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February 2022 - New Zealander Mike Noonan was always fascinated with speed pursuits and after he’s been to the Isle of Man TT, he thought of it as an amazing experience, but also realised that it takes a special type of person, achieving top speeds on such a course. “I realised that I’ve got some skills, but not such skills like a TT rider. I’ve always been aware of Bonneville type land speed racing (LSR) and it is something where you don’t get tangled up with other people”. Mike’s final trigger of contemplating a Bonneville speed record was watching “The World’s Fastest Indian” movie, not in the way of copying it, but perceiving it as being accessible to a common type of person. “There were people who said, come on, what makes you think you can do such a feat?” The type of person Burt Munro was or was portrayed to be, everything seemed to make sense for me, that I could be such a person to some level. I also had a mechanical engineering education and a passion for what I’m building, so why shouldn’t I be doing such an undertaking?” Mike nearly contemplated doing a record attempt on a Honda CX500, but decided against it, because it still would have only been a CX500 at the end of the day.

Bonneville Motorcycye Speed Trials:

“So in 2013, I was drinking with mates at York Street Mechanics in Auckland and running the idea past them, but it wasn’t taken too seriously, like pub talk, that never happens”. Only Mike’s mates David Jones and Ian Hambly supported the idea and really believed that he could do it, bearing in mind that Mike had been known to be a stickler for always finishing started projects, like education or work designs, even if they dragged on for years.

Mike called his friend Horace Hartnett, who was the head of the Italian motorcycle riders club in NZ, which directed him within 24 hrs of running the idea past him to a 350cc Imola Guzzi in the town of Taupo. Mike likes Guzzi’s, hence borrowed a van the next day from his friend David Jones and headed up to the North Island to see the seller of the bike. “Upon arrival, the seller pointed out some scratches on the bike’s paintjob, while I was thinking in the back of my mind of how to cut it up to serve its new intended purpose”. He didn’t have the heart to tell the seller about his plans, because the frame needed modifications done to it, to house a planned super charger, among other things, but the bike was bought and the project was on its way. “I can understand that a lot of people thought, why I was doing such an attempt on a Moto Guzzi, but ultimately its each to their own preference, it doesn’t really matter as long as you are passionate about what you are doing”.
As mentioned earlier, his friend Ian Hambly was right into it and subsequently set up a support group and simultaneously thinking about a name for the planned venture. They all liked the music of the Eagles, especially the song “Take it to the limit”. The length of this song was 4:48mins and since it was a time trial pursuit, Ian started forming the 448 motorcycle club. Now the bike needed an appropriate name for its intended Bonneville run and Ian remembered the Haast eagle, the world’s largest eagle that ever lived, named after its prior habitat in the Westland district of the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island, before going extinct. So in keeping with the Eagles music and the Mandello eagle logo, it was decided to call the bike the Haast Eagle.

One might ask what enables someone to tackle supercharging a 70s small block Guzzi for a Bonneville record attempt? Well, Mike Noonan always had a love of bikes from a young age and wanted to race motocross, but his parents weren’t very happy with this idea, so he only had a choice between learning the guitar or the piano, of which neither interested him. When he was 14 years old, his neighbour then gave him a Suzuki Mountain Goat (Note: a motorcycle designed by Kiwi Cyril Callender in 1963, to handle the rough off-road conditions on New Zealand farms, powered by an 80cc Suzuki motor) on which he rode along river bed plains near their residence in Christchurch. When he was about 15 years old, he bought a Honda XL 250 with his accumulated savings, then moved on to a Yamaha IT175 and a Suzuki DR600 in 1992. Later a Kawasaki KDX200 was on duty for riding with friends off road around NZ’s South Island hydro lakes, such as Aviemore and Benmore.

“My grandfather was an engine builder, working for Dominion Motors in NZ, then Morris Garages in the UK where he married the boss’s daughter. They both came back to NZ after the war and settled here. He taught me a lot about engines. He also suffered badly from arthritis, hence always had me under his car, (since I was craving any knowledge about engines), changing the oil filter where he could not get to” Mike’s granddad was one of the main instigators when Mike was looking for a job, encouraging him from rather learning to become a mechanic to instead looking out for an automotive machinist apprenticeship, which was duly done (A grade) with MS Coombes in Christchurch. “I then moved on to Mace engineering and at the time, my friend Jason Cole was involved in top fuel drag cars and also building marathon boat motors, so we were always either over on the West Coast or on a drag strip somewhere”. One of the highlights of Mike’s career was meeting John Britten, which came round one day to have his crank shaft ground and balanced at MS Coombes, which was quite a privilege for Mike having been involved in this work. Mike’s first road bike was a GPX250 Ninja, which later progressed to a GPX750, on which he had a bad crash on in 2002, where he nearly lost his leg. “At that time, I felt I’ve gotten away with it to this point and thought I was now done with riding motorbikes, but by 2005, when I was playing rugby and all sorts of other things, I realised the one thing I really loved (more than all these things) was riding bikes and nothing else could fulfil this need. I then woke up one morning and thought if I perhaps someday die of getting hit by a bus, I am going to feel really disappointed if I hadn’t ridden any more bikes in my life up to that point”. It then became a black and white decision for him to buy another bike, with the hard part of having to explain this to friends and family again, which were acutely aware of his previous bad accident.

