Burt Munro - a Southland speed legend

The late Burt Munro, is one of Southland’s most celebrated legends, and tributes to him have become popular attractions.

The New Zealander, immortalised in The World’s Fastest Indian movie, was a speedbike racer that set land speed records in Utah in the late 1950s and 1960s on a highly modified Indian Scout motorcycle. He is most famous for his under-1000cc world record (an average speed of 183.586mph - 295.45km), set at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967. The record still stands today.

Herbert James 'Burt' Munrowas born near Invercargill in 1899. He spent years modifying a 1920 Indian motorcycle before setting his first New Zealand speed record (120.8mph - 194.4km) in 1940. During 10 visits to Bonneville he set three world speed records.

His efforts and achievements are the basis of the 2005 movie starring Anthony Hopkins. His life is also celebrated in permanent displays around Invercargill, with the Southland Museum and Art Gallery and E Hayes and Sons both paying tribute to him. The latter sells World’s Fastest Indian memorabilia and has two of Burt’s bikes on display; he sold them to the store after a stroke in 1977 hampered his riding ability. 

Burt was 68 and riding a 47-year old machine when he set his last record. He died in 1978.

Since 2006 the life of the legendary racer has been celebrated in Southland with the Burt Munro Challenge.  The 6 day event is held in different locations around Southland which include Oreti Beach, where Burt originally trained for the Bonneville Salt Flats as well as Teretonga Park raceway, the most southern FAI approved raceway in the world.