Burt Munroe


(25 March 1899 – 6 January 1978)

Burt Munroe
Burt Munro and his 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Burt Munroe
The Munro Special at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Burt Munroe
Munro on his Munro Special.

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe

Burt Munroe
1962 - The original shell.

Burt Munroe
Bonneville 1968

Burt Munroe
1962 - At speed on the salt.

Burt Munroe
1953 Beach attempts - 123.831 mph

Burt Munroe
Riding a standard model 500MSS Velocette, won 2nd place in the N.Z. Grand Prix held at Cust 1938.

Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
1940   Burt Munro New Zealand 1920 Indian Scout     120.8 mph New Zealand Open Road Record
1953   Burt Munro New Zealand 1920 Indian Scout     123.831 mph  
1957 Canterbury Speed Trails Burt Munro New Zealand 1920 Indian Scout     132.38 mph New Zealand beach record
20 August 1962 Bonneville Burt Munro New Zealand 1920 Indian Scout 883 cc   178.971 mph Class S - A 883 cc
22 August 1966 Bonneville Burt Munro New Zealand 1920 Indian Scout  920 cc   168.066 mph Class S - A 1000 cc
26 August 1967 Bonneville Burt Munro New Zealand 1920 Indian Scout 950 cc   183.586 mph Class S - A 1000 cc
190.07 mph one way


From the records of Motorcycling New Zealand

27 January 1940 Canterbury 99.45mph Munro Special Indian Unlimited Class Flying half-mile, Road
27 January 1940 Canterbury 120.8mph Munro Special Indian Open Class Flying half-mile, Road
13 April 1957 Canterbury 143.6 mph Munro Special Indian 750cc Class Flying half-mile, Road
9 February 1957 Oreti Beach 131.38mph Munro Special Indian Open Class Flying half-mile, Beach
16 December 1961 Oreti Beach 129.078mph Velocette 600cc 750cc Class Flying half-mile, Beach
1 May 1971 Oreti Beach 132.35mph Velocette 618cc 750cc Class Flying half-mile, Beach
25 March 1962 Invercargill 12.31 seconds Velocette 600cc Open Class Standing Start, Quarter-mile

Herbert (Burt) James Munro was a New Zealand motorcycle racer, famous for setting an under-1000 cc world motorcycle land speed record in 1967 which still stands - when aged 67 and riding a 46-year old machine[1]

Working from his home in Invercargill, he continually modified the Indian motorcycle he'd bought in 1920 to improve its speed - setting a New Zealand record in 1938, and then travelling to compete at the Bonneville Salt Flats for a world record. 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"[2] - both directed by Roger Donaldson.

He 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 partial 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


New Zealander Burt Munro was a motorcycle land-speed record-holder of the 1960s. One of his dreams was to run his homebuilt 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle, dubbed the Munro Special, on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He saved for years in spite of limited means to make the trip to America. He finally came over on a shoestring budget in 1962. Munro was 63 at the time with a bad heart, yet he still managed to overcome numerous obstacles to set world records, even as a muffler was burning the flesh on his leg. In 1967, Munro coaxed his beloved streamlined Indian to 183.58 mph. That set a record in the category of "streamlined motorcycles under 1,000cc." To qualify, he made a one-way run of 190.07 mph, the fastest ever officially recorded speed on an Indian.

"The World's Fastest Indian"
Munro's inspirational story was made into the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" in 2005. The movie, starring Anthony Hopkins and directed by Roger Donaldson, was met with favorable reviews. Many in the motorcycling community called "The World's Fastest Indian" the best motorcycle movie since the legendary documentary "On Any Sunday" made in the early 1970s.

The Early Years
Munro was born in Invercargill, New Zealand in 1899. He began riding motorcycles at the age of 15. His first bike was a British-built Clyno. He sold the Clyno to a blacksmith in 1920 and bought the Indian Scout, which he would continuously modify for the rest of his life. He later bought a 1936 Velocette, which he also modified and raced.

In his mid-20s, Munro began competing in various forms of motorcycle racing in Australia. He rode in hillclimbs, trials, road racing, drag racing, flat track and early scrambles events. In other words, if there was a competition on two wheels, Munro probably tried it. He also participated in economy runs and once recorded 116 miles per gallon in one of the runs.

In the mid-1940s, Munro and his wife divorced. He wanted to build a house with low ceilings to combat the New Zealand summer heat, but it was against local building codes. Instead, he got around the codes by building a low garage. It served as both his workshop and living quarters.

