By on August 25, 2015

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Today’s morbidly interesting victim is a friggin’ Yugo. If you know where this is going, I think there’s little else I could possibly say to encourage you to click the jump.

My taste in cars strays wildly from that of most everyone. For me, exotics sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. If a car is bad enough, I will probably relish the idea of re-engineering it so its road-worthiness is actually somewhat plausible, not to mention more…uhh…thrilling.

See, you have the guy in the Ferrari owning something exclusive due to his bank account. I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have is a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people who take cars too seriously. Sitting way on the other end of this spectrum is the famously terrible Yugo, also exclusive, but for different reasons.

Maybe now you can perhaps understand my delight when I stumbled upon our subject car… and my sadness.

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This wasn’t just any commoner-spec GV though, but a genuine GVL. From what I gather, the difference consisted of a fake basketball court glued to the dash and a special sticker on the air cleaner — you know, to show off when you have your hood open. The elemental-level modifications to the tin have been underway for some time, courtesy of Morton Salt the air.

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I climbed inside, and pretended to make sportbike sounds while admiring the peculiar placement of the village sticker collection. I then became trapped inside the Yugo.

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Coolly, I determined that the dried grease of the door lock mechanism must be overwhelmed by a sharp blow to the lock rocker switch. Only then did the Yugoslavian import release me from its not-just-metaphorical grip.

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I found this section of intact shipping plastic and the car’s low mileage remarkable. However, there was no hard evidence to be found that could be used to forge a tall tale of the Yugo’s final days of ownership. That is, until I found this picture of our protagonist at the helm of this very machine, taken back in August of last year.

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How did I get this image, you ask? A magician never reveals his secrets. License plate frames are one of those things that seem to rarely stay with a car when it changes hands. This one matches the weathered dealer sticker on the car from long-extinct Ruby Chevrolet. I’m pretty sure what we’re looking at here is cradle-to-grave, daily-driven Yugo ownership. I’m getting extreme tightwad vibes here.


 

Tomasz was an eccentric hero.

Tomasz chewed the last bite of Mrs. T’s pierogi, finding even more shredded bits of plastic. He spit them out onto the plate, and continued chewing. It disturbed him somewhat, but he thought, “Mama would be furious, but food is not to be wasted.”

He relaxed in the second-hand chair, and looked up at the flag of his mother country that was pinned to the wall of his one bedroom flat. The flag sagged in the middle, and the top half of the heraldic crest was covered in a light tinge of dust. Eurovision blared out of the small-tube television sitting on the TV cart next to the table.

After swallowing that last mouthful, Tomasz walked into the bathroom for a piss. He zipped up and admired the poster on the wall of a European prize fighter in a ready stance. Tomasz raised his fists as if squaring off with the man, and threw a few light blows to the air.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon, and he was now ready to face the work day.

The 55 year old exited the apartment into the thick air of Summit, IL. Stench from human waste, left to dry out in the sun in large vats, filled his nostrils and mixed with the nearby corn sweetener and asphalt plants. An orange and purple jetliner blasted overhead in a climb-out. The cacophony of truck parks, hissing gas valves, a rail yard, and a major interstate combined into a roaring din of industry.

Tomasz found the Yugo in the usual spot in the parking lot, squatting over its oil stain. He took the time today to perform some routine maintenance on his automobile. After all, he would tell others that this is why “There are no more Yugo left, because Americans are lazy and irresponsible,” and that given a little routine attention (like replacing the carburetor right after buying the car), this frugal machine will run forever. Tomasz added the missing quart of engine oil with his special blend of bottom shelf 10W-30, STP motor honey, and DEXRON in equal parts. The addition of transmission oil was a trick he learned long ago to boost gas mileage. He walked around, kicking the tires to insure they were still inflated to the self-imposed spec of 40 psi. “The high pressure is key for the excellent fuel burn,” he told himself, as was a clean air filter element. He would have liked to replace this vapor-soaked piece with a genuine Yugo part as specified, but those were in short supply. Instead, Tomasz resorted to throwing it to the ground repeatedly to shake off any dust. On a nice day like today, he might give the Yugo a bath with dishwashing liquid. However, thanks to the rust penetrating enough to stain the door cards, those days were long gone. Finally, he unsnapped the distributor cap, and inspected inside. “Hrrmmm.”

