® Wing Tips # 3

The ballast resistor
Honda used a part on the GL1000 that came from the auto world, the ignition ballast resistor. Not too surprising, considering that Honda's auto division designed this engine. In fact, consider how many -600 center codes there are in the GL1000 engine's part numbers, a number that was at the time of the Wing's intro reserved for the company's car parts. It's very revealing. The interesting thing about the ballast resistor is that its original purpose on '57 Chevys was to combat ignition coil voltage loss at high engine rpm, a weakness Kettering (battery/points) ignition is famous for. The resistor was supposed to block voltage input into your dad's car at low vehicle speed, conserving it for later use when the ignition really needed it at higher speed. Thus its name. It ballasted energy. A neat idea, but ballast resistors actually have been used in other roles as well, and this includes the GL1000. You may be aware that on the 1000, the resistor is instead used as part if a two-voltage starting/running system. During starting, the resistor is bypassed, allowing the full 12 volts to the ignition coils, but once running, the coils are fed through the resistor, receiving only 6-8 volts. It's a goofy system actually and completely unnecessary, and somewhat typical of what happens when the two galaxies -- powersports and automobile -- collide as they did in the GL1000. Happily, for almost 50 years I have been defeating the GL1000's nonsensical ballast resistor and opening up the spark plug gaps 10 percent to suit, on nearly every GL1000 I have serviced during that time. Improves carburetion. Doesn't hurt the points. And doesn't even begin to hurt the coils. In fact, GL1000 ignition coils are designed to withstand the stress. Back in the day we used to put GL1000 coils on 750s, un-ballasted. Kind of a quasi-factory, period high performance option.

The driven flange/moly grease debacle
Most folks are aware that GWRRA's Wing World magazine ran an article by then-tech editor Joe Christian which "exposed" the GL1100's severe final drive flange wear. Honda in response initiated a temporary warranty extension (three years, 50,000 miles) on the part and published a special revised rear wheel assembly procedure designed to increase the life of the assembly, later applying it also to their V4-powered shaft drive bikes. As icing on the cake, the company also added a corporate office tour just for GWRRA members, and I was privileged to not only be a GWRRA member at the time but also a corporate Honda employee and thus found myself in the enjoyable role of tour guide. Cool deal. But I digress. Many have insisted that the swingarms were the real problem, being made wrong (I actually saw some techs reweld them to good effect, and Christian had angles and metrics all sketched out in his articles), and blamed Honda for taking the easy way out via the alignment procedure. Maybe. The fact is, the special technique does work, and the driven flanges so treated do last longer. And here's an interesting fact: the success of the warranty extension may have been due as much to the new procedure as to use of the then-new Honda moly (molybdenum disulphide) grease introduced specifically for this problem. The grease was really unusual. Unlike most greases labeled moly this was the real deal: 40 percent actual moly by volume, later increased to 60 percent, and good enough and rare enough that even the BMW guys were gleefully using it for their troublesome K bike transmission splines. A success story for sure, but now things get darker, for inexplicably, Honda has discontinued the grease, replacing this remarkable and unique product with a run-of-the-mill moly-based assembly paste, good in its own right and similar to what BelRay and others have offered for decades, but like the BelRay product a mere engine assembly lube, not a high pressure lubricant that will stand up to the unique requirements of the Gold Wing's final drive. Unfortunately, the original Moly 60 is no more. The Honda part number simply supercedes to the wimpy replacement product. Owners of Honda and other shaft drive bikes are left searching for a new source of flange grease.

