Hundegger’s Sam Rowe gets his motor running to help save lives.
If you were looking for Hundegger’s Sam Rowe around August 17, you would have had a hell of a job finding him. Somewhere near Byron would have been your best bet. For the third year running, he was busy raising funds for the Cancer Council in the Mystery Box Rally.
“I got into it after losing my parents about 18 months apart from each other in 2015 and 2016 to cancer,” Rowe says. “The rallies started in the same sort of way, founders James Freeman and his sister Deb Forbes lost their parents and launched the Shitbox Rally in response. It was run with cars worth under $1000 and they drove this rugged course. You had to raise money to enter and the team that raised the most got the first pick of the vehicles.
“This year was the 10th anniversary of Shitbox and they ran a special 10-day rally. It’s hugely popular, there’s a long waitlist to get into it, so they also started the Mystery Box rally, and that’s what I do. The ‘Mystery’ part of the name is because you don’t know where you’re going!”
The Box Rallies have so far raised over $20 million for the Cancer Council, with two Shitbox and one Mystery Box rally a year. Competitors in the Mystery Box drive their own vehicle that must be over 25 years old and not a 4WD.
“Ideally, they should have four seats, in case somebody breaks down and they need to jump in with you,” Rowe adds.
“My first year was in 2017 with a mate, in a 1990 Honda Concerto,” says Rowe. “Our team name was ‘The Parma Boys’. The old Honda was too low and lost all its exhaust on the first day, but we raised $8500.”
Last year, Rowe entered again with his 22-year-old son Julian. This time they drove Das Popo, a 1989 VW T3 bus in replica German Polizei livery. “It’s a 2.1L water-cooled, rear engine vehicle, the last of the rear engine VW buses,” Rowe says. “It’s equipped with lights and sirens, so it catches a lot of attention and has attracted some generous repeat sponsorship from Lubrication Engineering, Hundegger Australasia and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. We raised $10,000.”
A dress-up day is a traditional part of the rally and the Rowe boys brought their A-game. “We dressed up as the leads in Breaking Bad, so we were wearing yellow overalls and masks all day long. And it’s an old 1989 Volkswagen bus with no air conditioning, I couldn’t turn the heat off at one stage, so it was filling up with heat and dust. It’s all fun, but it’s not easy!”
The Mystery Box rallies have a known start point, but after that, anything can happen in the five days of driving. The 2017 Mystery Box went from Dubbo to Dubbo, via a sprawling route of small towns, 2018’s rally started and ended in Mildura. This year’s begins in Byron Bay.
As Rowe describes it, “We have a kick-off debriefing on a Friday night and then on Saturday morning we meet at a local place where we can all park – 300 people and 150 cars. There we’re divided up into buddy groups of six to eight vehicles and they tell us where we’re going for the day. They tend to put us on the roughest roads you can imagine, gravel roads, back roads…
“We end each day camping. You pay a fee up front for all your food and so on, and we camp out in deserts or out in really tiny country towns on footy ovals or in the back of the pub. You get into a town and there’s one service station with a four-hour queue for us to fill up with fuel. But it’s all for the Cancer Council. There’s a minimum amount of $3500 to fundraise per team, plus about $640 per team for food and camping fees, so it adds up. This year Das Popo looks as though we’re on track to raise about $7000.”
Rowe’s wife, Sally, is his co-driver this year. “I’m really looking forward to rallying with Sally. We’re hoping that, again, the PoPo Bus will finish relatively unscathed,” Rowe says.
Money raised goes directly to supporting cancer research projects across a range of different types of cancers and research institutions. So far, funds raised have directly contributed to several projects with had clear results, including battling cancer drug resistance and a new treatment approach for a highly aggressive brain cancer.
“That’s why we do it,” says Rowe.