The Kiwi just didn’t know that what he was doing was impossible. So he just did it.
New Zealander Burt Munro is best known due to the movie The World’s Fastest Indian of 2005. He was born in Invercargill, New Zealand in 1899.
What’s not as well-known is the fact that in his mid-20s, Munro raced regularly in Australia, participating in hillclimbs, trials, road racing, drag racing, flat track and scrambles.
By the late 1950s, Munro’s bikes were achieving such speeds that he looked to Bonneville – the home of world land speed records and the place that makes or breaks the very best of them.
So, he got himself stateside, pretty naïve and unprepared. Munro arrived at the salt only to be told he was not pre-entered so couldn’t run.
Popular from the get-go, Munro’s American buddies Rollie Free and Marty Dickerson, respected members of the Land Speed Record fraternity, convinced officials that Munro should be given a shot.
Tongues were set ablaze when, in his first run, Munro set a world record of 288km/h with his Indian engine configured at 850cc.
Munro continued to compete at Bonneville through 1967, when 68 years old and that year made it through a crash while at full noise.
In a New Zealand motorcycle magazine, Munro said, “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 was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2006.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 26 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.