Burt Munro was born Herbert James Munro on March 25, 1899 in Edendale, Invercargill, New Zealand. His twin brother Eddie died in a tragic accident at the age of four. From an early age, Burt had a need for speed and often rode the family's fastest horse around the farm at high speed.
In 1915, at the age of sixteen, Burt bought his first motorcycle, a Douglas. In 1919, he bought a Clyno motorcycle with a sidecar. After removing the sidecar from the Clyno, Burt went to the Fortose racing circuit, where he set some speed records with it.
In 1920, Burt bought his favorite motorcycle, a brand new Indian Scout, from a man in Invercargill. At that time, the motorcycle was in stock condition, with a 600 cc engine and 3 speed transmission.
He first modified his precious Indian in 1926, using very crude tools. For example, his micrometer was a bicycle spoke and he cast pistons in tin cans. Within a short time, he had replaced the barrels, pistons, lubrication system, and flywheels with some of his own making. He also designed a 4 cam to replace the original 2 cam design.
In 1925, Burt married a woman named Florence Beryl Martyn. They went on to have 4 children, named John, June, Margaret, and Gwen. The couple later divorced in 1950.
In 1938, Burt set his first speed record in New Zealand on his Indian motorcycle and it became his passion in life. He would continue modifying and racing his Indian for the next thirty years.
In 1962, Burt set a world land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats by getting his Indian motorcycle up to 178.97 miles per hour. At that point, the engine was bored out to 850 cc.
In 1967, Burt again traveled to the Bonneville with his newly modified Indian Motorcycle. With his engine bored out to 950 cc, he was able to get the motorcycle up to 183.58 miles per hour, setting a new speed record for the sub 1000 cc motorcycle class. During a qualifying run, he hit 190.07 mph, which was the fastest official speed on an Indian motorcycle. During the run, he nearly struck a steel pylon and also put the bike down, but walked away with some scratches.
Burt died of natural causes on January 6, 1978. His Indian was given to a local enthusiast and can be seen at the occasional motorcycle show.
In 2005, a film was produced about his exploits, entitled "The World's Fastest Indian. Burt was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, who reportedly imitated Burt so well that his children were moved to tears. In 2006, he Burt was posthumously inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.