When I’m feeling content and charitable and generally happy, I’ll describe unusual shitbox ownership as something that provides many opportunities for unexpected adventures. While I think there’s truth to that statement, that happy coin has a filthy, unpleasant other side, one that involves inconvenience, discomfort and danger, and laying on cold gravel fumbling around under a grimy car in the dark. My Yugo provided me with both sides of this coin recently, and it ended in my fixing the car with a rock. A rock as a crucial part, not a tool. I’ll explain.
The day after Thanksgiving I decided to take my kid to the North Carolina Zoo. Sometimes you just want to see some giraffes and elephants, and strange pig-like things with your own eyes, you understand. Besides, did you know the North Carolina Zoo is the largest natural habitat zoo in the world? I didn’t, but at 1,371 acres, it is. That huge size also means that the zoo is in a sort of remote location, about an hour drive from where I live, a drive that I decided to make in my Yugo.
Since my Nissan Pao is being repaired after my warm embrace with a deer, I’ve been driving the Yugo more and more recently, and I’ve found it surprisingly enjoyable. At 67 eager little horsepower, it’s the most powerful car in my personal fleet (aside from my wife’s Tiguan, which I don’t count) so it’s been fun to whip around like a kook.
And, on the drive to the zoo, which includes a lot of lovely two-lane state roads and some twisty back roads, the Yugo was doing great!
I even took some proud pictures of the humble Yugo en route, and this was also the first big trip with my new 3D-printed hood badge, complete with a bit of extra Torch-branding, as you can see in that drizzle-spattered call out there.
The zoo was great; here’s a big-ass porcupine, a gorilla in a blanket, and a pair of arctic foxes for your enjoyment.
All seemed upbeat as we prepared to leave just before sundown. I even took a picture of the Yugo as I was amused by just how absurdly tiny it looked in the parking lot next to a mainstream SUV. We drove off, and all seemed fine.
A few minutes out of the zoo, I approached a traffic light, and, like a good citizen, stopped at the red light. I shifted into what I assumed was first, like normal, but when the light turned green, I hit the gas and was only greeted with noise—no motion.
I grabbed the gearshift and felt it flopping around flaccidly and uselessly, and heard a scraping sound from below.
People were honking behind me, but what did they expect, they’re behind a Yugo? They should have been aware that non-motion was always a possibility here.
Finally, people went around me, and I was able to roll backwards into a gas station driveway just behind me, and roll the car into a parking spot.
I squirmed under the car and looked to see the problem, which was thankfully pretty obvious, and the fundamental sort of problem one tends to get on an old Yugo: one piece has suddenly decided to become two. Here, look:
See that upper disc-like thing? And then see that rubber-looking patty, attached somehow to that other rusty metal disc? It sort of looks like a Double Stuf Oreo made of rust and grime, only the top cookie has slipped off.
That’s the shifter linkage. Those two parts are supposed to be connected together, but there’s no hole through the middle for a bolt or anything like that. Maybe some kind of adhesive was used? I have no idea.
At the time, under the car, on the cold, rocky ground and with the sun rapidly descending and my still-happy but definitely hoping to be home soon kid in the back, I cursed the Zastava engineers that decided that this should be two pieces held together with a rubber disc as opposed to one, solid metal piece.
Why is it like this? Is it supposed to help with vibration? If so, I can’t say it really works, as my shifter vibrates like freaking tuning fork:
Anyway, I saw what I needed to do, which was to connect these two disc-like parts together well enough for me to shift the car into gear to get home.
Here’s what this part looks like new; it’s used on a bunch of Fiats as well as the Yugo, and for obvious reasons it’s nicknamed “the lollipop”:
Quickly connecting two disc-like shapes like that isn’t easy. I didn’t have the time or resources to get the part off and drill a hole for a bolt, I didn’t have time to try and JB Weld it back together, since it would have to cure at least overnight. My options were pretty limited, but I had a few ideas in my head, but they all needed things I didn’t have.
A guy hanging around the gas station watching me — because there always seems to be guys hanging around gas stations watching people — asked what was up, and after telling him, mentioned that there was an auto parts store just a little ways down the street, and he had a friend who could drive me.