OEM vs. Dyna
Lot of folks put Dyna ignitions on their GL1000s. I have a lot of history with these systems, plus their then- competition the Martek, Gerex, Prestolite and others, and of course the stock points setup. So I understand the desire to avoid the points. Doing the points right takes some skill. Slapping on a Dyna, not so much. The Dyna does however require a little thought, more than would be intuitive, and folks would be surprised if they knew the real result of the average Dyna installation. Not only must the Dyna ignition system be calibrated during installation, but in many cases it also needs to be modified to deliver the correct, factory-specified advance curve. In other words, it's not plug and play. But at least you have to go through the monkey motion only once. Set it and forget it, right? That's the appeal. Nonetheless, I am a fervent champion for the stock ignition. In my view, once properly serviced, the stock points need only minor inpection and cleaning, rarely even adjustment for wear, every 3,000 miles and replacement only after more than 20,000. Further, I have proved countless times that properly set up, the stock system performs just as well and in some cases better than the Dyna. And why should'nt it? Why should the stock system perform any less? Both it and the Dyna are Kettering. Both are collapsing field. Both have the exact same voltage potential if you compare non-ballasted Dyna coils with non-ballasted stock coils. The only difference is the stock ignition has to be inspected every 3,000 miles, the Dyna presumably never. But other than that, no difference. No power increase, no easier starting, no affect on carburetion, no effect on mileage.

The marvelous mystery
I know that adding mostly innocuous agents to engine oil has been a popular if unsanctioned pastime for generations while proving to do little harm. But such is not the case with things added to gasoline, and at the risk of offense I'll say that if ever there was a "snake oil", that is, something made of incredibly basic and virtually inert ingredients, and about which ridiculous claims are made and such unreasonable devotion is demonstrated, Marvel Mystery Oil is it. Like bolt-on fuel mileage improvers, engine rebuilder in a can, and those quaintly historic 1930s electromagnetic medical wonder "cures", Marvel Mystery Oil is the stuff of whimsy. No offense, really, to those who advocate it, but, I mean, do you know what this stuff is? Baby oil. Baby oil! Check out the company's material safety data sheet (MSDS). And, though not exactly a technical authority, Wikipedia records the following incontrovertible statement, "A Marvel Mystery Oil sample tested for an NTSB post aircraft accident investigation published in 2003 found it to be composed of 74 percent mineral oil, 25 percent stoddard solvent, and 1 percent lard. This discrepancy [with the company's published MSDS, which adds to this a few percents each of detergents and dispersants] has not been resolved." The site continues, "The lubricant was used as a fuel additive in a Lycoming aircraft engine which was [sic] specifically cautioned against their [sic] introduction (Service Instruction No. 1014M , which also stated their use would void the warranty) which suffered catastrophic damage during take-off. The NTSB listed the probable cause of the accident as 'The improper use of a fuel additive which resulted in a power loss.'" And, "...the company no longer markets it for the latter application [aircraft engine fuel additive] on their website." Brackets mine. Interesting. And to the point. Now let's get practical. Any first semester mechanics school student knows that adding anything to fuel is unwise and even in the best cases, such as in the legitimate use of fuel stabilizers, must be done carefully. But a lubricant is especially bad news, no question about it. A lubricant slows combustion's flame, risking serious engine anomolies such as detonation. It's why blown head gaskets often result in engine damage: the oil entering the combustion chamber precipitates destructive knock. Deliberately putting oil into your cylinder is a really bad idea.

Ignition history repeating itself
It's not well known, but like a handful of Honda models before it, the first-year GL1100 ignition system had an issue with over-advancing. At first, Honda dealers dealt with the pinging and poor performance by defeating the 1100's vacuum-operated supplementary advance. The trick was to put a steel ball inside the vacuum hose. But this didn't really solve the problem. In factory Honda school in 1983, at the Portland Oregon training center, our instructor Norm Henkel set up an 1100 with a degree wheel on the end of one of the cams, and after gaining access to the ignition pulsers at the back of the engine, led us students into the discovery of the real issue. The mechanical advancer was itself over-advancing. We found that by carefully squeezing the advancer's stop ears together we could return the bike's advance curve back to specification. As mentioned, I like other old-timers had long ago observed this problem on Honda's twin cylinder bikes of the late 60s and early 70s, particularly the 450 DOHC.

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