Dedication to motorcycles
Munro quit working in the late 1940s so he could devote his time fully to improving his Indian and Velocette racing bikes. During this period, he honed his skills at designing his own parts for the bike. Munro found unique sources for raw materials. As an example, he once carved out rods for his Indian using a Ford truck axle. It took him five months, but the rods lasted over 20 years, through countless high-speed runs. He experimented with a variety of metals by trial and error, once melting down old gas pipeline and combining it with other melted metals to cast pistons for his bike. He converted his Indian to overhead valves from sidevalve. He made his own cams, often filing them by hand. From wheels, to engine parts, to the streamliner's shell, Munro custom made just about every part of his bikes. It didn't take long for the Munro Special to have very little of the original Indian Scout left.

Munro's dedication to his motorcycles was enormous. For years, he worked 16 hours per day in the shed. In later life he backed off a bit and was working just 70-hour weeks. While many of his neighbors viewed him as somewhat eccentric, he did not live the life of a hermit. Munro was a member of a motorcycle club and attended many club events and had a lot of friends whom he helped and who in turn helped him in his racing endeavors.

Land speed record attempts
Starting in the 1940s, Munro earned a number of New Zealand speed records. His first record was the New Zealand open road record set in 1940 at a speed of 120.8 mph. That record held for 12 years. He earned the New Zealand beach record of 132.38 mph in 1957 at the annual Canterbury Speed Trials.

By the late 1950s, Munro's bikes were getting so fast that he was running out of room to run them on New Zealand's speed courses. He considered trying to run on some of Australia’s dry lakes, but in 1957 after visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, his goal became to compete on the flat and vast expanse of Bonneville's salt bed.

The 1962 trip to Bonneville
With his savings and additional funds from motorcycling friends in New Zealand, Munro finally made the trip to America in 1962 aboard a rusting cargo ship. In order to pay for his ocean crossing, Munro worked as the ship’s cook. Once in the U.S., Munro bought a dilapidated Nash station wagon for $90 in Los Angeles to haul the Munro Special to Bonneville.

Munro arrived at Bonneville ready to make his runs only to be told he was not pre-entered so he wouldn’t be allowed to compete. At home in New Zealand, riders simply showed up, signed up and raced. Munro's American friends, among them Rollie Free and Marty Dickerson, both of them long-time, well-respected members of the Land Speed Record fraternity, talked officials into letting Munro make his runs. Tech officials looked the other way, ignoring many of Munro's unorthodox means of putting his ancient Indian together.

In his inaugural run at the Salt Flats, Munro set a world record of 288 km/h (178.97 mph) with his engine configured with 850cc of displacement. Munro continued to compete at Bonneville through 1967, when he 68 years old. He survived a crash at top speed in 1967.

In a New Zealand motorcycle magazine, Burt was quoted as saying, "At the Salt in 1967 we were going like a bomb. Then she got the wobbles just over half way through the run. To slow her down I sat up. The wind tore my goggles off and the blast forced my eyeballs back into my head - couldn't see a thing. We were so far off the black line that we missed a steel marker stake by inches. I put her down - a few scratches all round but nothing much else."

Munro traveled to Bonneville ten times, the first time for "sightseeing" purposes. In the nine times he raced at Bonneville, 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.

Later years
In 1975, Munro's failing health cost him his competition license. In spite of this, he still managed to make a few clandestine runs on his beloved Indian and Velocette. Doctors said Munro’s lifetime of heavy crashes caused damage to his heart. In January of 1978, Munro had returned from his daily walk when his heart finally gave out.

During his life, Munro's accomplishments were little known outside a select group of motorcycle enthusiasts. With the release of "The World's Fastest Indian" in 2005, Munro suddenly became a cult hero in New Zealand. There, the movie became the biggest domestically produced film ever produced.

Munro had a son and three daughters. His son, John, said that Munro would have shrugged his shoulders and smiled at the popularity he obtained after his passing.

"I'm sure he would have never believed the popularity the movie gave him," said John Munro. "I think he would have been quietly pleased at being able to share his life with millions of people."

AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Burt Munro


The Worlds Fastest Indian Bike & Story


Burt Munro



  • In 1962 he set a world record of 288 km/h (178.97 mph) with his engine bored out to 850 cc (51 in³).
  • In 1967 his engine was bored out to 950 cc (58 in³) and he set a class record of 295.44 km/h (183.59 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. The unofficial speed record is 331 km/h (205.67 mph).[3]
  • In 2006 he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.


  1. ^ Bonneville certified bike records
  2. ^ Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed at IMDB
  3. ^ Dave Blackwell, The World's Fastest Indian, The Munro Special. A Tribute to H.J Munro, a.k.a 'Burt' Munro


  • "Burt Munro: Indian Legend of Speed", George Begg (2002)
  • "One Good Run: The Legend of Burt Munro", Tim Hanna (2006)

External links