The store was closing soon, so I figured a ride was my best chance to get there, so I gave him a few bucks for his friend’s time and gas, and was led to the truck with his friend.
The truck and driver situation was, um, not ideal. The driver, rakishly clad in leather pants, was absolutely unintelligible, and the truck cab was filled with all kinds of crap. The bed was only half-filled with garbage bags of, uh, who the hell knows what, and it was indicated that if we wanted a ride to the store, that’s where we’d ride.
I wasn’t keen about taking my kid with me in the pickup bed like that, but an offer from the first gas-station denizen to watch him made me realize that there was no way in hell he was leaving my side, so we both hopped in the truck bed.
It was only down the street, right? Just a quick ride in a truck bed. Not so bad! Oh, there was this flag in the truck bed, though:
A strange hybrid NC state flag/Confederate battle flag. Not what a Jewish Eastern Bloc car driver with his kid really wants to see, and, besides, this flag is bullshit, anyway. North Carolina was the last state to secede in the Civil War, and there’s zero historic precedent for this stupid, shitty flag.
But, the store was closing soon, and I needed to get home. So in we went, laying low, amongst the trash bags of, um, items, and ready to hop out and bolt at a stop light if shit felt too weird.
Luckily, it was all fine. We get to the auto parts store, I thanked the dude, and told him I’m happy to walk back to the car, and he said something that sounded like Klingon spoken through a mouthful of live bees, and went on his way.
I also suggested to Otto that maybe mom didn’t need to know about this part of our adventure.
Finally with access to some kind of resources, I came up with my plan to get the thing to hold together just enough to get home. It involved hose clamps.
I bought the last pack of hose clamps that seemed the right size, and a screwdriver. Oh, and some snacks for Otto, and we trudged back through the falling darkness and cold to the car.
Back at the car, I got Otto inside, and I rolled under and, with a lot of difficulty, since I could really only get one arm at a time under there, got the two discs together and put the two hose clamps on them in an X-formation.
I got the clamps on, and tested shifting, but it only worked once, then failed. I went back under the car, and saw the issue.
Because hose clamps are designed to clamp cylindrical hoses and not flat discs, sandwich-style, I needed to find something for the hoses to press onto to let them clamp the pieces together tightly enough, and that’s where the rock I just grabbed from the ground next to me came in.
Here’s the end result:
Man, that’s an ugly fix. That rock was crucial in getting those hose clamps to be able to grip tightly enough and hold the rust-shit-Oreo together.
I got in the car, started it up, put it in gear, and holy crap, it worked. I shifted again, and yep, it’s working.
By this time it was getting pretty late, it was pretty cold, and both kid and dad were ready to be home.
I drove off, and when I got to fourth, I figured, you know what? I can do highway speeds in fourth, and I’ll just slip the clutch as needed if I need to slow or stop, because I’d rather not push the heavily rock-based new linkage I have there. Better to just get home and not have to deal with trying to re-do this along the side of the road somewhere else.
The good news is we made it home! That stupid little bit of gravel prevented a lot of potentially expensive and time-consuming hassle for me, and it got my kid back to warmth and food and bed much quicker than a tow truck or anything like that.
As I’ve said before, you don’t really get sympathy when you break down in a Yugo, because, come on, you knew what you were getting into.
But what I like about breaking down in a Yugo — if “like” is really the right word here — is that the problems tend to be so stupid and basic you can take one look under the car or whatever and know exactly what happened.
Some little shitty part became two little shitty parts, or something similar like that. And the thing responds well to whatever scrambling you can do to get it moving again.
So, I can’t be too mad at the little Slav. It’s trying it’s best, and I can order a new lollipop for it for $15 or so, and it’ll be fixed. Besides, just the fun people have been having with this dumb fix on Twitter has been worth it, especially for tweets like this:
...and the dude really committed to the joke:
I mean, it’s all about bringing people joy, right? And if people can have fun with a shitty car breaking down and getting fixed with a rock, then I’m happy to provide that.