At Advance Auto Parts, the familiar sound of the little bucket droned, and then puttered outside. One counter person said to the other, “Hey, wait till you get a load of this guy. He drives a Yugo.” Tomasz walked up to the counter with the young man eagerly awaiting to serve him.

“I need a rotor bug.”

The employee asked with bated breath, as if confirming the unbelievable, “For…what kind of car?”

Tomasz replied, “1989 Yugo Gee Vee El.”

The young man peered into the monitor with stunned disbelief.

QTY DC 763: [34]

QTY ON HAND: [1]

Tomasz paid his $13 in cash and left with his new part. One of the employees watched out the window as the Yugo fired up and sputtered out onto Harlem Avenue. He then whipped his head around to face his fellow man, exclaiming, “Holy shit!”

The Yugo’s split muffler bleated past the GM Electromotive plant like a sheep in the Bosnian countryside. Tomasz employed 4th gear at 38 mph for fuel conservation. The plucky automobile responded by vibrating like a paint shaker. Then, he turned on the radio…in his mind, and hummed a favorite tune.

“Żadnego już nie powiesz jutro
OOOooooooohhhhh Ooooooooooohhh
 nie powiesz jutro
Żadnego z nich nie będziesz jutro czuć”

Tomasz turned on his signal for East Avenue — not just to indicate a left turn, but to supply power to the fuel and temperature gauges. As he always had, Tomasz watched as they gradually powered up. The temp was in the normal range, and the fuel gauge indicated half a tank remaining. The needles pulsed slightly with the indicator in unison. (Yes, this is really a thing they do). Tomasz eased the GVL carefully through the turn so as not to slosh fuel out of the tank from the rotten filler neck. The Yugo finished its five-mile commute at the end of the frontage road, and it gasped out a “putt-putt-putt-putt-pitter-putt” before being shut down.

Tomasz checked his Casio. He was right on time to begin another eighteen-hour shift.

Tomasz clocked in, and took his place in the end booth on the northbound side. He then hung his yellow placard in the window.

Illinois Tollway Plaza 37

Your toll collector: Tomasz Kuszczak

The veteran collector of twenty years seniority was as good at his job as you would expect. He warmed up with the building traffic that would form an onslaught of vehicles within minutes. His lane always flowed the fastest. Monies flew through his blue, condom-clad fingertips. An hour in, and his hands already had the tinge of silver and schmutz.

“Hello, how are you?” a man asked, handing Tomasz yet another $20 bill. He ignored the friendly gesture entirely, as it was nothing more than a burden of .014 seconds. Just fractions of seconds that would build exponentially until it deprived the field of motorists sprawled out behind this rig. Tomasz craned his neck out, counting the axles on the man’s trailer, and responded, “Dollar twenty.” Then the money flowed. In this rush hour, he had two “This is bullshit” type comments for taking what the motorists thought were excessive, and one for taking what they thought was too little yet imposing the inconvenience.

It was getting late. The flow through his flashing booth turned into a trickle. The clientele appeared to turn more weary, drunk, and belligerent. Some cackling teens in a beat-up Saturn slapped a pile of filthy pennies in front of him in an attempt to stick it to The Man.

Tomasz responded, “Oh! It’s just like Christmas!”, and slowly counted each penny.

“Twenty-five, twenty-six…”, the Saturn crept forward out of his periphery, “…twenty-nine, thirty-STOP!!” The startled teen mashed the brakes.

