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Burt Munro

Burt Munro
Born Herbert James Munro ('Burt')[1]
(1899-03-25)25 March 1899
Edendale, New Zealand
Died 6 January 1978(1978-01-06) (aged 78)
Invercargill, New Zealand
Resting place Invercargill, New Zealand
Nationality New Zealand
Occupation Carpenter
New Zealand Home Guard
Speedway rider
Motorcycle salesman
Land Speed record holder
Known for Land Speed record holder
Spouse(s) Florence Beryl Martyn
(m. 1927; div. 1947)
Children 4

Herbert James "Burt" Munro (Bert in his youth; 25 March 1899 – 6 January 1978) was a New Zealand motorcycle racer, famous for setting an under-1,000 cc world record, at Bonneville, 26 August 1967.[2] This record still stands; Munro was 68 and was riding a 47-year-old machine when he set his last record.[3]

Working from his home in Invercargill, he worked for 20 years to highly modify the 1920 Indian motorcycle that he had bought that same year. Munro set his first New Zealand speed record in 1938 and later set seven more. He travelled to compete at the Bonneville Salt Flats, attempting to set world speed records. During his ten visits to the salt flats, he set three speed records, one of which still stands.

His efforts, and success, are the basis of the motion picture The World's Fastest Indian (2005), starring Anthony Hopkins, and an earlier 1971 short documentary film Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed, directed by Roger Donaldson.[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Challenges 2
  • Bonneville Salt Flats and Speed Week 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Records 5
  • Feature film The World's Fastest Indian 6
  • 2013 Indian named Spirit Of Munro 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Munro was born in 1899 in Invercargill. His twin sister died at birth[2] and Munro grew up on a farm in Edendale, east of Invercargill.

Munro's interest in speed began at an early age, riding the family's fastest horse across the farm, despite the complaints of his father. Trips via train to the port at Invercargill were a rare source of excitement, and the arrival of cars, motorcycles and aircraft added to Burt's eagerness to join the world outside of his farm. As Munro's family discouraged his endeavours outside of farm life, he became constantly bored with daily routine, and at the outbreak of World War I, he intended to go to war as soon as he was old enough, for a chance to see the world.[1]

Munro remained on the family farm until the end of WWI, when his father sold the farm. At that time, Munro worked on the Otira Tunnel construction until recalled to work with his father on a newly purchased farm.[1] After this he became a professional speedway rider, but returned home to the family farm at the start of the Great Depression. Finding work as a motorcycle salesman and mechanic, he raced motorcycles and rose to the top of the New Zealand motorcycle scene, racing on Oreti Beach and later in Melbourne, Australia.[1]

After World War II, Munro and his wife divorced, and he subsequently gave up work to reside in a lock-up garage.[5]


A replica of the 1920 Indian (with half the exterior removed to show detail) that Burt Munro used to set his record in 1967

Munro's Indian Scout was very early off the production line, being only the 627th Scout to leave the American factory.[6] The bike had an original top speed of 55 mph (89 km/h).[2] But this did not satisfy Munro, so in 1926 he decided to start modifying his beloved Indian.

The biggest two challenges for Munro to overcome while modifying his bike were his lack of money and the fact that he worked full-time as a motorcycle salesman. He would often work overnight on his bikes (he had a 1936 Velocette MSS as well), then he would go to work in the morning, having had no sleep the night before.

Because Munro was a man of modest means, he would often make parts and tools himself instead of having them professionally built. For example, he would cast parts in old tins, make his own barrels, pistons, flywheels, etc. His micrometer (a precision measuring instrument) was an old spoke.[2]

In its final stages, the Indian's displacement was 950 cc (as built it was 600 cc) and was driven by a triple chain drive system.[2]

The "Munro Special," as Munro called his bike, is now owned by a motorcycle enthusiast in New Zealand's South Island, and is on display at E Hayes & Sons, Invercargill.[7] There is also a second motorcycle purported to be the original "Munro Special" in Te Papa Museum (Wellington).[8]

Bonneville Salt Flats and Speed Week

The Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah are known worldwide for their many miles of flat, compacted salt; perfect for testing speed machines. During Speed Week, usually in mid-late August, vehicle enthusiasts from around the world gather at Bonneville.

Munro travelled to Bonneville ten times, the first time for "sightseeing" purposes. In the nine times he raced at Bonneville,[9] Munro set three world records: first in 1962, again in 1966, and once more in 1967. He also once qualified at over 200 mph (320 km/h), but that was an unofficial run and was not counted.

