The Vintagent Classics: The films that inspired us.


Run Time: 2:07:00
Producer: Roger Donaldson, New Zealand Film Production Fund
Director: Roger Donaldson
Writer: Roger Donaldson
Key Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Diane Ladd, Iain Rea


The story of New Zealander Burt Munro, who spent years rebuilding a 1920 Indian motorcycle, which helped him set the land speed world record at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967.

Director Roger Donaldson had been working on this film for over 20 years before he started filming it, and had previously directed a short television documentary about Munro called Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed in 1971. Arranging the financing for a full feature film was much more difficult, but a key Japanese investor, and Donaldson and Hannam’s own money allowed the film to be made. Many of the props used for filming were actually owned by Munro, including all the exploded pistons and the piston mould that Hopkins uses for a scene in the film. These were on display at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery.


In 1967, Burt Munro is a sort of folk hero in Invercargill, known for his friendly easy-going personality, for having the fastest motorcycle in New Zealand and Australia, and for being featured in Popular Mechanics magazine. However, that recognition is contrasted by his exasperated next-door neighbors, some of whom are fed up with his un-neighborly habit, such as revving his motorcycle early in the morning, urinating on his lemon tree, and not mowing his grass. Burt, however, has a long-time dream: to travel to the US and test his motorcycle’s capabilities at the Bonneville Speedway. However, while modifying his motorcycle, Burt suffers a heart attack. An ambulance takes him to the hospital and he is told he has angina, and is advised to take it easy and not to ride his motorcycle. Burt ignores this advice, and is given medication.

Burt is finally able to save enough to travel by cargo ship to Los Angeles, working his passage as the cook, but when he arrives, he experiences bureaucracy, skepticism, and the indifference of big city people. It is his blunt but gregarious nature which overcomes each hurdle. He wins over the motel clerk, a transvestite named Tina, who assists him in clearing customs and helps him in buying a car. The car salesman allows Burt to use his workshop and junkyard to build a trailer, and later offers him a job after Burt fine-tunes a number of the cars on the lot. Burt declines the offer, however, and shortly afterwards begins his long trip to Utah.

Along the way, Burt meets numerous helpful people, including highway police, a Native American who aids him when his trailer fails, a woman named Ada who allows him to repair his trailer in her garage and briefly becomes his lover, and an Air Force pilot who is on leave from military service in Vietnam.

He finally arrives at the Bonneville Salt Flats, only to be blocked by race officials for not registering his motorcycle for competition in advance, and not having the mandated safety equipment. In a show of sportsmanship, however, various competitors and fans in the Bonneville series intervene on his behalf, and he is eventually allowed to make a timed run. Despite various problems, he succeeds in his quest and sets a new land speed record at the 8th mile of his run; when he reaches 201.851 mph (324.847 km/h). By the end, his leg is burned by the exhaust, and he then falls with the motorcycle and skids to a stop, but he is able to return home to New Zealand as a hero. An epilogue describes that he went to Bonneville again several times to compete and set new records.


Watch the FULL FILM on Youtube/Magnolia Pictures.




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