“…thirty-three…”

It was 3 a.m. when the murdered-out Dodge Ram stopped at his window. The angry man asked “Is this really your job?” Tomasz was unaffected, and handed him his change. The man in the truck shook his head, snorted, and throttled out into the night. Tomasz just grinned. This was really his job. He was quite content here at Plaza 37 on I-294, right next door to the sewage treatment plant. As the temps rose hotter, that sucker would pump out its rich funk, and the seasonal hires would duck out. He could get all the hours he wanted here. On track to clear $90,000 in 2015 with full benefits. He wished Mr. Ram all the best, watching his one tail light disappear around the bend.

“Break time!”

After handling most of the morning rush, Tomasz punched his time card and left the chaos for his tinny sled. As he prodded the gas pedal to warm the engine so it wouldn’t stall, he dreamed of being back at his place, handling some light chores before hitting the sack. The Yugo avoided the frenetic danger of LaGrange Road and I-55, cutting its way back along old Route 66. Tomasz waited in the right lane for 55th Street. His indicator flashed, and he checked his gauges again. Then, something peculiar happened. The clicking slowed to a stop. Tomasz was puzzled by this, and clicked the signal lever off and then back on. There was a buzz, and that’s when the smoke rolled out of all the dash vents. Tomasz whipped off his seat belts, and bolted out the door.

“Kurwaaaa mac!!”

He waited for a short time for the smoke to dissipate before nervously getting back into the idling Yugo and limping home.

In the weeks that followed, Tomasz tried in vain to get his Yugo’s lighting circuit working again. There was a brief eureka moment when he discovered the burnt-out fuse, but its replacement only resulted in even more smoke. The boys at Advance Auto Parts sadly could not help with finding “the wires” in their computer either. He began skipping all the shifts at work that required a nighttime commute. He could have a professional take a look at it, but realized his machine required specialized foreign auto technicians. Those were expensive. Tomasz came to the conclusion that purchasing this car in 1989 for $4,600 after rustproofing had a pretty good final ROI. He opened the hatch and examined the rust hole in the strut tower again. This area looked important. He sighed, closed the hatch and said, “You’re not costing me any money.”

The GVL left the apartments and puttered across the street to Pick-N-Pull. Tomasz parked his car for the last time. He perused the cars for sale with wonder. He didn’t know that the junkyard sold cars, and they were cheap!

“This Neon here. This good car?”

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41 Comments on “Last Rides Premium Selects: You Goin’ Nowhere...”


  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I could post an excerpt of one of these many extremely witty, well-crafted paragraphs, to use as an example of why this is so fantastic, but I won’t; a fragment of this entire essay can’t do justice to its holistic, fundamental element.

    I could try to add some prose of my own to attempt to illustrate my own ability to wax so eloquently & passionately, but I won’t; I don’t possess this level of skill.

    I could simply praise this and request a similarly awesome essay more frequently on TTAC (or anywhere else),but I won’t; it would be the height of naivety to demand or expect that something this good can be so easily replicated on anything approximating any regular schedule.

    I’ll simply proclaim Bravo! It’s one of the best things automotive I’ve read all year.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    It’s pretty bizarre to see an interior in such great shape, with an exterior that has been eaten by the rust-monster.

    On another note, I wonder who decided the gearshift was something they needed to take home?

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I keep saying it man…you have a privileged imagination.

    Kudos.

  • avatar
    pdieten

    Oh man this is awesome. I can completely see this guy in my mind’s eye.

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Captures life in Chicago area to a T. Very good stuff!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Fantastic.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    Great short story. I felt like a took a little journey while peeking into Tomasz’s life. I could almost smell his Yugo in motion: Gasoline fumes mixed with sputtering exhaust. Thanks for the interesting read.

  • avatar
    Joss

    From the Yugo side that were best at killing Nazis.

    Hmm wonder why it has a city of Toronto flag type emblem on it’s steering wheel?

    Maybe a Justy platform would fit this body and get some fun out of it?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    It makes me sad that this Yugo has more wood tone in it than my 5000 did.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “There are no more Yugo left, because Americans are lazy and irresponsible”

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Frend;

      You say this as joke of America, I can assure. But in my country I saw at regard 4 yugo GVl’s just this past week. Is true, sometimes wood placard is not sufficient in glueing to fascias, but when there is for correct maintain of engine compartment; is good. Proudly these cars built as sediment of communism idea of simple car for interested personal driving, with luxury edifices inside, of maple (or Burl Ives walnut, ha ha!) so look.

