New Zealand’s motorcycling legend Burt Munro doesn’t exactly lack accolades, but the late rider has just received fresh recognition for his unparalleled need for speed. On August 9, Munro was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame.
The induction recognizes Munro’s speedway racing career and his multiple motorcycle land-speed records — all made on his beloved, heavily customized 1920 Indian Scout.
“You cannot tell the history of motorcycles without mentioning Burt Munro,” Indian Motorcycle vice president, Aaron Jax, said in a statement celebrating Munro’s induction.
A Life of Speed
Herbert “Burt” Munro was born in Invercargill, New Zealand, in 1899. His nickname in his childhood was “Bert,” but he changed it to Burt later in his life following a misspelling in an American motorcycle magazine.
Munro enjoyed speed all his life, often riding the fastest horse on his father’s farm (much to the old man’s annoyance). He was a speedway racer for a while before returning to his father’s new farm at the onset of the Great Depression.
Afterward, he began working as a motorcycle salesman, and by this point, he had purchased his legendary 1920 Indian Scout. Dissatisfied with its top speed of 55 mph, he began to modify the bike to his liking in 1926.
A man of modest means, Munro often couldn’t afford official motorcycle parts. He would instead make his own components, tinkering away through the night before returning to the motorcycle shop in the morning without a wink of sleep.
By the end of his life, Munro had increased the displacement of his Scout from the original 600cc to 950cc. The Munro Special, as he dubbed the machine, also had a unique triple-chain drive system.
Munro put his custom Indian to good use at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where he attended the Speed Week a total of 10 times over his life. On his first visit, he was merely “sightseeing,” but he started racing afterward — and the records began rolling in.
In 1962, Munro set an 883cc class record of 178.95 mph with his Scout, which at that point had a displacement of 850cc. Four years later, the Munro Special’s engine sat at 920cc and Munro set a 1000cc class record at 168.07 mph.
His big break came the next year when, in 1967, he set an under-1000cc motorcycle land-speed record of 184.087 mph. This record remains in place to this day.
Munro passed away in 1978. In 2006, he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Now, he joins the illustrious company of other motorcycling legends at the Sturgis Hall of Fame as well.
Other inductees in the Sturgis Hall of Flame class of 2023 included the 1981 Des Nations Team USA, moto journalist Chris Callen, another land-speed record holder Jay Allen, moto racer and designer Roland Sands, motorcycling lobbyist and enthusiast Russel Radke, and artist Scott Jacobs.