL1000 with its Vetter equipment demonstrated that there was a major, unrealized market in the US for a large touring bike. Unusual for a Japanese company, Honda stayed with the same design for three years. The result was that American accessory makers were able to tool up for extra lights, radios, CBs, racks, rear luggage and trailers. All this “stuff” made the GL even more desirable because personalizing our motorcycle is one of the things we like to do. The GL “aftermarket” became big. Because of this, it is hard today to find a pristine, original 1975 GL1000.
Spring of 1976, Rantoul, Illinois: “Where Motorcycle Dreams Were Made”
The 1970s were heady years for motorcycling. At Vetter, we doubled manufacturing every year, and still had a hard time keeping up with the demand for Windjammers. We were always behind. One day in 1976 (memorialized in the John Marsh painting above) Carol, who then was in charge of Vetter Dealers, informed me that Honda customers were not taking delivery of their bikes until Windjammers were installed.
If you were Mr. Honda, could you afford to let that happen?
Clearly, it would be just a matter of time before motorcycles would come from the factories with fairings on them. Working with Honda on their “Hondaline” fairing would have helped us all but, a disastrous fire at Vetter in early 1977 destroyed the Hondaline molds. Although it was a minor setback for their production, it had become clear to Honda that their Hondaline fairing was not going to be competitive with the Windjammer. Honda quietly dropped the project.
|About 50 Hondaline Fairings were made. All but one went to Japan... disposition unknown. |
I saved one which is now in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame collection in Pickerington, Ohio.
|We went on in 1977 to introduce the most refined Windjammer ever, the SS along with matching luggage. The Company continued its explosive growth. But for me, it was a time for some major changes. Carol and I got married and at the end of 1978 sold Vetter Corporation. As a result, I never had the chance to design the new fairing for Honda. |
March 1977: Ed Rutkowske and Carol - the future Mrs. Vetter - introduce the Windjammer SS.
Three years later, Hondas came from the factory with fairings made in Japan
In 1980, a new GL1100, called the Interstate, appeared with its own fairing from the factory, which was, in every aspect, a “Windjammer from Japan”. Today’s Aspencade with two more cylinders and more electronics continues to reflect its original GL heritage.
I think this is an amazing story of cooporation between two companies that together, made motorcycle history.
|After 35 years, Honda’s GL1000 now qualifies as a genuine AMCA Classic, eligible to be judged in national competition. Fortunately, “Period correct” accessories do not have to be removed, which means Windjammer-equipped GLs can be judged as we actually rode them.|
How it was in 1975-1977 for Vetter and Honda
|A major portion of this website features stories and pictures of Vetter owner's bikes, then and now. Many, like Harald Renndorff's rig above are beautiful Gl1000s. |
Much of this website chronicles what is correct for a Windjammer and will serve as a good resource for restorers. Many of the parts needed to restore Windjammer fairings are now available from our Company Store.
Page posted Feb 14, 2010
Updated Oct 23, 2012