August 22nd, 2010:

YUGOS — THEY DON’T GO!

A Yugo from the 1980s

Remember Yugos, the cheap little car phenomenon from Serbia? It was an 80s hit with an initial price of $3990 and modeled after a Fiat. Almost 142,000 cars were sold between 1985 and 1991. Because of its unreliability, Car Talk named it the worst car of the millennium!

Jason Vuic, a professor at Bridgewater College in Virginia has written a book about the Yugo craze and mentions a few hilarious jokes. “What’s included in every Yugo owner’s manual? A bus schedule.” And, “What do you call a Yugo with brakes? Customized.” Like my Datsun a few years before, Yugos were small enough to walk when needed!

In 1997, a Manhattan School of Visual Arts professor, Kevin O’Callaghan, put an ad in the paper asking for Yugos that were either dead or alive. He ended up buying 39 Yugos for $3,600 and had his students make functional art from them. The exhibit toured the country.

In an amusing synchronicity, my Aunt Rosie and cousin Ray Scott, who’d taken the Northern California trip in my Olds (second installment of the car saga), got to experience riding in the Yugo. My kids and I drove to Ray Scott’s Navy training graduation in San Diego. To celebrate afterwards, I piled five people in that tiny car to drive to an oceanside restaurant. (Note: Ray Scott decided the Navy wasn’t for him and became a country western singer: look him up!).

Aunt Rosie, Hansi, Ms. X, & cousins Ray & Jackie - Anchors Aweigh!

Not long after, I had my Yugo’s oil changed before a long trip in afternoon traffic from the San Fernando Valley south to Orange County  on the 405, one of the busiest freeways in So Cal. Within a week, little Yugo decided to give out at the top of a freeway off-ramp. I was thankful I was close to home, and it wasn’t on the freeway at rush hour. As I’d done before, I pushed her out of the way and called AAA.

Her prognosis was grim: there was no oil in the engine and it was entirely “kaput” as they say in German. I couldn’t fathom what had happened but concluded a local quick lube place had had a malfunction in oil replacement. I went to small claims court and took along a friend of  my daughter Heidi’s, who had had his own gas station at one time. He made an excellent witness.

I won $1,000 but the lube place owner wasn’t happy with the decision and called me to say he wanted to appeal it. I didn’t have to pretend my anguish and told him right away that I was single and financially strapped. Graciously, he conceded and sent the check immediately.

Getting a new engine was not the ideal solution I had hoped for. My Yugo’s aging pains got worse and she had an early demise. Little did I know she might have ended up a piece of metal sculpture.  My luck was changing by that time. My brother had a used BMW (he had bought it new and she was well pampered) and he gave her to me when he got a new car. Nothing quite like German engineering. She lived with me until she’d clocked over 220,000 miles; she was still very driveable.

When I inherited some money, my fortunes turned very positive. I could actually buy a new car for the first time. I sold Ms BMW to my friend, Pat, who loves to provide good homes for used cars. My best car friend now is my Bondi Beach blue Mustang, and I bought her brand new. With low mileage for her age, she’s still running strong despite the scratches from parking (Heidi says she looks like she’s participated in a demolition derby). I continue to  like the good old American Ford.

My birthday falls in the Chinese Year of the Horse, and I felt a Mustang would bring me luck. She proved it when she was younger and parked on the street. A distracted fellow on his cell phone plowed into her rear end, and my wonderful blue steed was pretty squashed. Since she had very few miles on her, she got revamped completely and has run without a hitch ever since. I wish I could say the same about myself!

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