Jeff Allen

Indian Motorcycle Returns to Bonneville and Land Speed Racing to honor Burt Munro

Spirit of Munro, ridden by Burt Munro’s Grand Nephew Lee, sets record at El Mirage 50 years later and plans to Race at Bonneville

The legend of Burt Munro is woven into the very fiber of world motorcycle culture. But particularly here in the US, where Munro made his most famous record runs on a 1920 Indian he campaigned and modified for more than 50 years, his red streamliner is instantly recognizable and an icon of the can-do spirit that is the foundation of success at Bonneville.

Fifty years after Munro set a record at Bonneville, Indian Motorcycle, using a 2017 Scout-based land-speed racer aptly called the Spirit of Munro, went to California's El Mirage Dry Lake with Burt's first cousin's grandson Lee Munro and set a record of 186.681 mph in the Southern California Timing Association MPS-G (Modified Partial Streamliner) 1350cc class. This was the final test run of the bike before the Bonneville record attempt August 12-13, where Lee and the Indian team will attempt to set a record on the salt to honor Burt's legend.

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Lee Munro on the Spirit of Munro 2017 Indian Scout inspired by Burt Munro.

Lee Munro sits upon the Spirit of Munro the first time he saw the bike at Indian's Arizona desert test facility.Jeff Allen

Lee, a 41-year-old New Zealand native, is an accomplished road racer in his home country who has run laps at Isle of Man. But he’d never done any land-speed racing, so his first trip to El Mirage in May was to make shakedown runs on the modified Scout, and also to get his SCTA license, the card that will allow him to shoot for 200 mph at Bonneville. The two-day event in May went off smoothly as the team sorted out tuning and the freshly built bike. Upon return for the one-day July event at El Mirage, Lee became fully licensed, bagged that record, and is set to attack Bonneville. The plan is not to break Burt Munro’s record, but to honor the effort by competing in a different class on the salt upon the 50th anniversary of Burt’s legendary run.

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Burt Munro's son John with Lee Munro at El Mirage Dry Lake while testing the Spirit of Munro Scout.

Burt Munro's grand nephew Lee and Burt's son John Munro share a special moment at El Mirage when Lee made another step toward his Southern California Timing Association racing license. (Part 1 of 4)Jeff Allen

The Spirit of Munro

Spirit is a good name for the bike, for this is what Indian has shown pretty much across all its efforts in motorcycling. From the launch of the Thunder Stroke 111 (in a tribute Burt Munro-styled streamliner) to the production bikes to the Scout FTR750 to this grassroots internal effort to honor Burt Munro's record using a new bike.

It’s also an effort of passion for the Indian Motorcycle team that developed the bike, all of whom volunteered to make this effort after hours and on their own time. Led by Wayne Kolden, whose day job is Supervisor - On Road Calibration, Compliance and Rideability, is a deeply passionate gearhead who loves motorcycles and has a car drag-racing background.

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Lee Munro at El Mirage getting ready to test the Spirit of Munro Indian Scout.

Lee Munro gets ready to test the Spirit of Munro 2017 Indian Scout land-speed racer for the first time at El Mirage.Jeff Allen

Kolden was also a great candidate to work on this project because he’d already run his own Scout in land speed racing. So basic development work was done as far as lowering the bike (check out the CNC-machined struts that replace the shocks) and being familiar with SCTA rules and the motorcycle.

But the big difference from stock is the Spirit of Munro Scout’s engine, which is bored to 106mm in the stock 73.6mm stroke for 1299cc. Prototype cast-aluminum heads fit the larger bore and in turn allow for larger valves, which, by the way, are titanium and work in beryllium bronze seats. CP pistons and Carillo rods run on a modified factory crank. The six-speed gearbox is stock and runs stock ratios, though final drive is 520 chain (replacing the stock belt) and the gearing run at the first El Mirage event would allow for a theoretical top speed of 238 mph at maximum safe engine rpm. Okay, then…

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Official racing number for El Mirage was 235, so Indian made these special numbers to honor Burt Munro's 35.Jeff Allen

My favorite story about the bike that was used as the basis for this project? The aluminum frame was a used-up test mule sitting out behind the R&D building half-buried in Minnesota snow last winter. New life in the heat of the great American West! The frame is stock, but lowered with those previously mentioned struts. The stock-rake front end runs custom triple clamps to allow the bike to be narrowed so the rider’s hands can fit in the fairing. Grips are nearly vertical and are tucked tightly between the fairing and tank/fork area. It’s a cozy fit.

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Lee Munro flies across El Mirage Dry Lake for the first time on his way to getting his racing license.Jeff Allen

Much of the fabrication work was done by Dan Gervais, who is also running his own Scout at LSR events. Gervais fabricated the fuel tank that resides under the seat and worked mightily on converting the stock steel fuel tank into a sealed airbox with enough filter area to feed this 9,000-plus-rpm beast. Gervais also came up with the idea to use part of a fuel tank to fabricate the tailsection.

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Clear inspiration for paint and graphics came from the stock Scout. "Indian Motorcycle Red" is the official name, and graphic designer Steve Leszinski, who originally specified the color when Indian was purchased by Polaris, is also who designed the scheme on the Spirit of Munro.Jeff Allen

As converting the entire fuel tank into an airbox might suggest, there was a major deviation from the factory intake and throttle bodies. The engine team’s inspired choice? A Ford GT500 throttle body with dual 67mm down draft throats and all the perfect throttle position sensor and other inputs to work with the MoTeC M130 engine management system. The inlets are huge, and thanks to the bike being built in the Indian Wyoming, Minnesota, product development facility, there is a sweet, custom designed and rapid-prototyped velocity stack hidden under the tank/airbox.

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2017 Indian Scout Spirt of Munro land-speed racer photo.

Tight and tidy, the 2017 Scout Spirit of Munro land-speed racer features a stock frame lowered with rear struts and made more aerodynamic with a narrowed front end. A stock Scout bottom end runs prototype cylinder heads and bored cylinders for a 1299cc displacement.Jeff Allen

Equal-length stainless exhaust headers lead to a right-side, fairing-mounted outlet and make a beautiful sound at speed on the lakebed.

Every new Indian starts its mechanical life at the Wyoming R&D facility where the Spirit of Munro was built. It’s only fitting that the people who help develop those motorcycles are the ones behind this project. Watch the videos for a look behind the scenes and some amazing historical and current footage of the people and machines that aim for the horizon. As Burt says, “It’s effort and concentration that makes life worthwhile.” All effort and concentration for the Spirit of Munro are focused on Bonneville.

Check out the entire four-part series of Burt Munro 50: