Indian’s Spirit of Munro Streamliner
We visit Jeb's Metal and Speed to talk record-breaking Indians
Fifty years ago, 68-year-old Burt Munro broke the under-1000cc land-speed record riding his “Munro Special,” a 1920 Indian Scout he modified as part of his dream to run at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Burt’s pursuit of the world record was the subject of the popular 2005 film, “The World’s Fastest Indian,” and the inspiration for another Indian motorcycle, “The Spirit of Munro,” built in 2013.
The Spirit of Munro made a recent appearance at The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club in London. At 13 feet, 7 inches long, the red-and-white streamliner is nearly the same size as the Munro’s original Indian, but is a bit wider with an open fairing that both shows off the rider and accommodates the big 111-cubic-inch engine that powers it.
That engine was also part of the bike’s inspiration: When the team at Indian Motorcycles wanted to showcase their new 100-horsepower (115 lb.-ft.) fuel-injected four-stroke 49-degree V-Twin Thunder Stroke 111, they decided to create a modern incarnation of Burt’s famous red Indian, and tapped Jeb Scolman of Jeb’s Metal and Speed in Long Beach, California, to guide the project.
Already well-known for more than a dozen years of experience building salt-flat racers — as well as everything from hot rods and street rods to roadsters, lakesters, and even the occasional vintage aircraft — Scolman was eager to design the bike. “When the guys from Indian Motorcycle called to ask if I would be willing to play a part in this historic endeavor, I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough,” said Scolman.
“We wanted to have ‘Spirit’ look more like a motorcycle than a torpedo,” explained representative Robert Pandya. “We wanted it to be a very human thing where you could see the rider’s legs and, even without a rider, you could see where he fits.”
“You need to have that feeling that this is definitely derived from the Munro Special, but it’s not 1962,” said Scolman. “Your style lines are different today. The SCTA rules are different today. It’s not always form follows function.”
Once Scolman agreed to the project, it was a very tight build schedule, as the company wanted to debut the bike at Daytona Bike Week and participate in the Indian Motorcycle Spring Dash lap of the Daytona 200 in March, 2013. “We built the Spirit of Munro in just three months straight of long work days. It was a brutal schedule, but it was worth the effort to give Indian Motorcycle fans a historic new piece of Americana.” Scolman continues, “Of all the stuff I’ve built over the years, being asked to participate in the Spirit of Munro project was the highest honor I’ve ever had.”
Scolman built the Spirit of Munro by hand with all-aluminium bodywork, using vintage equipment and traditional techniques, sculpting its shape to reflect other seminal machines from history. Using aircraft-inspired artistry and custom construction methods, Scolman — who is well-respected as a master metalworker — shaped the Spirit of Munro into a striking tribute to the past, as well as an irrepressible inspiration for the future of America’s first motorcycle company. In addition to the impressive air-cooled 1811cc engine (said to have been inspired by the Corvette LS7), a custom intake and exhaust system is mated with a chain drive conversion to allow for the tall gearing necessary for top-speed runs. A six-speed transmission routes that power to Dunlop Z-rated tires wrapped around custom-fabricated billet aluminium wheels. Stopping power is provided by dual, dual-piston 13-inch Brembo brakes up front and a single dual-piston Brembo system in the rear.
A few months after its debut, the Spirit of Munro was run by Todd Eagan on a dry lake bed in California, while the company filmed a video to promote the streamliner.
In its first few runs, the untested bike sped past 80 mph while in first gear. According to Eagan, the bike was unstable and “flopping around” at low speed but was much more stable at high speed. “Still, I was watching it as I went faster,” said Eagan. “Just as we saw portrayed in ‘The World’s Fastest Indian,’ these types of designs can exhibit instability.”
By the last few passes of the day, Eagan says he got the Spirit of Munro into fifth gear with no troubles. Said Pandya, “I told him to go as fast as he felt comfortable. Apparently he felt pretty comfortable!” According to Scolman, the bike reached a top speed of approximately 150 mph during filming. “And that was in fourth gear…it’s a six-speed!” For comparison, in 1967, Munro’s original Indian set an official record top speed of 183.59 mph (later adjusted to 184.087); he also once qualified at over 200 mph, but that was an unofficial run and was not counted.
“The Munro family was very happy to see such a wonderful tribute to our father,” said Burt’s Son, John Munro. “We could see how Dad’s passion inspired motorcycle riders, and are sure the Spirit of Munro will do so for years to come.” In fact, just a few years after the Spirit of Munro was built, Indian has created a second tribute motorcycle to recreate Munro’s historic record-setting run – but with a modern twist.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Munro’s iconic land speed record, Indian Motorcycle is teaming up with New Zealand road racer Lee Munro — Burt Munro’s great nephew — to recreate the historic run at Bonneville in August. For the tribute run, Lee will pilot a modern Indian Scout — called the Spirit of Munro Scout — with a powertrain modified by the Indian Motorcycle engineering team to add horsepower and reduce weight, and with an aerodynamic racing fairing at the front. Indian says the bike isn’t aiming for any particular records and isn’t expected to top Burt’s original speed, but is intended to pay homage to Burt Munro on the anniversary of his record-setting run.
According to Scolman, the Spirit of Munro was built as a tribute to Munro’s earlier bike, without concern for current Bonneville rules. “Back then, you could just streamline a bike, and run with it,” explains Scolman. “Today’s bikes require a full rollcage, fire suppression system, and other safety modifications. Because it was meant to be a tribute to the original, we couldn’t legally run the Spirit of Munro on Bonneville, as it was built.” Scolman continues, “The new Spirit Scout does meet the SCTA rules, and has already qualified for 150- and 175-mile licensing runs at El Mirage.
“Who knows how fast it will go when it finally reaches Bonneville?!”
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