“Yu*go (yoo-go) n. 1) Small, economical, Yugoslavian-built automobile. 2) 4×4 hood ornament. adj. 1) What doesn’t happen when you press the accelerator.”
Do you remember the boxy little cars that were manufactured in Yugoslavia a few years ago? How many jokes about those cars do you recall?
The only times I actually rode in one was during one of my visits to see my British friend in London. He claimed that he really enjoyed his car and that it was a pretty decent little vehicle. I remained skeptical, though, because most guys will defend their choice of automobile to the death. I did the same when I bought a Chevy Vega; a car vastly superior to the Yugo.
Perhaps my friend’s Yugo was a decent car. It was a different version than the ones sold in the U.S. His was a “Yugo 45”. The cars here were called “Yugo GV”. In Eastern Europe and their home country, they were called “Застава Корал (Zastava Koral)”. The boxy subcompact cars were manufactured by the Serbian/Yugoslavian company Zastava Corporation. They were a licensed variant of the Fiat model 127.
The distribution of Yugos in the U.S. was the brainstorm of Malcolm Bricklin. The same fellow who designed and manufactured the sleek Bricklin SV sports car. His earlier efforts included the introduction of Fiat and Subaru cars to this country. In the 1980s he started up Yugo America, Inc.
The base sedan was listed with an MSRP of $3990. For awhile, the Yugo was the fastest selling European import in North America. But Americans soon fell out of love with the little cars because of their reputation for exceedingly terrible quality. It ranked near the bottom of the list of “worst cars of all time”.
The Zastava Corporation was originally an armaments manufacturer that expanded into truck making in the late 1930s. They produced Ford designed trucks for the Yugoslavian Army until the Nazis occupied the nation. After the war, they obtained a license to make Jeeps until the 1950s.
In the summer of 1953, Zastava began building cars under license of Fiat of Italy. Their first cars were fairly popular in Europe and were of decent quality. The “golden years” for Yugo were from 1988 to early 1991. The cars were respectable with good quality plastics, interior fabrics, rust proofing and exterior paints. Most of these cars were labeled Yugo and not Zastava.
Political upheavals in socialist Yugoslavia began in 1991. The result for Yugoslavian industry, including Zastava, was a significant drop in product quality. The cars rolled off the assembly line with ill fitting parts, inferior plastics and finish.
Political strife and civil war spread throughout Yugoslavia throughout 1991. Croatia and Slovenia had already seceded. Many important componants had been previously manufactured in those districts, so the cars built during the early 1990s were slapped together with various leftover parts.
In addition to these problems, Yugo America faced a recall of 126,000 cars because of a failure of the carbureted fuel system to meet air pollution standards. The recall signalled the end of importation of the cars. The American division shuttered in 1992.
Wartime sanctions by the United Nations upon Slobodan Milosević’s Yugoslavian regime forced the Zastava company to withdraw from every export market. The physical end of the company came about when NATO intended to bomb the Zastava military armaments division. However, the company’s car division was bombed out instead. The Zastava car company then went out of business in 1993. The balance of the inventory was liquidated at fire sale prices or written off the books altogether.
In the year 2000, production again started up for domestic, Serbian manufacture. Mr. Bricklin inked another deal with Zastava in 2002 to reintroduce the Yugo in the U.S. However, Bricklin soon turned his attention to cars from Communist China. That venture failed after he couldn’t find investors for the plan.
The reintroduction attempt fared poorly after a decisively negative review of the car in “Consumer Reports” magazine. The last straw was a fatality when a 1987 Yugo GV blew off the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan during a windstorm. Meanwhile, in Europe, the last Yugo rolled off the assembly line on November 11, 2008.
The Blue Jay of Happiness asks, “What comes with every Yugo’s owner’s manual? answer: The bus schedule.”