The Day the Seat Died

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August 21st 2006



So there we were bombing across Siberia. I could be a little off, but I think we had about 36 hours to drive 1000k to get out of the country. Doesn't sound like much, but consider that our daily average was only around 300k. I'd been in high spirits since being told by the Benz mechanic, "You are like Russian." Though they would never dream of driving a car with a hand clutch they were obviously quite impressed with our handiwork.

Somewhere along the way the roads went to crap, which really shouldn't be much of a surprise by now. 50 mile stretches of dirt roads with massive potholes everywhere became more frequent. It had rained the night before and many potholes were partially filled with water. During one of our leg stretching stops Seth commented that he'd considered driving into a pothole(yes, an entire car will fit in one) just to get some mud on the Fiesta. I chuckled as I'd had the same thought earlier. Later in the day I exercised a little poor judgement and swerved to splash up a little Siberian mud. We were going a little to fast and it was deeper than I'd thought. Our cargo flew all over the place; a cacophony of pots, pans, and jerry cans. Vaughn didn't know I'd done it on purpose and was visibly irritated. We came out the other side with the Seat sputtering. We made it a few more yards and came to a halt. The Fiesta pulled up behind after following us through the mud. I tried to start the Seat and she just wouldn't go. After a few moments the engine did catch and I revved it right up for maybe 5 seconds and it died as soon as I took my foot off the gas. Clearly something was amiss and it was time to get out the tools.

Fiddling around for a little bit the engine reeked of gasoline we reasoned that we just weren't getting spark anymore. A German couple in an old Lada SUV pulled up and came to the same conclusion. So off came the distributor cap and clearly the contacts were shot. Fried even. We tried fitting the Lada distributor on to little avail. This really should've made us think of other possibilities, but we were exhausted and under the gun. The Germans told us that the next garage was 70k up the road and recommended we tow it there. We shook hands, they hopped in their car, and we went back under the hood.

Our main plan of attack, precious hours slipping away, was to rebuild the contacts out of any bits of metal we could bend and glue together. With the fork from my mess kit I created a new contact and got the engine to catch a few times. Strangely though, exhaust gases came puffing out of the carb. Maybe that means something, maybe not. We probably should have started to look elsewhere, but to hear the engine fire a few times with my fork doing the work really was something. We really thought we could get it going. I started to make the fork fix permanent with epoxy, and Seth wandered off to mother nature's call.

With nothing to do but wait for the epoxy to dry I began to pack up the tools and things. I've been a field engineer for 5 years now, and I know that's bad mojo. Never pack up before a machine's running. Seth (former field engineer) came out of the woods, saw the area tidied up and immediately asked, "Why isn't it running yet?" I put the part it in and gave it a crank. Nothing. Guess I may have jinxed it after all.

8 o'clock arrived, the only sound from the Seat's engine was of a dying battery from ceaseless cranking. She never fired again.

We'd been several hours now on the side of the road. Shadows were quickly growing longer now. We three huddled for a discussion of what to do. Vaughn reasoned we could tinker until 8 pm and just make it to the border by 4pm the next day. But clearly there was other work to be done in the event we'd have to leave the car. Seth got back under the hood while Vaughn and I readied the car for ditching.

Mongol Rally stickers, Bad Colonies references, telephone numbers of ralliers, embassies and other friends, the photo of my grandmother that has fascinated people the whole trip through, anything that mentioned a website or a name, all of it was removed. Fear not faithful supporters, you're identities are safe with us. No one will ever find you.

8 o'clock arrived, the only sound from the Seat's engine was of a dying battery from ceaseless cranking. She never fired again. The Fiesta started towing. A couple of miles up the road we found an off shoot that was shielded from view by trees and large mounds of dirt. We pushed the Seat to her final position. I popped of the VIN plate and utterly destroyed the chassis number with a rubber mallet and a prybar. The engine number would've required partial disassembly to mutilate and we hadn't the time. Oh well, it was Siberia, and a fairly unpopulated part of it at that. Vaughn pulled the license plates and Seth set up a scarecrow of sorts to deter any lookie-loos using the Chair-in-a-bag and some of Patrick's dirty left behind clothes. We posed for a quick photo, piled into the Fiesta, and motored off in desperate need of smooth roads and no vehicular hassles of any kind. Fat chance of that.

Seat Marbella 8.20.2006 R.I.P.
Guess I'll be celebrating two anniversaries on that day from here on out

Best of luck to anyone who lays claim to the Seat. She'll be a tricky beast to drive. It took Vaughn and I 1,500 miles to work out the feel of the clutch and the communication necessary to drive in any traffic situation. In the end it's disappointing to have put so much effort into keeping that car on the road only to leave it behind. With more time or on a different route, the Seat may have made it all the way. Then again, a one liter car isn't supposed to be able to make it. Which was the whole point of the rally in the first place. We've had opportunity to savor both the bitter and the sweet.

The drive across Siberia may be the only time I've ever made a decision based purely on time and money...and threat of imprisonment. I think we chose the riskiest of the options at hand after parting with Patrick. The urgent look on the Russian border guard's face when we rolled up behind a line of traffic 45 minutes before closing time confirms it. But that's another story.