Following the misspelling of his name in an American motorcycling magazine in 1957, Bert Munro changed his name to Burt.[1]

Personal life

Munro had four children—John, June, Margaret, and Gwen—with his wife Florence Beryl Martyn, whom he married in 1927. They were divorced in 1947.

Having suffered from angina since the late 1950s, Munro suffered a stroke in 1977, and was admitted to hospital. He found his co-ordination had diminished. Frustrated, but wanting his motorcycles to remain in Southland, he sold both machines to a local dealer.[10] Munro died of natural causes on 6 January 1978, aged 78 years.


  • In 1962, he set a 883 cc (53.9 cubic inches) class record of 288 km/h (178.95 mph) with his engine bored out to 850 cc (52 cubic inches).[2]
  • In 1966, he set a 1,000 cc (61 cubic inches) class record of 270.476 km/h (168.066 mph) with his engine punched out to 920 cc (56 cubic inches).[11]
  • In 1967, his engine was bored out to 950 cc (58 cubic inches) and he set an under 1,000 cc (61 cubic inches) class record of 295.453 km/h (183.586 mph). To qualify he made a one-way run of 305.89 km/h (190.07 mph), the fastest-ever officially-recorded speed on an Indian.[2] The unofficial speed record (officially timed) is 331 km/h (205.67 mph) for a flying mile.[2]
  • In 2006, he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.[12]
  • In 2014, 36 years after his death, he was retroactively awarded a 1967 record of 296.2593 km/h (184.087 mph) after his son John noticed a calculation error by AMA at that time.[13]

Feature film The World's Fastest Indian

Burt Munro was the subject of a 2005 film, The World's Fastest Indian, based on a composite of his Bonneville speed runs. This movie shows how a determined old man who despite facing many difficulties, travels from New Zealand to the USA to test run his motorcycle west of the Great Salt Lake. The disclaimer says: "While this motion picture is based upon historical events, certain characters names have been changed, some main characters are composites or invented and a number of incidents fictionalized."

2013 Indian named Spirit Of Munro

In March 2013 Indian Motorcycles made the surprise announcement that it was producing a custom-built streamliner named the Spirit of Munro, with the help of Jeb's Metal and Speed in Long Beach, California.[14] The motorcycle was built to showcase the Thunder Stroke 111 engine to be used in one of the 2014 road models. The company said the Spirit was a tribute to Munro's achievements with the Indian Scout, and to all Indians of old.[15] The Spirit of Munro was handcrafted by Jeb Scolman, along with father and son Byrd and Dual Anderson of Lawndale, CA. Together they completed the project in 90 days.


  1. ^ a b c d e Tim Hanna One good run: The legend of Burt Munro, Penguin Books, 2005; ISBN 0143019740
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h The Worlds Fastest Indian, The Munro Special. A Tribute to H.J Munro, a.k.a. 'Burt' Munro, archived from the original on 23 July 2011 
  3. ^ Bonneville certified bike records
  4. ^ at IMDBBurt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed
  5. ^ "A Bike, a Shed, and Burt Munro". Retrieved 1 July 2009. 
  6. ^ E Hayes & Sons website
  7. ^ E Hayes & Sons website
  8. ^ Richard Backus (August 2010). "Burt Munro Special takes top honors at Pebble Beach". Motorcycle Classics. Retrieved 16 November 2009. 
  9. ^ [sic] ninth Stateside visit". Accessed and added 22 October 2014
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Burt Munro's Records". Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. 2005. Retrieved 8 February 2012. 
  12. ^ "2006 Burt Munro Challenge". Southland Times – photo archive. Invercargill: Fairfax. 
  13. ^ Harley, Bryan. "Burt Munro Breaks Record 36 Years After Death". Motorcycle USA. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  14. ^ "'"Indian Motorcycle 'Spirit of Munro, BikeEXIF 
  15. ^ Dave Moore (30 March 2013). "World's newest Indian honours Burt Munro". Retrieved 30 March 2013. 


  • Burt Munro: Indian Legend of Speed, George Begg (2002)

External links

  • E Hayes and Sons: The World's Fastest Indian Exhibition (original motorcycles), The World's Fastest Indian Legend
  • The World's Fastest Indian at the Internet Movie Database
  • Offerings to the God of Speed at the Internet Movie Database, a documentary
  • Motorcycle Hall of Fame bio and photos
  • Burt Munro Biography more detailed biography and photos
  • “Hero!” article, courtesy of "Classic Bike" magazine to Granite State BMW Riders
  • Burt Munro at Find a Grave
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