Zastava Yugo. A name you may not be familiar with. Indeed, this Yugoslav model was imported into France in the 1980s with modest success, by the Chardonnet network. It was a car designed from Fiat 127 mechanics, with the help of the Turin giant. Launched on November 28, 1980 in Kragujevac, a city now in Serbia, it has no shortage of assets.
Its design is almost modern, and its appearance has nothing to envy to the urban cars of the time. Obviously, its production in the factories of the east, makes it a bit rustic and basic. Destined for the countries of the Soviet bloc, and for some exports from Western Europe, the Yugo will know a very strange destination.
The car of a country
The Yugo quickly became the car of the Yugoslav people. We see it everywhere. It should be noted that the people of the country had little choice. A law passed by Josip Broz Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia, bans the importation of foreign cars.
During the first years of his career, a few thousand specimens even managed to cross the steel curtain to rest in the windows of French, German or English traders. The Yugo was then sold as an alternative to the Lada or Skoda sedans. Therefore, this Yugo is aimed at the rare European drivers who would find the Lada Samara too bourgeois.
Brickilins, the smart guy
But the status of this little Yugo will soon change. In the United States, a businessman known for importing Subarus in the 1960s, then for creating a brand called Bricklink in the 1970s with the help of the Canadian government, sends his teams in search of the rare pearl. They will have to come back with the cheapest car in the world.
This car must be safe enough to be imported into the US market without tariff competition. In an interview, Malcolm Bricklin said, “I sent people to look for the cheapest car and they found the Yugo. It was expensive and less than a year later we had it in the United States.”
The cheapest car on the market
Against all odds, Bricklin manages to import this little Yoke. In the land of great American sedans and 4X4s, this city car has some major advantages. It is very fuel efficient with its modest 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine and 55 horsepower. Mostly, it sells for just $ 3,990.
A price that makes it the cheapest car available on American soil. But the arrival of the Yugos in the United States also had political justifications. The US oil company Occidental Petroleum has signed an export agreement with Yugoslavia. Occidental Petroleum supplies oil to the Yugoslavs, in exchange for which they obtain the right to export goods to the United States.
Americans are crazy about the Yoke
The American press quickly took hold of the issue. Articles and reports abound. All the media wants to play Yugo, from NBC to USA Today, including NBC, CBS and ABC. The articles are so numerous that it is then estimated at $ 20 million, the media impact of Yugo’s arrival on the American market.
So much free advertising for the importer Malcolm Bricklin, who rubs his hands. Even the trade press is involved. Motor Trend awards him the “Imported Vehicle of the Year” award. At Chrysler, we declare our willingness to buy the company. On the first day of marketing, 1050 Zastava Yugo were sold!
A crazy hit and a terrible fall
In all, Bricklin achieved the feat of selling 141,000 copies of his Yugo in the United States between 1985 and 1992. In 1987 alone, 47,000 were sold. But quickly, the bellows dropped. Early shock tests deter the average American from taking his family on board. The Yugo quickly became the subject of jokes by the Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and other American television programs.
A Philadelphia dealer offers to give away a Yugo for every Toyota purchased. Most buyers reject the gift. The first customers deplore the execrable quality of their car. In 1992, war broke out in Yugoslavia. The parts no longer arrive at the factory, which will end up being bombed. It is the end of the Yugoslav car that wanted to conquer the world.