Thursday, March 19, 2009


Yesterday Webb's in New Zealand auctioned off a rare piece of history; Burt Munro, builder of the 'World's Fastest Indian' and several other Very Fast motorcycles, was also known to build engines for a few friends. As far as I know, these were all Velocette MSS-based sprinters, as another machine came up for auction a few years ago, in very similar spec. The Munro bikes proper are simply unavailable, and living in New Zealand, but a few of his other projects pop up occasionally, and are certainly worth the attention. This sprinter is beautifully crafted by Duncan Meikle, lifelong friend of Munro's; he lived within walking distance and they developed their Velocette sprinters in tandem, sharing tuning secrets and parts, and competing against each other at various sand and road sprints. Together, they developed the most effective Velo sprinters in the world.

One great story from their days sprinting at Invarcargill beach from 1959:
"Meikle and Munro were practicing quarter-mile starts. Munro decided to give a couple of young fellows a good head start and an even better beating, screaming past the surprised young men and giving them a wave bye-bye to boot. Unfortunately, this sent the Velo into a nasty tank-slap and, within a fraction, Munro had bailed and the Velo was twisted metal, 30 feet in the air and rising. As the machine churned down the beach, so did Munro.

Meikle [informed] Munro's mother of the unfortunate accident. [He said], 'I have come to report on Burt, he had a bit of an accident yesterday.' 'Oh', she said, 'Serious?' 'Well no', said Meikle, 'a few pounds of meat were ground off and a broken arm.' The next query from Mrs. Munro was 'I suppose it was on that motorcycle.' 'Yes.' 'That foolish Herbert, when will he ever give up those motorcycles!?!'. Mrs Munro was 84 years old, and her son Bert was 60!"
By the way, the bike went for NZ$71,000... that's over double the estimate.

(Information taken from the Webb's auction site.)


Affer said...

Fascinating! I don't believe the Velo engine has a lot of sprint history in the UK - endurance racing, yes, but sprinting no. Maybe it's because the Brit Sprints focused on short, 1/4 miles? I should be interested to hear other's comments. I saw a Metisse Velo for sale on the web a short while back - first I had ever seen, and what a chunky, purposeful-looking thing it was too!

vintagent said...

Actually, the long-stroke Velo MSS with iron top end has long been a favorite with sprinters in the UK; my friend Dai Gibbison runs a very hot version, which you can see in this post:
Also you can check my 'google search' for Velocette sprinters to find other info on these machines.

Affer said...

Thank you, and I stand corrected. I suppose I was thinking (but not deeply enough!) of my childhood idols; Brown, Hagon, Bragg, Cooper and their like. They seemed to mostly favour Vincents, JAPs and Triumphs - but not exclusively; I shall read on....

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
I'm a huge fan and
have passed along the site to other members of my vintage motorcycle group here
in Tucson, AZ. They're ecstatic!

Anonymous said...


Blog keeps getting better & better! While rummaging around Youtube I ran across
this most amusing clip of a BSA (I own a 66 Lightning so am a big fan) being
used for some "fun". The clip of the Sideburn magazine photo shoot on your site
made me think of this and was not sure if you had seen it.

Ted P

Clipstock said...

I believe he spelled his name Burt. Thanks for the wonderful posts and willingness to share your knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

Have just found your website, what a fantastic collection of information, I am restoring a 1931 350cc Ivory Calthorpe which has been stored in a shed for over 40 years the chap must have had a set of spanners for Christmas as he dismantled every part that he could,
and put the parts in boxes, the frame and metal parts are in a very rusted state but thats what makes it worth restoring.
I have had the bike traced and its the eleventh registered in the world, I have been collecting parts where I can, but they are very rare
Do you know of any one who has a Calthorpe or information on them ?
My hopes are to go to Brooklands and climb the hill before I get too old.!!!!!

Anyway thanks again Paul.

Regards Dave

Anonymous said...

Marty Dickerson told a story that he hosted Burt Munro several times. On one of these visits, Marty gave a Vincent rear cylinder head to him. Burt immediately cut the fins off, and added the head to his bag of goodies.

E Hayes + Sons got both Munro bikes, and all the contents of the shed, including the 'Offerings to the God of Speed'. So I emailed them to ask if there was a butchered Vincent cylinder head among the 'offerings', or any stories of Burt using a Vincent cylinder head.

I got a very quick reply from Neville Hayes, saying that Burt did try a Vincent cylinder head on the Velo, (and also a Lycoming head), but he had no idea what had happened to it.

So Marty Dickerson's story is confirmed. Burt tried a Vincent head on his Velocette, but it didn't last, and is now lost.