Solar car record-holder is flat broke

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Marcelo da Luz, the new holder of the world record for distance travel in a solar car, made a recent whirlwind visit to town.

He came to sell his car.

No, not his solar car, the one he drove from Toronto to Inuvik, with a detour through Alaska, then south again through British Columbia, where he broke the record of 15,070 kilometres at Mile Zero of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Are you kidding?

He would never sell that car.

He came to sell his '97 Honda sedan. It is the last thing of value he owns, apart from the clothes on his back, his beat-up laptop, and the trailer and van he uses as support vehicles for his solar travels.

He's selling the Honda because he needs the cash. He's broke. He's been on the road since June, using one piece of plastic to pay off another, stretching his line of credit to follow the sun.

With the world record out of the way, he wants to continue his travels. He has Patagonia in mind. At the moment, however, the solar car is parked in a garage in a small town outside Olympia, Wash.

While he was in town taking care of business, Marcelo met with friends to show slides of his travels and to get some advice about how to improve the presentations he makes to school kids and community groups along the way.

He told stories. I took notes.

Let me remind you that Marcelo's solar car looks like Darth Vader crossed with a pumpkin seed in a wind tunnel.

It is utterly sleek, sleekly black, and perfect.

Apart from a busted tie rod and half a dozen flat tires, it ran smoothly all the way.

But he blew the transmission of his support van on the way into Whitehorse. The repair was estimated at $2,400 – money he didn't have – and it was going to take five days to get the necessary part. He stayed; no choice. He visited every school in town. And a local garage repaired the van for free.

That's how the trip has gone – fuelled by Old Sol and the kindness of strangers.

In Williams Lake, B.C., he met two old guys who eyeballed the solar car and invited Marcelo to a meeting of the local car club; they gave him a cheque for a thousand bucks.

In Fairbanks, Alaska, people passed the hat and gave him nearly $800. "That was all the money I needed for Alaska." He travels frugally. He eats tinned soup. He sleeps in the van.

The photos?

The car in Dawson City with a paddlewheeler. Being sniffed by a wolf near Fort MacPherson. On the road with horses, caribou and buffalo. And oh, rolling down the Dempster Highway, that notorious eater of cars, where every single trucker he met pulled to a stop as he neared, so as not to throw any gravel on his delicate solar panels.

He set the record without sponsors. His volunteers have worked for free. He is a Canadian hero.

But Marcelo is no engineer. He used to be an Air Canada flight attendant. He wanted an extended leave to pursue his dream. The company said no. Marcelo took time anyway. He got sacked. He is, pending the resolution of a grievance, out of a job.

You'd think a big company would want a guy like him around. Air travel is not exactly ecological, whereas Marcelo is a one-man carbon offset.

But what do I know about public relations, or the value of an innovative employee?

Next stop, Tierra del Fuego.

The Honda? Make him an offer. For a look at his trip diary, go to


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