      -True frend,-
      Grango Relago

  • avatar
    mikey

    Dead Weights’s review has pretty well summed up my thoughts .
    Excellent work Dude ! ..You’ve put a , much needed , smile on my face .

  • avatar
    stevelyon

    Bravo, Crabspirits!

    So damn good.

  • avatar
    Willyam

    Truly great. I only had the misfortune to experience the other end of the Yugo life cycle with a college roommate. His father had acquired the silver 1988-ish model as a freebie. Dealerships really did this back then – “buy a new Chevy/Ford truck and get a Yugo free!” It was given to the son to drive to college and then permanently warehouse in the lower level of the athletic dorm/apartments garage. There it sat, shiny silver, no miles, rubbery parking brake holding fast in the dark.

    It never occurred to me to wonder where these all went until this excellent tale. I hope they all wound up with someone too eccentric for a Corolla.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Man,
    This story brings back memories. Dan K was the caddie master at the country club in the town I grew up in. After leaving that job he became a toll taker on the PA turnpike.
    Dan was of Polish descent, but did not have an accent since he was first generation American. He ran the caddie game with an iron fist.which was necessary when dealing with a bunch of testosterone soaked teenage boys. He was an imposing figure to us scrawny kids. Way before body building and tats were fashionable, he sported bulging biceps and tats on his forearms and biceps that he acquired during his eight year stint in the US Navy. When the ineviable suffles would break out, Dan would just yell as he stood in the doorway of the pro shop with his arms crossed and biceps bulging. Everytone would scatter as soon as he took one step towards the problem.
    He lived alone and walked to work ocassionly taking a taxi to work in bad weather. He did not own a car, but said matter of factly that he could buy a new Cadillac with cash if he wanted to but didn’t believe in spending money on cars.
    I didn’t know it at the time, but Dan had been grooming me to work in the pro shop as well as continue to caddie. To get that job, you had to pass loyalty and honesty tests that I wasn’t even aware of. One of the loyalty tests was doing two loops on a busy Sunday in August. In those days, there were certain unwritten rules that the better golfers followed on weekends. First, was no carts on the weekend mornings unless you were physically challenged or a woman or a male dweeb. You hired a caddie or carried your own bag. Pull carts were not acceptable either. Weekend tee times were arranged so the first two three used caddies. This speed up play since the caddiies were down range of the tees, and could locate the balls before the player waled there. So if your first round teed off at 8:30 you would be finished about 12:30. On busy days, Dan was waiting with two more bags to carry as you dropped of the first two. Refusing to do a second loops got you on the S**t list.
    The summer before 11th grade, I was recruited to work in the pro shop. This meant that I worked side by side with Dan the Man pulling bags, loading carts etc. Dan taught us how to hustle. On a typical weekend there would be 100 or more bags to put away after washing the clubs by hand. No one could leave until all the clubs were cleaned and stored. Dan taught us how to do this faster than we could have imagined.
    The job has some slack times too. Sometimes Dan would tell me stores about his exploits in the Navy. Shore leave usually combined drinking and loose women. To a young teenager, listening to these first hand tales was like dying and going to heaven.
    Since I had a driver’s license and sometimes a car, I also ran errands for the pro. I did this job for two years before graduating from high school leaving the country club forever.
    Years later my cousin who was two years younger than me and also worked in the pro shop after I left ran into Dan who had also left the club. My cousin was now in his late twenties and traveled around for his sales job. He told me that he found Dan working as a toll taker on the PA turnpike near Phila. My cousin said that one lane was moving much faster than the others so he got into it. When my cousin got to the toll both, there was Dan taking tolls twice as fast as the other toll takers. He was just born to hustle.
    I also used that turnpike exit frequently and decided to get into the line that moved the fastest on one of my trips. Sure enough, Dan was working the tool booth.
    I haven’t seen him in over 20 years, but he would be in his late 70’s now, and probably lives in Florida with his dog and a late 60’s Cadillac he bought with cash.

