Thursday, April 10, 2008


The recent report from Australia regarding a speed record attempt with a Velocette brought to mind Burt Munroe of New Zealand, legendary now from the film 'The World's Fastest Indian'. He also tuned and raced a 1936 Velocette MSS, and the same laborious preparation went into every aspect of this machine, from the casting of pistons, shaping cams, making of a frame, to shaving the tires to a gumball for minimal rolling resistance. The engine capacity was increased to 650cc, and the claimed weight is under 200lbs; this machine was used for sprinting mostly, as the weight-paring is only necessary for point-to-point speed. Record breakers can be as heavy as they need to, as weight per se makes no difference on top speed, only on how long it takes to get there. I've seen his top speed record on this machine as either 138mph or 142mph, with a 1/4 mile time of 12.31 seconds.

Second photo is Burt racing a much earlier version of the MSS at Invarcargill beach, New Zealand. Still very much standard, if stripped, but I bet it went pretty fast! I love his modified football helmet. Lack of goggles on the sand is iffy, though. The machine uses KTT handlebars, turned vertically.

It's surprising how much of the final sprint machine is recognizably Velocette after Burt's attention - the power train is still fairly standard in appearance, I suppose it was near good enough, but I would imagine he made new crankcase castings. The mouth of an MSS 'case doesn't have a lot of 'meat' for a much larger cylinder bore. Can't tell from the photographs if he made his own engine though. Standard MSS stroke is 96mm. [As an aside, a fairly standard '47 MSS in California managed 122mph on alcohol, unstreamlined, at Rosamond dry lake.]

At 75, Burt wanted to take the Velo to Bonneville and see how fast it would go with a streamlined shell - he estimated 160mph - but his health began to fail (a stroke), and he died on Jan 6, 1978, aged 78 years.

The Velocette is now owned by the Hayes family in New Zealand, who also own Burt's notorious Indian. Top photo is from their website. I'll add more details about the Velo as my research continues.

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