Lee Munro honors his great-uncle Burt with a land-speed run at Bonneville.
(Originally Published in Issue 028 of Iron & Air Magazine, 2017)
WORDS Iron & Air Staff IMAGES Jeff Allen / Cycle World
In 1962, a 63-year-old Kiwi with heart issues crossed the Pacific Ocean in the hull of a cargo ship and showed up at the Bonneville Salt Flats on his hand-built 1920 Indian Scout streamliner. All his life, Herbert James “Burt” Munro wanted to race on the Flats, and on his first outing, he set a land-speed record for his class, topping out his shed-constructed Scout at nearly 179 mph. He set another record the next year, and in 1967 race officials clocked Munro at yet another record-breaking speed: 183.58 mph. (In 2014 the AMA actually corrected the speed to 184.087 mph.)
Fifty years on, Munro’s record is still unbeaten in the sub-1000cc streamliner class. To mark the occasion, Lee Munro, Burt’s great-nephew, is heading to Bonneville on yet another Indian to honor the old man. “My uncle Burt was a significant inspiration for my own racing career, and his appetite for speed is clearly a part of my DNA,” says Lee Munro. “My dad told me about Burt’s records when I was a little kid, and my granddad would describe Burt as a little eccentric and a bit crazy.” Lee is a road racer who rides a ‘41 Indian 750cc vintage racer and lives in Invercargill, New Zealand — the same town his great-uncle called home. But unlike Burt, Lee has never been to Bonneville and has never done a land-speed run, so he’s leaned on the small, dedicated team of Indian Motorcycle engineers who built this partially covered streamliner in their spare time, working after-hours since January to get the bike ready to test on California’s El Mirage dry lake bed.
“I expected a lot of teething problems on our first run, but frankly, the bike went really fast,” says Gary Gray, vice president of product development for Indian Motorcycle. “We have a lot of little things to change, the only big one being gearing.” Indian Motorcycle decided to run a modified version of its larger Scout in the MPS 1350 (modified partially streamlined up to 1350cc) class instead of building around its smaller Scout Sixty and competing in the 1000cc class, where Burt Munro’s record stands. Turns out Indian is not interested in breaking Burt’s record. “As it’s the 50th anniversary of Burt’s historic accomplishment, it was our goal all along to pay tribute and not attempt to break Burt Munro’s record," says Gray. "We want Burt’s record to live on forever.”
Indian developed the Spirit of Munro around a stock Scout frame, a requirement to run in the MPS 1350 class. Development engineer Dan Gervais did the slick in-house bodywork, save an AirTech belly pan and front fairing. That modified fairing meant new triple clamps, solid links replaced the rear shocks, and an appropriate wheel-and-tire package came from Roland Sands Design and Dunlop. The Scout’s 1133cc V-twin was bored out to 1299cc and upgraded with better-flowing heads, a larger throttle body, and a higher compression ratio. The engine now puts out over 165 horsepower and puts down 110 lb-ft of torque. The most interesting piece on the Spirit of Munro bike is its standard fuel tank, which has been converted to an air box. “Our project leader calls it ‘the $200,000 air box’ as it went through so many modifications to make it work and make power,” says Gray.
Weather permitting, Lee Munro and the Indian Scout Spirit of Munro will head across the salt in August during Speed Week — all to honor one brilliant, boundary-pushing madman who embarrassed all expectations. “Burt’s vision, passion for motorcycling, and legendary journey to reach new frontiers personified what Indian Motorcycle is all about,” says Gray.
Originally featured in Iron & Air Magazine Issue 028.