Herbert J. "Bert" Munro

Herbert J. "Bert" Munro

Bert Munro had a need for speed and creativity and the drive to make it happen.

Herbert James "Bert" Munro was born in 1899 near Invercargill, New Zealand. His childhood was spent on the family farm, where he would often tear across the fields on the family's fastest horse. Cars, airplanes, and motorcycles were just emerging as he became a teenager.

He left the farm at age 14 to be apprenticed as a carpenter and would later go to work on the construction of the Ora Tunnel through the Southern Alps, only to return when his father bought a new farm near Invercargill. He also found work as a motorcycle salesman and mechanic. Munro became a successful motorcycle racer in New Zealand.

Over the years, he owned many motorcycles, but two of them consumed a very large part of his life. They were a 1920 Indian Scout he bought at 21, and in the 1950s, a 1936 Velocette MSS. The Scout wasn't the fastest bike, topping out at 55 mph. Bert went to work on it for the next 55+ years, wringing every bit of speed out of the motor.

Unlike his competitors, who had factory-backed rides, Bert's was entirely hand-made. He refurbished bike parts, fabricated new ones from scrap, and repurposed car parts. He had punched the motor out to nearly 850cc and was running fast. While it wasn't the prettiest machine to look at, the performance told another story. He regularly crushed his competition and set his first speed record in New Zealand in 1938 at 120.8 mph.

Bert made ten trips to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. While the first trip in 1957 was "sightseeing," every other trip was for racing. And race he did.

- In 1962, he set an 883 cc class record of 288 km/h (178.95 mph) with his engine bored out to 850 cc.
- In 1966, he set a 1000 cc class record of 270.476 km/h (168.07 mph) with his engine at 920 cc.
- In 1967, his engine was bored out to 953 cc, and he set an under 1000 cc class record of 295.453 km/h (183.59 mph). To qualify, he made a one-way run of 305.89 km/h (190.07 mph), the fastest-ever officially recorded speed on an Indian. The unofficial speed record (officially timed) is 331 km/h (205.67 mph) for a flying mile.
- In 2014, 36 years after his death, he was retroactively awarded a 1967 record of 296.2593 km/h (184.087 mph) after his son John noticed a calculation error by AMA at that time in 1967.

Making it even more amazing, all his Bonneville records were set after Bert turned 60, and his bike was over 40 years old. His 1967 record still stands.

A quote attributed to Munro summarizes his zest for life: "You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat-out than some people live in a lifetime."

Bert passed in 1978. In 2013, Indian Motorcycle Company launched the "Spirit of Munro" streamliner, as a launch platform for the new Indian 111 motor. In 2017, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Munro's record, Indian modified one of the new Scouts to run at El Mirage and Bonneville. This bike was piloted by his grand-nephew Lee from Invercargill, New Zealand, who set three class records at El Mirage and Bonneville.

Back to all Hall Of Fame Members Back to 2023 Hall of Fame