1989 Yugo GVL: The Penalty Box Goes Back to Service
by Mike Monticello, Senior Road Test Editor on September 23, 2015
The first time I tried to take our 1989 Yugo GVL home, the car wouldn't start. Dead battery.
Not long after, I was asked (told?) to drive the Yugo to Huntington Beach for some more work at Top Tech Auto. It wasn't so much that I'd done anything wrong — the Yugo's main purpose in our fleet is to serve as a "penalty box" for editorial screw-ups, remember — but rather the bosses were calling this move a genius bit of "advance planning."
"It's only a matter of time before Monticello flubs up again," they said. "So let's just get it over with and punish him now."
Of course it was a stifling hot day. Edmunds car czar Mike Schmidt and I would caravan from our offices in Santa Monica to Huntington Beach, about 40 miles south. Mike would luxuriate in the perfectly air-conditioned 2015 BMW M235i Convertible, while I would command the totally non-air-conditioned Balkan Bullet, as resident Yugo savant Josh Sadlier likes to call it.
Unlike my aborted first attempt a few weeks earlier, this time the Yugo fired right up. Darn it. Stupid new battery. Of course the first order of business was rolling down the windows, made more difficult by the stubby, newly broken handle on the driver's side.
Sadlier had warned that the gearbox isn't the most precise ever. "Reverse is down there somewhere," he said with a laugh. In the grand scheme of crappy old cars though, it really wasn't a big deal. And damn me to hell for my blasphemy against those "Porsche is a two-syllable word" dorks, but the Yugo's gearbox is easier to work than the one in our old long-term 1985 Porsche 911.
Our stalling problems appear to have been fixed, as the car ran fine. Sure does get hot inside the cabin, though. Even with both side windows down, there was precious little cross-flow ventilation. My cold bottle of water was warm within minutes, and I quickly lost any desire to drink it for the hour-plus drive south in thick traffic.
I enjoyed the car's low limits around the few turns I encountered in Santa Monica before getting on the highway. But I was keenly aware of the dire consequences were there a sudden stop in highway traffic while I traveling 70 mph. Skinny tires, no ABS and a mushy brake pedal are good ingredients for instant adventure.
We got to Top Tech Auto without a hitch, other than Monticello nearly dying of thirst. We quickly realized the owner of the shop has pretty much adopted the car as one of his own. It's safe to say he's more concerned about the Yugo's health and well-being than any of us on staff. Josh can tell you more about the service performed in a later post.
And yes, there was some debate as to whether that bicycle in the above photo might be a quicker, more reliable form of daily transportation.
Better airflow, for sure.
Mike Monticello, Senior Road Test Editor