1989 Yugo GVL: Monterey Car Week - Two Visits to the Yugo Doctor
by Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor on September 1, 2015
We had one week remaining to get our 1989 Yugo GVL straight. Editor Elfalan had found a carburetor rebuild kit, but what if the stalling and stumbling was about more than just the carb?
As @desmolicious noted in a comment on J-Elf's post, the previous owner kept a few fuel filters in the trunk. "Keeping spare filters suggests the filters are getting clogged, suggesting there is some junk in the fuel system. Maybe you need to flush out the gas tank?"
Maybe so. Note, too, that the e-brake wasn't grabbing, we had no dash illumination and the cabin smelled like 87 octane. And CNN was sending a team to Monterey to drive the car on camera.
We needed to find an expert who could sort things out.
Vehicle Testing Director Dan Edmunds recommended an old acquaintance named David Snow at Top Tech Automotive in Huntington Beach.
"Tell him I know him," Dan said, "and have flagged with his brother, and used to throw flags at his late father, Bob. I don't remember the last time he and I spoke. Maybe 20 years. But he knows old Fiats. He should have some ideas about a Yugo."
Huntington Beach is a trafficky 45 miles south of Santa Monica, but there was no compelling alternative. I made an appointment for Tuesday morning.
Our planned departure for Monterey was Thursday at 1 p.m. sharp.
First good sign when I walked into the shop: a photo of David's father racing a Fiat X1/9, which came standard with the "sporty" Yugo GVX's 1.3-liter engine (a 1.5-liter was also available).
Second good sign: David was a Fiat X1/9 racer himself back in the day. These photos and others hung on the wall of his office. Pretty cool.
Looking under the car, David immediately noticed a wack weld job on the exhaust. We would soon encounter some exhaust issues of our own on the streets of Monterey. There was no sign of imminent failure, however, so he moved on.
After fiddling extensively with the carburetor (see notes below), he pronounced it healthy enough. "The carb's okay," he said, "but you've got a misfire on cylinders three and four because there's too much resistance. Someone put in the wrong rotor and spark plug wires."
He wanted to replace the rotor and wires along with the distributor cap, but he couldn't get the parts till the next day.
He did get the car idling properly, though, by cleaning out the carb and messing with both the idle and fuel-mixture screws. He also installed a missing purge hose (that's likely where the gas smell was coming from), tightened the e-brake and — get this ? soldered a dislodged metal tab back into the dimmer rheostat to restore our dashboard lights.
Here's page one of the very detailed invoice...
...and page two. An exceedingly modest fee for the work performed.
Regarding the cap, rotor and wires, I told him that the stabilized idle would be enough to get us through the weekend, and we'd take care of that stuff later. But on my way home (that's my wife's GTI providing context in the photo), I noticed that the engine had lost some zest. If we were making the full 55 horsepower before — a not completely fanciful assumption given that we hit the factory top speed of 86 mph on the Boise-LA trip — I figured we were down to about 40-45 now.
Maybe that was the price we had to pay for an idle that worked, but I kept thinking about those misfiring cylinders, and David's confidence that he could fix them. I didn't relish the idea of another trip to Huntington Beach, but we couldn't have any mechanical "what ifs" on this trip. I called him when I got home and asked if I could come back Thursday morning. He said Thursday looked good.
I said I'd see him first thing.
When I pulled into Top Tech on Thursday at 7:30 a.m., the stalling issue had returned with a vengeance, and we were still down a few Slavic horses. I was relieved that I'd made the follow-up appointment, but now our Yugo Doctor only had about three hours to re-stabilize the idle and put the new parts in, too.
After more testing, he determined that @desmolicious was right. We had a sludge problem in the fuel tank which, like the rest of the car, had sat for roughly 10 years starting in the early 2000s. One little fuel filter wasn't enough to keep the sludge from clogging the carburetor. It had gotten all sludged up again in less than 100 miles.
What to do?
The good doctor couldn't pull the gas tank and clean it, obviously. We had to drive to Monterey, stat. Instead, he came up with the ingenious solution of installing a second fuel filter between the fuel pump and the carburetor, so that any sludge that made it past the first filter would have an additional barrier to contend with.
The new filter was a big metal one, dwarfing the transparent plastic type that the previous owner favored. For good measure, David also replaced the old plastic filter with one of the spares we had in the car.
Right on time, the Yugo was ready to go. The idle wandered a bit, but it felt fierce, and I could tell right away that all 55 ponies were back in the stable.
Total cost for both visits: $566.17, or about 0.6 Edmunds Yugos.
Would we accomplish our Monterey mission before the sludge overwhelmed our makeshift dual-filtration system?
I was morbidly interested to find out.
Josh Sadlier, Senior Editor