Bert Munro’s 1920 Indian Scout Special still the worlds fastest


Bert Munro, a man who never let the dreams of youth fade, was 68 and riding a 47-year-old modified 1920 Indian Scout, when despite the odds, he achieved the land-speed record for a motorcycle under 1000 cc to make motorcycle history in 1967. Why didn’t he just buy a faster bike? He just liked the personal challenge of making an old bike go faster.

Installation view of ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane highlighting the Indian Scout Special on display / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Indian Scout Special 1920 (Engine)

New Zealander Burt Munro rode this highly modified motorcycle on his final speed run at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, United States. On this run, Munro set the land speed record of 296 km/h for a motorcycle under 1000 cc, a record that remains unbroken. The original 1920 Scout was barely capable of a top speed of 96 km/h, but Munro continuously tuned the engine, making every single component as light as possible by hand, and installed it in a streamlined chassis of his own design.

Two original ‘Burt Munro Special’ machines were built – one in New Zealand and one in the United States – with one engine travelling back and forth according to Munro’s racing schedule.


RELATED: Read more about the bikes in ‘THE MOTORCYCLE’ exhibition

Indian Scout Special 1920 (engine) / Collection: Clyde Crouch / Photographs: Robert LaPrelle


Country: USA, New Zealand
100 hp

Engine: 953 cc OHV 42° V-twin
Designer: Burt Munro
Production: Special, competition

Interesting facts

  • The engine in this motorcycle is so delicate that it had to be stripped completely after every two or three runs.
  • Being of modest means, Bert Munro made his own barrels, pistons, flywheels, cams and followers, lubrication system, and even carved the tread off normal tyres with a kitchen knife to make high speed slicks.
  • The Bonneville Salt Flats are located in Utah, United States, about 160 kilometres west of Salt Lake City. This dense salt pan is the remnants of an ancient lake and is so flat that the curvature of the Earth is noticeable. In its 106-year racing history, the flats have seen hundreds of petrol-powered land speed records broken, many failed attempts, a number of crashes and even champion cyclist Denise Mueller-Korenek set the paced cycling land speed record at 300 km/h, riding in the slipstream of a dragster.
  • Anthony Hopkins played Burt Munro in the 2005 film about the motorcyclist’s life, The World’s Fastest Indian.

Film: The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

Based on the true story of Burt Munro, The World’s Fastest Indian refers to the souped-up classic Indian Scout motorcycle which carried Munro to his destiny in 1967, when he broke the world land speed record on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Getting on in years, the modest and slightly eccentric Munro (portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins in all of his gentle, absent-minded genius) lives alone in a small New Zealand town, where he obsessively tunes-up his motorcycle, much to the fascination of the young boy next door. Munro has dreamed for much of his life of traveling to Utah to challenge the world land speed record. Realizing that it’s now or never, he decides to make the journey

Production still from The World’s Fastest Indian 2005 / Director: Roger Donaldson / Image courtesy: Icon Films

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‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’ exhibition was in Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 28 November 2020 until 26 April 2021.

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  1. Seems there is a bit of a mistake in the above interesting facts. Third bullet states that the Bonneville salt flats are 160 kilometers east of salt lake city, when in fact the bonneville salt flats are west of salt lake city, Utah?

  2. Can you please tell me were I can watch this movie again .loved it and would love to see it again. Thanks fred

  3. Nice piece – well done. When I was 20 years old I rode my G12 Matchless 650. to Mosgiel (near Dunedin) where the local m/c club had closed off a stretch of public road to run a flying 1/4 mile event. We watched Burt achieve an average speed of 128 mph on his Velocette 500 single – a speed he later improved on (taking a record for the class?). We walked back to the pits to look at the bike and were surprised that the front tyre seemed to be almost down to the canvas in places .I only discovered later that he shaved off tread to maintain clearance from the forks as the tyre expanded at speed.

  4. Hi Keith, thanks for making contact, always great to hear a first-hand story about Bert Munro and the Indian Scout Special. Regards QAGOMA

  5. is there still a speed record of Monro’s that hasn’t been beat? is that category still in effect? I would like to try

  6. A friend had a Matchless 650 and towed a singer sports car up the main street of Ivanhoe for a bet after the dance at the Ivanhoe town hall and won the bet. This happened in 1965. His first name was Terry. If he still alive he would remember the day. Great times.
    Those were the days.