Mike contemplated earlier the many classes available to enter into, like 50, 100, 125, 250, 350, 500, 650, 750 and so on, but the 350cc class seemed the right size for him in gearing up for a Bonneville record attempt, despite knowing that it is not so easy to super charge a V-twin engine. “You’ve got three quarters of a revolution between No. 1 firing, then one and a quarter until No. 2 firing, which is building up a different pressure on each cylinder. Some people got around this by having a different compression ratio for each cylinder to get the boost they wanted but I needed a large plenum chamber to take out the cycling pulses, I made the choice to go for injection where I got only one shot at fuel right at the port, so all I am doing is compressing air. If I would have started with a 750cc engine, I could be doing 200mph on a surface that I’ve never ridden on, I thought this would be crazy, hence I started with the smallest Guzzi engine I could get hold of and see how fast that would go”. After all, his Guzzi project could easily be upgraded to house a 500cc, 650cc or 750cc engine in its existing frame. “The biggest problem with all of this was the drive train, which is quite weak, since I already broke one final drive unit testing the bike at Muriwai beach, when I lived in Auckland at the time, by giving it too much throttle in second gear”. This is true to the point, since these bikes weren’t made to take 63 horse power at the rear wheel. This little motor is apparently producing about 200hp per litre as it is now. There were also design issues “I had to turn the heads around and open up the exhausts ports as big as I could to be an inlet, because the inlet had to become the exhaust to get rid of what was about 960cc’s of free delivery. So you basically running a one litre engine through the exhaust ports of an 350cc engine. Normally, for a naturally aspirated engine, your exhaust valve is 75% of your inlet, but for five pounds of boost, you go up to eighty per cent, then 10 pounds, 85% and so on. When you’ve got 25 pound boost, the exhaust valve has to be 105 per cent of the inlet valve. When the exhaust comes out of the pipes known as zoomies, it has a very abrupt step that is tuned to a length of 18 inches, because the gas comes out of the engine in supersonic fashion, when it breaks through the atmosphere there is a shockwave hits that step in the pipe rather than the shockwave going back into the cylinder whilst the exhaust valve is still closing”. The supercharger used for this bike conversion was a AMR300, made by Aisin, which was initially designed for a 660cc Subaru Vivio car.

“When you are compressing air to 25 pounds, it does get very hot, the air sensor often can see 100 degrees Celsius temperature. I chose a Nissan Skyline barrel intercooler to the bike, the air, which flows through there fairly fast, brings the temperature right down to below 15 degrees, through feeding it with ice cubes just before a run. There is a little aquarium pump in there, which circulates the ice-cold water through the barrel intercooler. You get about 5 minutes before you have boiled water for your cup of tea”. The large size compact throttle body came off a 1.5 litre Honda Civic and the bikes’s Ducati 1198 injectors, which run about 70 per cent duty cycle, going through a fair amount of fuel. The crank is a standard Moto Guzzi forged crank, which to Mike are pretty strong, but he does run GSXR1000 Crower rods, which are coupled up to Honda XR200 flat top pistons, to run a low compression ratio of 6:1. The dynamic compression ratio at 25 pound boost is 13.7:1. Mike ran 5 lithium ion batteries to be on the safe side, because of running a total loss electrical system. The drive train has Yamaha FJ1200 specced valves and springs, sourced from Kibblewhite’s from the States. “The bike’s springs have a far higher seat pressure than the standard Guzzi one’s, because when you put 25 pounds pressure behind that inlet valve that equates to something like 15 kilos pushing at the bottom of these inlet valves. Guzzi standard one’s only have around 10kg seating pressure. The Guzzi valve springs are very stiff, but hardly have any seat pressure for what was required”.

Mike reckons in comparison to his modifications to the little Guzzi, NZ motorcycling legend Bert Munro didn’t have any of such information readily available. He was one of the pioneers trying and testing everything on his Indian, neither did he have E-bay at his disposal as we have now. “Sometimes people say do you think you can be better than Bert Munro? All I can say, is that it’s no use trying to compare then and now, as we are in a different era and everyone is on his own journey and I am not here to attempt to break Bert’s record. I started the Guzzi super charger project in 2013 and got the bike ready by June 2015, although in a rush, since I blew up the final drive two weeks prior on a trial run on NZ’s North Island based Muriwai Beach, where I could have done 100mph, if the final drive blow up didn’t happen”. This was the final test before the Guzzi was put into a crate, ready for shipping to the US. Mike’s good friend Pete Kelly, who runs a Moto Guzzi parts business on NZ’s Waiheke Island, was able to source a brand new drive shaft and final drive components from Italy within a couple of weeks. Mike also needed a longer swing arm, because when he went over a bump while trialling the bike, the wheel was actually growing to the point where it was actually hitting the intercooler, because the Avon speed master vintage racing tires were rubbing. These tires are rated up to an output of 130mph, which was right on the limit of what they wanted to achieve.

