Burt Munro Special takes top honors at Pebble Beach

| 8/18/2010 9:27:08 AM

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Munro Special
The "Munro Special" won top honors at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. New Zealander Burt Munro rode this 1920 Indian Scout-based streamliner (our understanding is that this bike has the original 1920 Indian frame and shell no.3) to a record 183.586mph at Bonneville in 1967. (Photo courtesy Corey Levenson.)

The “Munro Special,” the 1920 Indian Scout piloted by New Zealander Burt Munro to 183.586mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967, won top honors for prewar American racing motorcycles at the Aug. 15, 2010, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. A car-only show since its founding in 1950, the prestigious Pebble Beach event opened its doors to motorcycles for the first time in 2009. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum won top honors in 2009 for its 1954 AJS E95, one of four claimed built.

Munro’s quest to ride his Indian into the history books started in 1926, when he began a decades-long process of modifying his 1920 Indian Scout, a bike he bought new, to become the fastest Indian in the world. It took Munro 41 years to achieve his dream, and his exploits became legendary in the motorcycling world, ultimately inspiring Indian motorcycle rider and movie producer Roger Donaldson to release The World’s Fastest Indian in 2005. The film starred Anthony Hopkins as Munro, a role Hopkins played with relish and which he took on for a fraction of his normal fee because he was so drawn to Munro’s character. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, rent or buy it now; it’s one of the greatest motorcycle movies of all time. (Check out our review of The World’s Fastest Indian.)

Munro’s devotion to his quest bordered on the pathological, a single-minded obsession with wringing every ounce of performance — and then some — he could out of his ancient Indian, years after anyone might have considered such a machine competitive. It was a life of both privation and celebration. While Munro often barely scratched out a living, his life was clearly rich, as his quest found him racing and becoming good friends with some of the most famous riders of the day, including the likes of famed Vincent drag racer Marty Dickerson, a highly successful rider in the 1950s and 1960s who set a new vintage record of 150.685mph aboard a Vincent at Bonneville in 2007 – at the age of 80. Munro was 68 when he set his record, and Dickerson was one of his big supporters.

Burt Munro at Bonneville
Burt Munro with his Munro Special at Bonneville in the 1960s.

Munro died in 1978, and one of his streamlined racers (he built at least two) sat forgotten at Indian expert Sammy Pierce’s shop in California, where Munro left it, sans engine (Sept. 1, 2010, update: We've recently learned that the machine did in fact have an engine when found, complete with AJS-inspired cylinder heads made by Burt Munro, but it was not necessarily the engine used in the 1967 run), following a final Bonneville attempt. As I understand it, Dean Hensley in California purchased the bike in the mid-1980s, and then had it restored by American motorcycle restoration specialist Steve Huntzinger. Dean passed away following an accident, but his brother, Tom Hensley, has shown the Munro Special several times over the ensuing years; its win at Pebble Beach is a fitting honor for such a historic machine. — Richard Backus

mauro santos
1/13/2013 4:35:29 PM

Que história linda desse Sr., OBISTINAÇÃO, DETERMINAÇÃO por um objetivo. Parabéns Munro.

alex menzies
1/7/2013 3:04:51 AM

Another great story about Burt: http://rdmenzies.com/2007/02/01/my-close-encounter-with-the-fastest-indian-2/ http://rdmenzies.com/Shop/

tyler johnson
4/14/2011 9:31:56 PM

nice to read about this. i remember sitting in in munro bike as a kid. Dean was my mom's cousin. he used to bring the bike with him to family reunions here in fort dodge, iowa. i wish that i could get around the bike again, it's so cool

