Islandmagee rocket man aims to smash land speed record

Sam Marsden with his 1000cc streamlined bike. INLT 34-022-PSB
Sam Marsden with his 1000cc streamlined bike. INLT 34-022-PSB

An Islandmagee petrol head is hoping to power his way into the history books by setting a new land speed record on his homemade motorcycle.

Sam Marsden, a mechanical engineering graduate, has spent the several months painstakingly assembling a 1000cc streamline bike in his father’s shed at the family farm.

With his labour of love almost complete, Sam now hopes to take his creation to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, where he will attempt to fulfil his dream of smashing a record which has stood for almost half a century.

The current land speed record for under 1000cc motorbikes stands at 183mph; set by New Zealander Burt Munro in 1967. Munro was 68 and was riding a 47-year-old machine when he set the record.

But 23-year-old Sam and his team of experts are confident their machine is up to the challenge.

“The bike is designed to travel at speeds of up to 250mph, but we think it is capable of reaching 280mph,” he told the Times.

“We have been carrying out tests at Newtownards airfield and are pleased with the results. The bike is basically finished and we are just tweaking it at the moment.”

Only one final hurdle stands between Sam and his shot at breaking Munro’s record; funds to transport the bike across the Atlantic.

He added: “We will be challenging for the record in late September, and need to raise about £10,000 between now and then to be able to fly the bike out to America.

“A lot of local businesses have supported the project to enable it to get to this point, but we need one final push.”

Sam’s ambition of following in the footsteps of Munro stems from words of encouragement he received from prominent local engineer, Professor Gordon Blair.

Prof Blair was born in Larne in 1937 and educated at Larne Grammar School before rising through the ranks at Queen’s University,

As an esteemed academic, he in turn inspired Sam to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer.

“When I met Professor Blair I was still at school and, because of his interest in motorbikes, we talked amongst other things about Munro’s record,” Sam added.

“To me it was just a pipe-dream but when one of the world’s greatest engineers tells you that something can be done, you know it’s not a fantasy but it’s a reality.

“To have someone of Gordon Blair’s standing have such faith and belief in me really made an impression.”

Sam’s quest to become the new record holder has also been backed by Munro’s son, John.

“John heard about my mission and wanted to meet me, so he flew over to Dublin,” Sam explained. “He basically told me that his father’s record has stood for too long and gave me his blessing in my efforts to beat it. He said records are made to be broken.”

What make’s Sam’s story all the more incredible is the fact that he suffers from severe dyslexia, which meant getting an education has proved to be a struggle for the Islandmagee man.

“As a kid I was told I had no prospects, but I wouldn’t accept that,” he added.

“Against all the odds I got a place in a Grammar school, completed my A levels and secured a place at Queens University to study mechanical engineering, which was a dream come true.”

But Sam’s quest is not just about fulfilling his own personal ambitions; he also wants to showcase Northern Ireland as a centre of excellence for engineering.

He is currently an ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) Network, and aims to encourage young people to pursue STEM subjects.

Sam added: “Most young people are just like me and will face difficulty with their education. It is much easier to give up and not try to overcome the things that stand in your way, but if I can succeed anyone can. You need to believe in yourself and never give up.”

During his gap year at Queen’s, Sam was selected for a placement with the Red Bull F1 racing team, working as a junior design engineer.

“I was told I had been selected for position because I had stated my ambition was to break Munro’s land speed record. It was my dream to attempt something ambitious that caught their attention,” Sam said.

“I want to inspire young people to follow their dreams.”

Anyone who wishes to donate to Sam’s cause can do so by visiting

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