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m familiar with every place you mentioned or not but that was fantastic!

    I think Tomasz actually is a Toll Collector too.

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    Wait a minute, it’s a story by Crabspirits AND it’s about a Yugo?! Why of course I’ll click the jump! On a side note, Edmunds just picked up a Yugo for a long term road test – amusing to say the least.

    Deadweight hit the nail on the head. These stories are great. Even though I come to TTAC for other stories, I’m almost ashamed to say that my favorite feature is the Junkyard Finds by Murilee & possible resulting story by CS. The anticipation builds as I scroll down the comments to see if there is a CS story or not. What?! No story on the Nova?! Oh well, maybe next time. It can’t be Christmas every day, right?

    Fabulous as always.

  • avatar
    zamoti

    Aah, fond memories of my first car. Mine was sent packing sometime in 1994, but I shall never forget it. Learned to drive stick in that thing, it was like running a wooden spoon through a bag of pretzels in both the sound and the feel. Getting reverse was only for the elite few such as my brother and I–mom could never do it and would just let it roll backward when required.
    It soldiered on after being rear-ended by a dodge pickup; neighbor tied what was left of the bumper to a tree and dropped the clutch hard a few times to yank it back into shape. It was mostly straight.
    It overheated in the summer and had no heat in the winter. The switchgear was supremely primitive but still had electrical problems. I never had the one with the turn signal/gauges, but when you used the headlights, the left turn signal would light dimly and would not blink unless you turned the headlights off. The backup lights hung from the bumper and were nonexistent after the crash which made backing up a night a lot of fun.
    It was the slowest thing out there, not helped by a failing clutch–I sold it to a younger neighbor while it was actively overheating. I actually exchanged cash in front of the thing while steam was blowing out. High school buddy told me that he saw the kid who bought it drive it into their side yard that night and it never moved again. $400 for a blue yard ornament.
    Ownership was interesting, but I’m glad my first car was at least something interesting.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Thought those window stickers were for JD Power Initial Quality awards

  • avatar
    NN

    extremely well done, really enjoyed this story.

  • avatar
    alex159569

    WOW! Joining the praise everyone here is offering up to say thanks for an awesome story… as an immigrant myself (moved to the wonderful USA as a kid) this PERFECTLY describes a huge majority of the adults I grew up around. Kudos Crabspirits!

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    God help me, I really like that dash.

    It’s so clean and straight and simple.

    Unlike *everything else* about the car, it’s aged very well.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      I suppose that makes sense — most of the car is a warmed over Fiat 127, but the dashboard was designed new for the Yugo. So it’s quite a bit newer.

      The woodgrain, oddly, really helps — go look for pictures without it.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      I truly love the fantasy that the Speedo has that this car would ever make it to 110 mph. Made even more fantastic as cars of the ’80s and especially those of the cheap variety, had speedos that were limited to 85 mph.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Kudos to Crabby for making my week, and thanks to the editors for making this happen! Keep it coming.

  • avatar
    thunderjet

    My this captures life in that area to a “T”. I grew up/live in a Chicago neighborhood that Summit, IL (or as we on the Chicago side call it Scummit) borders and you described the area and this particular gentleman to perfection. Cheap old Europeans and new immigrants make up the bulk of this neighborhoods population. It’s one of the few cases where the area of the City of Chicago next to a suburb is nicer than the suburb it borders (Thanks to the City of Chicago employee residence rule this particular neighborhood, the furthest west in the city, is full of police/fire/city workers.). I’ve seen that POS Yugo driving around before but not in awhile. Now I know what happened to it. Small world.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Thanks Crabspirits. Not that I didn’t love the story as I always do, but to be honest I had the biggest chuckle out of you getting stuck in the dam thing.

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