Where are they now?- Allan Cunynghame | Columns | Gassit Garage
Allan Cunynghame, the all round Ironman – from Amaroo Park to Alice Springs.
In their day, the Castrol 6 Hour at Amaroo Park and the Arai 500 on Mount Panorama were Australia’s twin peaks of endurance racing. The 6 Hour was where champions such as Mal Campbell, Michael Dowson and Wayne Gardner honed their craft. And Easter on Mount Panorama was where only the very quick and extremely brave took to the bitumen. At the other end of the spectrum was the International Six Day Trial; the Olympics of Motorcycling where our top dirtshifters showcased their skills.
Allan ‘AJ’ Cunynghame was one of the elite, scoring a top ten with Barry Thompson in the 6 Hour and a podium in the Arai 500 with John Fretten. In fact AJ still holds the lap record he set before Caltex Chase was constructed. And in 1981, the year the 6 Day became the International Six Day Enduro, AJ won Silver for Australia. AJ’s real passion was dirt bikes and when the Wynn’s Safari was announced he was quick to sign on for the Sydney to Darwin epic along with Michael and Andrew Goddard. AJ was one of only eight riders to finish the gruelling ordeal; which was won by ‘marathon man’ Andrew Cowan with Fred Gocentas in the navigator’s seat of their Ralliart Pajero.
Over a few reds at the celebrations in Darwin AJ declared he’d win the next year. “I’m going to get on Cowan’s arse and stay there. Gocentas is the best navigator in the business so I’ll just shadow them. When they stop to open a gate, I’ll close it. If they stop for a piss, I’ll stop too. I figure if I can make 30 seconds on them per stage that’ll be good enough to win.” AJ proceeded to do exactly that, winning the event outright on Yamaha XT660 a highly modified big bore ‘trailie’. And the following year he finished third on a Yamaha XT680R; becoming one of only two riders to finish all three Sydney to Darwin epics; a performance that scored him a factory ride with Moto Guzzi.
In the 1988 Bi-Centennial Safari, his attempt to tame the Guzzi NT650XR, which he referred to as ‘the biggest pig in the world’ ended in a chopper ride to hospital. Back the following year on a Kawasaki KDX250 netted a fifth outright – still the highest placing for a two-stroke in Safari history. Then came the 900cc Cagiva Elefant which provided a class win and, the following year, a broken pelvis. In all AJ rode nine Australian Safari’s – eight consecutively from 1985 through to 1992 – finishing with six class wins; the last winning the 500 Marathon class in the 2003 event, which started in his home town of Bathurst.
Over the years the notorious event on Mexico’s Baja peninsula drew him in on no less than seventeen occasions and he also competed at such eclectic venues as the Peruvian Incas Rally and Italy’s Rally Del Titano. Many years later, fulfilling a promise he made to Austin Bolton – his business partner’s 8-year old son – a 60 year old AJ suited up for the 2014 Vegas to Reno Desert Race. They finished second in the 250 Expert Class; after which AJ stated he was cured. Through he still spends an inordinate amount of time in the saddle swapping between his KTM 1190R and Husqvarna 701.
Still active in the motorcycle industry through his USA partnerships, AJ’s principal business – manufacturing the Australian designed Multitool Grinder attachment – keeps him busy at home in Bathurst where, with passionate references to Assen, Catalunya, Paul Ricard and Mugello, AJ is highly involved in the campaign to create an international class, motorcycle friendly circuit at Mount Panorama.
By Peter Whitaker