Caption: Yandina’s Stuart Hooper and his modified 1959 Velocette, which broke a world record by reaching 193mph on the Lake Gairdner salt flat in South Australia in March 2016. Photo: Contributed
By Richard Bruinsma
The world land speed record for single-cylinder vehicles has just been broken.
And the amazing feat was achieved by Yandina motor racing enthusiast Stuart Hooper.
He steered his 1959 Velocette, with its super-charged 638cc engine, to an astonishing 310 kilometres per hour (or 193mph for the purists) on the Lake Gairdner salt flats in South Australia earlier this month, March 2016.
The previous record from the 25 years history of the event was 183.7 mph.
The record breaking pass was observed by scores of onlookers at the annual Dry Lakes Racers Australia annual Speedweek event.
Caption: The 1959 Velocette was depicted in the poster advertising the Dry Lakes Racers Australia 2016 Speedweek event, at which Mr Hooper set his world record.
The bike is now also the fastest human-carrying single cylinder machine on the planet – whether motorcycle, car, plane, boat or anything else.
And if you’re wondering why Mr Hooper chased that speed goal, he has a typical “it was there” type of answer.
“You’ve got to do something in your old age,” he said wryly.
“I’ve just always had an interest in anything to do with motor racing; land speed motorcycles are my passion.”
As you can imagine, those speeds are not only near impossible to achieve, but they are also chillingly terrifying.
“The previous run, at 188 miles per hour, we were using the entire width of the track, with big speed wobbles, and I was wishing to say, ‘I’m too old for this’,” Mr Hooper said. “And we made some mechanical adjustments and the next run we went straight.
“The 193 miles per hour run was great – it felt just like riding down the highway at 100km, it was dead easy, dead straight.”
It’s the type of racing made famous in the 2005 movie The World’s Fastest Indian, which told the story of quietly spoken New Zealand racer Burt Munro and the record breaking speeds he set on his Indian motorcycle in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mr Hooper had in 2010 recorded a world speed record on a 1959 Velocette of 139mph, breaking Mr Munro’s record of 132mph, set in 1970.
He also recorded a speed of 147mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah USA in 2011, and then a speed of 171mph at South Australia in 2013.
Mr Hooper estimates he and his team have spent between 1200 and 1400 man-hours working on the bike each year for the past eight years.
“Everything is hand made and I’ve made everything in my shed,” he explained.
“$1000 to one person is peanuts, while $1000 to another is life-changing.
“The best way to describe its value is that it’s priceless and it’s probably cost the same as someone who has restored a Mustang or owns a brand new BMW.
“It’s not megabucks but it’s also not insignificant.”
Caption: Mr Hooper and his modified 1959 Velocette on display at the Historical Motorcycle Club of Queensland – Sunshine Coast Area swap meet at Maleny, March 2016.
Mr Hooper explains the massive size of the single cylinder “increases the challenges” in terms of reliability, but the power is nothing to be laughed at.
“If this was a V8 super car, the car would be producing around 1000 horsepower,” Mr Hooper explained. “So this is more powerful than a V8 supercar, per cylinder.”
He loves the pursuit because, as he describes it, it requires “more calculating brain and less emotional brain”.
“It’s something that an older person can excel at when competing on equal terms with a younger person,” he said.
As he contemplates his achievements on that 12-miles of flat salt pan, he is already planning his next pursuits.
Next year he hopes to crack 200 mph.
But for now, his life will become a little more sedate – he and his understanding wife Marsha will be hopping on a standard version of the same bike in June to ride all the way round Australia.
There’s no doubt it’ll be a much more leisurely and relaxing trip.