Burt Munro (1899-1978), the slightly eccentric motorcycle racer from Invercargill, New Zealand, was one of the most likeable guys to ever grace Bonneville. Starting in 1962, at the age of 62, Munro visited the famed Salt Flats for another ten years, and in the process he set several world records and became a legend. Forever upgrading his 1920 Indian Motorcycle, which he bought new in 1920, he would often forge his own pistons, grind his own components and hammer out the forms for his streamliner known as the Munro Special, Number 35, until nearly every part was his own creation. His accomplishments as a motorcycle racer are far too numerous to get into in these pages, so here's just a glimpse of a few of the interactions between The World's Fastest Indian and The World's Fastest Triumph.
By 1965, Munro had befriended the Gyronaut's team of Alex Tremulis, Bob Leppan and Jim Bruflodt. Often pitting side-by-side and sharing tools, knowledge, and manpower, they quickly found they had similar interests in coaxing the most out of their rides. But the friendship forged was much greater than the expanse of salt they raced upon. Munro would meet up with Tremulis upon his arrival to the States, stay over at Tremulis' apartment in Ventura, and work on improving his bike on the same balcony that Tremulis often shared with countless other legends in the automotive and land speed circles.
The following photographs are all from the camera of Alex Tremulis with some clicks by his wife, Chrissie. They provide a more personal view into the life of one of land racings' most colorful characters, both on and off the salt. If you get the chance, be sure to check out World's Fastest Indian, a full-length feature film starring Tony Hopkins as Burt Munro. You won't be disappointed and with Bonneville's Speed Week just around the corner, you may even catch that same salt fever that keeps racers returning year after year in pursuit of their own dreams of being the world's fastest.
August 1965, Bonneville Speed Week: The Munro Special pitted next to the Gyronaut. It's old versus new as nearly every piece on the Munro Special was hand built by Munro. The Gyronaut, on the other hand, was put together using state-of-the-art technology: Full chromoly chassis tubing welded by the best in the business - the Logghe brothers, Ron and Gene. The twin Triumphs had the best of factory support with the top-of-the-line speed components available. And its body was shaped by long-time streamliner Alex Tremulis and master craftsman Vince Gardner. Both old and new would go on to set new world's records in their respective classes, a testament to and bookends for all the various innovative ways that land speed racers find to go the fastest.
1965: Gyronaut builder and master mechanic, Jim Bruflodt, gets up close and personal with the Munro Special. The battery in the foreground is connected to Munro's engine starter. The hole in the bodywork just above the stabilizing wheel provides access to the 45 year old engine.
Burt Munro getting suited up for a run on the record. To capture a record, two runs must be made over the same mile in opposite directions within one hour. The average speed for the two runs is then recorded as the record speed, assuming it's fast enough. In 1967, Munro averaged a speed of 183.586 miles per hour over the measured mile, a record that still stands to this day.
One of Tremulis' best black-and-whites, this shot just screams "Bad to the Bone" and commands respect for the 65(ish) Munro. With the mountains on the left, it appears Munro is about to begin an assault on the record.
Not only a racer, but obviously a fan of superb craftsmanship, here Burt Munro is seen looking over the exquisite streamliner built and raced by the legendary Bob Herda, next in line for a run towards "Floating Mountain" in the background. Noel Black, builder and driver of the twin hemi-engined streamliner, Motion I, stands in front of Munro by the streamliner's tail.
1965: Burt Munro, probably invited by Tremulis to view the record run attempts by Walt Arfons and the Wingfoot Express. Tremulis consulted for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in exchange for runs for the Gyronaut on private time, where the race course is rented during non-public events. Here Munro chats it up with Bob Leppan (Triumph Detroit T-shirt), Jim Bruflodt (cowboy hat), and another Gyronaut crew member as the Wingfoot Express gets readied.
The cruise ship Oriana sailed between New Zealand, Australia and Los Angeles during the 1960's. Probably during a dinner date on board, Chrissie Tremulis is on the right with what would most likely be a Manhattan in hand, a Tremulis staple. And surely that's Burt's grease-laden thumb holding up the photo of his streamliner. He cleans up well, although you don't see too many photos of Burt Munro in a coat and tie.
Back at the Tremulis' apartment at 275 Kalorama in Ventura, Munro works on his rear tire, apparently shaving it down with a razor blade. Shoe polish appears to be smeared on the plaid shirt rag, a trick he supposedly used to fill and hide the age cracks in his tire from the Bonneville inspectors. The discussions between Tremulis and Munro must have made for some great memories for each of these larger-than-life characters.
"He's a dirty old man, but he's nice with it." is how one woman described him in Roger Donaldson's documentary, Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed. Chrissie, having been involved in the male-dominated automotive industry for over a quarter century at this point, had already heard it all, but surely Burt put a charming twist to it. That's Pete Politis in the tie, Chrissie's brother, who was also one of the Gyronaut crew members. No matter how you look at these pics, they convey the love and affection that followed Burt Munro wherever he went.
As the sun sets over the tranquil Pacific, Munro relaxes on the Tremulis' patio and looks to put a long California day behind him...
All photos copyright 2012 The Alex Tremulis Archives
All photos copyright 2012 The Alex Tremulis Archives