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.

View the ‘Munro Special’ in ‘The Motorcycle’ exhibition where design, art and desire meet the past, present and future. Featuring this record breaker, see 100 of the greatest motorcycles ever assembled in this world-exclusive exhibition.

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

‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) / 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.

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

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

Specifications

Country: USA, New Zealand
Power:
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 east 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.

Motorcycles on Screen

In association with ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’, the Australian Cinémathèque at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) presents the free program ‘Motorcycles on Screen’, which explores the rich history of the vehicle in cinema, from the silent era to today. ‘Motorcycles on Screen’ runs from 28 November 2020 to 25 April 2021

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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