Russell Wright

(1929 Invercargill, New Zealand - 2013 Queensland Australia)


Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
2 Jul 1955 Swannanoa, New Zealand Russell Wright New Zealand Vincent Black Lightning IC   185.15 MPH
297.97 KPH

Russell Wright set a 1954 New Zealand speed record of 140 mph (230 km/h) on a Black Lightning at the Tram Road Speed Trials. At the meeting he met Rapide owner Robert "Bob" Burns who had built a streamliner shell for a sidecar record attempt. They formed a partnership for Bob to supply a streamliner shell for Russell's solo world record attempt, if Russell let him use the Black Lightning for his sidecar world record attempt. In December 1954 Bob Burns went first and set a new F.I.M. World Sidecar record of 157 mph (253 km/h), up from 154 mph (248 km/h). On the 2nd of July 1955, Russell Wright set a new F.I.M. world speed record of 185 mph (298 km/h) on the Tram Road at Swannanoa, near Christchurch, while Bob Burns upped his sidecar record to 163.06 mph.

Despite successful record attempts, other publicity relating to problems with the gearbox selector camplate damped America's buying enthusiasm. A new shifting mechanism was incorporated for 1953, but the sales damage had already been done.

Then Vic Willoughby took the outfit for a run on Pendine Sands.

The record was set in 1955 on a near standard Vincent which achieved 185mph.

We’re not going much faster now….

Vincent Black Lightning Land Speed Record New Zealand/Pendine Russell Wright - Avon Tyres Nostalgia
Russell Wright, reunited with his Black Lightning.

1956 Attempt

This is Bob Burns and Russell Wright in 1956. Burns and Wright made the trip in an effort to retake the world land spped record for motorcycles. In 1954 Burns and Wright had taken the record to 185MPH only to see the German factory team of NSW go to 210 MPH one year later. Unfortunately Burns and Wright's Bonneville trip ended in disappointment with their best run being 198MPH. Later Burns would learn that they had been too conserative by limiting their nitro mix to 20%.

It happens that some still footage of the Burns & Wright machine at Bonneville in '56 appears in a Videotape entitled "The Hot Rod Story", produced by Alex Xydias of So Cal Speed Shop fame, and still available from Alex at P.O. Box 11316, Burbank, CA 91510. Just a short bit of the bike standing in the pit area, no info is given. The person on the camera may well not have known he was looking at the Official World Record bike.


Burns & Wright Bonneville 1956
Source: Big Sid
Burns & Wright Bonneville 1956
Source: Big Sid

Russell Wright of the Burns & Wright land speed team has passed away.

February 01, 2013
Long time land speed enthusiast and record holder Russell Wright has passed away after a long illness.

It was 1955 when the Russell Wright and Bob Burns took their Vincent Black Lightning to a FIM record of 185.15, with one pass at 198.3. The following year they came to Bonneville but failed to improve their record.

Early in 2005, I was fortunate to locate the Burns & Wright special in a photo of a real estate listing. I contacted the owner, Jeff Elghanayan about Russell's search for the Vincent, and that July 2005 would be the 50th anniversary of the record run. Jeff planned a fantastic reunion at their Lake Arrowhead estate and invited 300 friends and fans to celebrate. Russell got on the bike as they fired it up and with tears in his eyes and shaking hands revved the beast to life. Russell with wife Elaine then presented Jeff with the large sterling trophy Russell was awarded for setting the record, very pleased that it would always be with the Vincent Black Lightning.

There is a stone marker on Tram Rd. Christchurch, NZ marking the record run. This is where the ashes of Bob Burn were scattered and now the resting place of Russell Wright. Our thoughts and prayers are with you Elaine.
Russell Wright, RIP

Here they are then. The old record-breaking team of Burns-Wright. This picture was taken at the unveiling of the bronze plaque seen in the foreground. On the left is Russell Wright and Bob Burns is on the right. Photo supplied by Andy Rackstraw. Picture from MPH 317, Page 21