Irish students aim to break Burt Munro's record

22:07, Aug 18 2014
Queens University student Sam Marsden
GIVING IT A GO: Queens University student Sam Marsden inside the streamliner he and fellow students hope will beat Burt Munro’s land speed record.

A 23-year-old Northern Irish engineering student is confident he will beat Burt Munro's land speed record.

Sam Marsden and a group of fellow students at Queens University in Belfast will take their own streamliner to the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in August next year to attempt the record-breaking feat.

Marsden said he was aiming to reach 230mph with the completed machine.

Named Project Velocity, Marsden's team began designing their streamliner a year ago and have given themselves only a year to build it.

"That is ambitious and we can do it but obviously we need the funds, which we're trying to get," Marsden said.

Southlander Munro spent 47 years working on his Indian 953cc streamliner before achieving the record on August 26, 1967, with an average speed of 184.087mph.


Watching the 2005 movie The World's Fastest Indian with his family, Marsden said he realised Munro's record still stood.

"We were like ‘that's something that would be awesome to go out and break', and it sat there as a dream for a while."

Catering for strict rule changes, and requirements for vehicles raced, meant the Project Velocity streamliner would be quite a different beast to Munro's Indian.

Riders were not allowed to ride atop their streamliner, and were not allowed to be visible from the sides or top, Marsden said.

"That's why it's difficult to beat Munro's record, because of the change in the rules - and to do it you need to meet all these things, which costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time in terms of design."

Marsden would be lying down inside the streamliner with his feet facing forward in the Project Velocity model.

"It won't be flat out like a coffin."

Despite being severely dyslexic, Marsden went to university to study mechanical engineering in order to pursue a career in motorsports.

A love of motorbikes was in the genes, he said.

"I come from a family of bikers. I've got three sisters who all ride bikes, my mum rides bikes, my dad rides bikes, my grandfather rode bikes and won races, including the Ulster Grand Prix in 1949 and then again in 1955."

Queens University had allowed the members of Project Velocity to incorporate the project into its university course material and Marsden said it made up 20 to 30 per cent of their study.

Balancing work on the project and other university study was challenging but the team was passionate about achieving their dream.

"We wouldn't want to be doing anything else. It's what we are passionate about, it's what gets me out of bed in the morning and the reason why I don't get to bed at night ..."

He spoke reverentially about Munro.

"He's a total inspiration to me. Seeing his story, one person coming out and overcoming those sort of odds and doing his own thing, on his own terms really inspired me and I guess gave me the confidence to push for what I wanted in my own life."

The Southland Times