10/1/2010 10:02:56 AM

Thanks for the update on Leno's site, Phil. That's great. Richard

phil schack_2
9/16/2010 11:52:24 PM

Greetings All, If you want to here the Indian run check out Jay Leno's Garage online. Click on motorcycles at Pebble Beach. Thanks to all for the interest and comments. Best regards, Phil

phil schack_2
9/9/2010 11:56:25 PM

Hi Glenn, The reason you would have felt cheated if you saw the Munro Special at Pebble Beach is directly associated with your perspective. Assuming that you and Mr. Donaldson are correct, it is hard to imagine how you could consider that two engine cases and a modified gear box to be 50% of the ultimate product of a man's life and racing career. If there are only one set of cases then why is there a set of cases in the bike that have been modified by Burt and repaired after and obvious crankshaft failure that was probably caused by a rod letting go? Also just where are these *original cases*? Have you seen them split open? If so there should be evidence of spun crank bearings according to Mr Hanna's book "One Good Run". This was a common occurrence before Burt used the later model Scout oil pump. Your thoughts Sir. Respectfully yours, Phil Schack

phil schack_2
9/9/2010 11:13:47 PM

Sign Up text.

glenn wilson
9/2/2010 8:35:45 PM

Thanks for getting the clarification clear this far Rick , about the Munro Special. The frame and shell mentioned by Mr.Schack is correct as being the world record holder. But he is incorrect about the engine. Roger Donalson in his book clarifies that issue.ie that the original still exists ,albeit being only the crackcases and gearbox.But htese parts do have the original engine number. I guess if I had gone to Peeble Beach and seen the bike on display with that caption stating that this was the record setting bike and then found out later that it was really only the shell and chassis that could make that claim, I would have felt cheated. If the viewing public are happy with 50%, then so be it. Thanks Glenn

richard backus
9/1/2010 1:25:15 PM

Since my last comment I've had occasion to speak with Phil Schack, who has worked extensively on the Munro bike that won at Pebble Beach. Phil is adament that in fact the Pebble Beach bike is the machine that Burt rode to his record in 1967. Does it have the engine that won? No, but it is the frame. He points out that Burt built numerous engines, and doesn't believe Burt's original engine exists in any form. Although it appears the bike in New Zealand also has parts fabricated by Burt, it's apparently not the machine with which he made history in 1967, even if it does perhaps have pieces of that history in its DNA. In the absence of authoritative confirmation, I'm led to believe the Hensley Munro Special is as real as it gets. Richard Backus/Motorcycle Classics

richard backus
8/26/2010 9:24:17 AM

Right you are, Glenn. Clearly I hadn't thought it through when I wrote that caption. So, captioned duly changed, and thanks for helping us avoid the trap of misinformation. Richard

glenn wilson
8/25/2010 10:09:17 PM

Thanks for the reply Rick. So It begs the question then..the bold type under the photo of the Munro Special on Classic Motorcycles home page states " Burt Munro rode this 1920 Indian Scout -based streamliner to a record 183.586mph at Bonneville in 1967." My point is , the bike in the photo never won anything. The original engine # 50R627 that did all the racing and record breaking is in Invercargill , not America.In Tim Hanna's book "One Good Run The Legend of Burt Munro" on page 192 is a picture of Burt standing by his Munro Special with shell off the frame, outside his house in Invercargill in 1978, shortly before his death.This is the bike that did all the record breaking, not the American bike.Sometime in the seventies, Burt assemble an engine out of bits and pieces and sent it off to america, this bitsa engine ending up in one of those frames and shell built by Burt and left in America. So the caption under your photo on the home page should be changed. Thanks Glenn

richard backus
8/23/2010 2:08:52 PM

Glenn, as I understand it the bike the Hensley's have has the original frame from Burt's 1920 Indian and the third streamliner shell he made. He made at least three, and possibly five. The Hayes machine, again, as I understand it, has the original Indian engine and other original hardware, but uses a later frame. I'm not sure which shell it has. Richard Backus/Motorcycle Classics

glenn wilson
8/19/2010 10:31:10 AM

I note with interest your article on Burt Munro but are confused as to the ownership of Burts bike, ie the Indian. In your article , the impression,at least to me is that the Peeble Beach concours winner was Burts actual, original Indian and that the bike is owned by Tom Hensley. But the web site of E. Hayes and Son of Invercargill, NZ states that they own the bike and it is on display at their hardware store in Invercargil and that " Burt wanted the bike to stay in Southland" http://www.ehayes.co.nz/burtmunro/( Southland being the province of NZ of which Invercargill is the city. ) So is the Peeble beach bike a replica. Thanks. Glenn

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