In 1967 Burt Munro of New Zealand took his modified Indian Scout to Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA to try to break the world speed record for that size bike. Born in 1899 to a farming family on the Southern island of New Zealand, Burt was never content to live the life of a farmer. Not old enough to enter the 1st World War, he worked on a tunnel construction for a while until returning to the farm. He lived for speed, and at 15, he started to enter races. He then got work as a motorbike mechanic and rep and soon became known in the racing circles, and he raced on Oreti Beach which had miles of flat beaches. He also ran in Australia. Munro entered every type of race that came his way – road racing, drag racing, scrambling, and hill climbs amongst others.
After divorcing his wife, Munro built a double garage to work on his bikes and also lived in the workshop. He made parts for the bike out of scrap such as the rods were made form an old Ford axle and which lasted for many years. Using scraps of different metals, he cast his pistons to his design and shaped the cams by hand. He also changed the side valves to overhead valves. His bike changed so much; one could hardly recognize it as an Indian. He worked over 100 hours a week, but as he got older, this dropped to about 70 hours a week. Over the years he bettered many New Zealand records and held a speed record for 12 years.
After visiting Bonneville Flats, he realized he had to take his Indian to the United States to try his hand at speed record-breaking at the Bonneville Salt Flats. New Zealand couldn’t offer him a long enough stretch to test the top end of his bike, and as he had saved most of his life and with some help from his friends, at 65, he created his old Indian, loaded it onto a cargo boat and took a job on board as a chef. Once in the States he bought an old station wagon and towed his bike to Bonneville.
When he arrived in Bonneville, he was informed that he had not pre-registered so he could not enter the speed trials. Luckily, he had befriended the American speedsters who managed to talk the officials into allowing Munro to come although the Indian did not comply with the organizer’s criteria. In his first run, he set a world record of 179 mph in the 1000cc class. Munro rode again over the next few years and survived a crash in 1967. His bike had picked up a speed wobble, so he had sat up to try to bring the bike under control, and the rush of air had blown his goggles off, and at that speed, he could see nothing, so he crashed the bike to stop it.
He died in 1978 from a heart attack.