1989 Yugo GVL: Fond Memories Surface at DMV Inspection
August 3, 2015
The Department of Motor Vehicles parking lot is packed at 9:25 a.m. All parking spaces are full and there is a line of people out the door. Two lanes lead around to the back side of the building. In the right lane idles a row of at least 10 cars with sweaty teenagers behind the wheel, anxiously waiting to take their on-road driving test.
The left lane is for vehicle inspections only: Used cars, recently repaired cars or cars purchased out of state. I maneuver our 1989 Yugo GVL into the left lane and around the turn.
I am the only car in line for inspection. Ahead of me stands a DMV driving instructor, visibly nervous to begin her day of what must rank among the most stressful jobs on the planet. She directs me to pull forward to the STOP painted on the ground ahead. Five feet short of the stop, she calls out excitedly, "Sir, shut off your car. Shut it off!"
Until now, I did not understand her insistence. Here she is standing in front of some stranger in a beater revving at 3,000-plus rpm. Little does she know the Yugo only idles reliably above 3,000 rpm. Outside the car, she is terrified. Inside the car I am calmly and carefully creeping forward as instructed.
I shut down the car. Color returns to her face as the engine clamor subsides. She lowers her arms from a bracing position and returns focus to the column of raging hormones in the other lane. My gaze pans left to the building, where I find my inspiration for this blog entry.
A man steps from the glass doors of the DMV office and catches sight of the Yugo. He stops in his tracks. I watch the door he's just exited bang comically against his shoulder before he snaps out of his trance. Now there's a huge smile on his face.
Larry has been a vehicle inspector with the California DMV for 15 years. Not once has he seen a Yugo come in. He approaches but doesn't even say hello. There is a story he's held inside for years and this is the moment he's meant to tell it. He looks me straight in the eye.
"Whoa, so many memories, man," Larry says.
I don't know where he's going next, but he has my full attention.
"You could get one of these for $2,000 fully loaded, between a Rabbit and a Renault," he continues. "When I graduated high school, my mom said 'you get a trip, a computer or a car'. I picked the Yugo. My first car. I drove that thing everywhere."
Then he stares into the distance in silence for several seconds.
"I don't remember what happened to the car," he says, snapping out of it. "Wait. Actually, I gave it to a friend that needed some help at the time. Yeah. And I never saw him or the car again." Another extended pause. "Is it okay if I take some pictures?"
I let him take all the pictures he wants. He pokes around under the hood, points at the spare tire and calls a nearby security guard over. "I used to own one of these."
The two of them check out the car for a few more minutes. They ask where I bought it and why I would do such a thing. It's a fun conversation. Larry is all smiles.
"This really makes my day. Thanks for letting me take a look at it."
I climb back into the Yugo, fire it up and pull away. In the rearview mirror the row of waiting teens still wraps around the building, out of sight. And standing on the curb is Larry, his arms crossed and a grin still beaming across his face.
Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager