The Death of Sparkle Motion
Story circa November 15th, 2003 | Back to Blog Listing

Sparkle Motion after I painted the flag of New Zealand on her
If you are not already familiar, Sparkle Motion is the name given to our mighty Kiwi-flag bearing Subaru. Rather than bore you with details, we will get right down to her last voyage.

From Dunedin to Queenstown
Sean, Tisa, and myself left Dunedin on Wednesday afternoon, amazingly enough right on schedule of 3:00pm. Before taking to the road we aired up the tires (tyres in N.Z.) properly and filled the pipes with oil to ensure a safe trip to Queenstown (about 4 hours to the southwest of Dunedin).

Within about 20 minutes of passing Mosgiel (just outside of Dunedin) the car started smoking from the right part of the hood. We continued on for a short while longer with small bursts of white smoke every so often until eventually pulling over to find out that the radiator had sprung a leak and was steaming hot smoke onto the battery. We were not concerned with the battery but knew without a proper cooling system the car would overheat. After trying to go a few more kilometers the temperature began rising and we were forced to turn back - with the intent of heading back to Dunedin.

About 10km back towards Dunedin, we stopped in at a B.P. and had a look. Not only was the radiator pressure not holding, but there was no coolant left in it. Worse off is that they seem not to use anti-freeze in this country and so the radiator has small rust deposits here and there from water erosion. Much to our surprise we were able to pick up a small bottle of radiator solder. We added this magic potion into the radiator pipe as instructed by the package and the serviceman and within minutes, the hole had disappeared and the radiator was fixed, or at least holding for the time being.

We drove to Queenstown monitoring the area and car temperature all the way without any problems. Upon our two days in Queenstown and Wanaka, much hilarity and shenanigans ensued, but thats a different story.

From Lake Wanaka to Ranfurly
After an afternoon of fishing in Lake Wanaka (we reeled in 1 salmon and 1 trout), we began heading back for Dunedin at about 5:00pm. Sparkle Motion was running quite well as we passed through Cromwell. Upon getting to Alexandra, we decided that we would take the scenic route between there and Dunedin so we could see more of the country. This took us down Route 85. Upon traveling down Route 85 for an hour or so we noticed that the car had begun smoking again. The problem was the radiator leaking once more and so steam was shooting out from the right side of the car (the drivers side in NZ).

We continued driving but kept a close eye on the temperature. We finally came upon a town called Ranfurly which is about 130km from Dunedin. We stopped in Ranfurly to check the radiator but also noticed a worse smell. As it had happened, some oil had begun dripping onto the engine and was being burned off. This of course created even more smoke and smelled terribly. After checking the oil level and thinking that everything was A-OK, we took back to Route 85. After about 10km of driving we were noticing heaps of white smoke shooting out the rear exhaust and then a bit more coming out of the front. We deduced that we had put in too much oil and it was overspilling and furthermore burning. We continued on but with extreme caution but at about 7:00pm and still 110km from Dunedin, the car began handling poorly as we had just turned off of Route 85 and onto Route 87 which is the even more scenic route into Dunedin.

Sean and I got out of the car to investigate the matter but could see nothing more than a small cloud of white smoke coming from the engine block. There was white smoke coming from the engine, hot steam spraying from the radiator, and a small oil leak on the concrete below. We decided to start the car with the hood up to get a better idea and as I turned the key a bucket of oil fell onto the concrete below. We had located the problem, the Exxon-Valdez was nothing compared to our car.

Assuming that the oil would hold, we decided to head back to Ranfurly as we obviously needed repairs. About halfway there the car became entirely inoperable as clouds of white smoke covered the air and we left a trail of oil behind us. We pulled over at the entrance to a farm and began looking to fix the car. We realized fairly quickly that the pressure sensor connected into the oil well that reads the oil pressure had blown apart and thus created a large hole for oil to drain. Of course as we drove, the oil would get pushed by the wind and hit the hot engine block causing it to burn and produce copious amounts of white smoke. Add that to the already existing radiator steaming.

Sean and I tried to fix the car for about 2 hours with my Leatherman but we just could not wedge anything in there with enough force to combat the 60psi of pressure that the well was yielding. About 8 cars had asked us if we needed assistance by now and with an huge windstorm coming in and nightfall upon us, we had the 9th car take us back to Ranfurly.

To make this long part of the story short, we found a mechanic still available but after several attempts at fixing the car, it needed to be towed back to Ranfurly. We gave the hotel manager the fish that we had caught and he put the three of us in a room without charge. When we got up the next morning the car had already been fixed and went on our way. Minus $150.00 kiwi dollars.

Driving From Ranfurly to Dunedin
If this were an epic drama, this is the part where it would all come together at once.

We made it back to Route 87 and casually drove along for about 20 minutes or so until slowing for a one-lane bridge. To those not familiar with one-lane bridges (a common New Zealand site), they are simply one lane bridges where one side yields right of way to the other. If the bridge is long enough, it will typically have midpoint nooks for cars to wait in while another goes by.

As I slowed for the bridge, I proceeded to down-shift in the usual fashion. The bridge appeared clear and so I began to accelerate and enter it. I accelerated past my next gear speed and as I stepped on the clutch to up-shift, both Sean and I heard a loud pop.

So now here we were, driving down a one-lane bridge in the south of New Zealand with a flag-bearing, twenty year old Subaru which now had no clutch, and consequently no way for me to control the car's speed.

Again, we tried to fix the problem but could barely tell what it was. All of the springs seemed to be in tact. We finally decided to put the car into first gear, start it up while pressing the gas and power shift it into the other gears. In case you are not familiar with power shifting, it is shifting gears without the use of the clutch. This worked. But - I could neither down shift nor start from a stopping position which posed some problems driving through a mountain range. We made it back to Mosgiel (about 20 minutes south of Dunedin) and when we got to the first traffic light, I turned off the car, put it in first, waited for the green, and started it up once again.

Everything was going fine until we got into Dunedin where there is a giant mountain the highway goes up. About 5/6 of the way to the top, the car would go no more as smoke began pouring out every which way. A passerby had a tow rope and pulled us to the top of the mountain through the speeding traffic. The problem was now that we could no longer start the car in gear as something had gone wrong in the gearbox apparently.

Sparkle Motion getting towed away
So for the next two hours, Sean and I worked as a diligent and slightly frightened team to get the car back to my house. The procedure worked by having me put the car into first gear and turn the key while Sean pushed. This would generate enough spark to get the car going but Sean would have to run along and manage to jump into the moving car as there was no way for me to stop. Up and down hills and mountains, through yield signs (technically "Give Way" signs in New Zealand), traffic, and stoplights, we eventually got the car back to my house where it stunk of a burning transmission. The car let off a light smoke for several hours afterwards from the oil we had burned and there was even a small puddle from all of the radiator fluid, a.k.a. water, that had leaked out of the rusting apparatus.

Suffice to say, this would be the last time Sparkle Motion was ever started.