“My friend Horace once again found me another Guzzi, a V40 in bits in the capital city of Wellington, of which I took the final drive off, prior to heading to the 1st Bonneville record attempt in 2015. My brother-in-law, Mark Morrison who works for TNL International, kindly dealt with all the paperwork for the bike’s entry into the States, but once we arrived, we found out to our dismay that the event was cancelled due to flooding”. They ended up having been the only ones there, everyone else already left, but they did run the bike on the salt nevertheless, after coming all this way, although not officially and she was showing an encouraging 124mph on Mike’s GPS. “It would have been worth getting a speeding ticket from one of the State Troopers in the vicinity, to verify this speed, but this would have meant spending a night in a cell if caught, although it could have been worth it, getting that speed verified on paper”.

Mike was then thinking of perhaps entering the Utah World of Speed, with his twenty supporters in tow, which would have been a couple of weeks later, but at the end they sadly had to leave America in a deflated state back to NZ again. It would have just taken too much time, when you consider that it takes 736 miles from San Fran to Salt Lake City. Mike and his team of supporters came back in September 2015 and the bike didn’t arrive back in NZ until February/March 2016. Coming 2017, he thought of giving it one more crack, despite the financial outlay, hence prepared the until then dormant sitting Guzzi again and also addressing a few observed issues from the 2015 run in the process, prior to setting off a second time. “I had a lot of weave in the bike at our first outing on the salt, due to the mandatory front steering damper having been too stiff. Rather than just a head shake, it transmitted this force into the frame. A weave is far more dangerous than a wobble and when I had my first official run in August 2017, it was a rather bumpy affair. But this time I knew I was competing; I’ve been here before and knew what I was in for”.

Three Christchurch friends came along with him again, despite the financial strain. They were Rob Menzies he went to school with, Jason Cole he worked with at MS Coombes as an engine builder and friend Pat McMorran also as an extra pair of hands. Pat has his own mechanics shop Advance Automotive and also helped Mike building the bike, when he still lived in Auckland. “My good friend Ian Hambly once remarked about skills needed to see a project like this off the ground, quoting: “How could a guy like Ernest Rutherford from New Zealand pull off working out how to split the atom?” To which Rutherford replied “Well, we don’t have the budget, so we have to think!” It’s true in a sense that a big budget is no guarantee for success. So, it was wonderful to get a speed record result”. Even though the hard core of his friends never doubted him, so many things can go wrong on the salt, even with the best and lavishly tended to bikes on hand. Mike had one reasonable run at 115mhp just to see how she goes and then a run of 119mph, and decided, “let’s bank that, because let’s not go home with nothing”. The surface was apparently quite rough and prior to the event, Speed Week with lots of cars going down the salt left their mark on the track, hence not many records were set that year. “When you hit a pothole at 120mph, even though not big, man, you can just about feel the tires go completely flat in it, even running tires at 50psi pressure”. For official results, they had to strip the engine and have the bore and stroke measured etc. The officials then seal the engine with a blue varnish on it and they put the Guzzi back on to the salt again.

“My subsequent run into strong head wind achieved a figure of 121mph, then I changed the boost from 20 to 25 and we advanced the timing by a bit without the use of a timing light aka double the amount of turn on the fly wheel which meant running about 45 degrees advance. With a super charged engine, you want to increase between idle and 2500rpm, at that point all the ignition wants to be in, whereas with a naturally aspirated engine it wants to increase right up to about 4000rpm when you reach your maximum advance. My supercharged Guzzi only idles at around 2000rpm, there is really nothing happening under there because with the low compression ratio if your fuel is less dense it takes a long time to go from molecule to molecule and idle but when you are packing it harder it burns a lot more quickly and that is only happening when you are up in the power range”.

The first part of their run was around 120 mph which was into a 7 or 8 mile an hour head wind and it felt powerful in second and third gear but Mike didn’t get top speed because he was battling head wind. When he did the return run, the wind had almost died down to nothing, but this time a 2-3 mile an hour back wind made them run about 128mph. “The average of those runs amounted to a land speed record figure of 124.114mph which wasn’t too bad when you think that a standard 350cc Guzzi making it up to about 72mph. We were on the last run of the last day, but I reckon if we would have fine-tuned some things a bit more, or had the correct gearing then we may have hit a 130mph result, which was something I was initially hoping for”. The previously existing record, done through Southern California timing Bonneville AMA speed trials, was 59MPH on SCTA records, achieved in the 1980s on a supercharged 350cc Matchless. Mike probably sunk about NZD 30.000 into his supercharged Guzzi record getter. “Everything on this bike was actually built three times, before I got it right”. Kahawai Productions filmed a 47min documentary about the Haast Eagle Guzzi record in 2017, which has not yet been released as a DVD version.

Wide magazine thanks Uli Cloesen (motorcycle journalist and writer), and photographer Paul Rickerby, for having granted this article and related images. And congratulations to the champion Mike Noonan who, with the record conquered with his “flying” Moto Guzzi, has entered the history of world motorcycling.