“How are you getting home?” Freddy Hernandez, my esteemed colleague and terrible gift-giver asked me, after gifting me a dilapidated Yugo. “The regular route, on the highway,” I told him. “I wouldn’t do that,” he told me. “Really wouldn’t do that.”
Freddy had driven it from New Jersey, where it had lived for however long under its original owner, to our office, and it held up just fine then, he explained. But the main problem with taking my Communist heap of greatness on the highway, with its higher speed limits, wasn’t a lack of power.
Sure, it had maybe 67 horsepower when new and that wasn’t much, and who the hell knows how much power it’s got now, but it actually had enough to get to those speeds.
The problem was the suspension. And the wheels. And the chassis. And the tires. And really everything else that makes up the car. You technically could take it on the highway, much in the same way you technically could go BASE jumping off the Empire State Building with a sweet, sweet landing on Fifth Avenue.
But it’s almost definitely a bad idea, and someone is bound to get hurt.
Nevertheless, I needed to work on it in some capacity, and the best way to do that was not on the side of my busy little street in Brooklyn. The best way to do it would be to take it to Long Island, where a friend of mine said I could use his parents’ garage. The only problem is that the main route to Long Island takes somewhere between three and four highways. I would have to take local streets instead, which was not a problem.
The maximum speed limit on those was a mere 35 mph, or so I thought. It turns out I am very bad at figuring out the speed limits on roads I have never traveled before. In actuality, there was one stretch where the speed limit was 50 mph, so it meant everyone would be doing at least 65 mph.
If I didn’t want to run the (admittedly remote) chance of getting rear-ended in a tin foil box with no real semblance of a head rest, I’d have to keep up.
Merging onto North Conduit Avenue, I stepped on the gas and hustled the little Yugo up to traffic speeds as fast as I could. That took a while, partially because even when it was brand new its zero to 60 time was somewhere around a billion years, and mostly because the illustrious Bob Sorokanich of the esteemed religious and spirituality newsletter “Road & Track” had busted the throttle that very morning.
(“Please be gentle,” I told him. “It’s communist.” He promptly floored it, and a bracket broke, meaning I now had to push the throttle pedal down about halfway before I started moving anywhere at all. It’s fine. We jerry-rigged a fix later. IT’S FINE.)
As the Yugo gasped and wheezed up to 50 mph, and then some weeks later, 60 mph, massive metal shapes loomed in the rear-view mirror, bearing down and threatening to splatter my proletariat steed all over the dull concrete.
Those massive metal shapes, I learned once they easily breezed by, were actually just Honda Civics and whatnot. It turns out everything looks enormous when you’re small.
Driving it at that speed was nerve-wracking. My teeth were clenched, my fists were clenched, everything was clenched. With each passing motorist, the whole thing would sway and rock from side to side as the brick-like aerodynamics sought to throw it off the road. A stiff crosswind led to a fight with the cock-eyed steering wheel as it tried to writhe out of my hands. Small cracks in the surface would make the whole thing bang, rattle, and squeak as it felt like the car threatened to tear itself apart in protest.
It was a bit like being tossed around in a leaky rowboat during a hurricane.
After a few minutes, traffic finally slowed down and came to a stop light. While we couldn’t have been sitting there long, the temperature gauge started angrily creeping up. The Yugo was pissed.
Once we got moving—slower, this time—some air started flowing back into the engine and it all seemed to calm down a bit. It was just a bit further, with a stop at a traditional Long Island diner for breakfast, until we made it to our destination.
While there, my friend Jesse helped me put it on jacks to get a better look at what we were dealing with.
Which is when we found out the rear brakes didn’t work at all.