To understand the splendor known to disappointed Americans as Yugo, one needs to turn back the clock to the 19th century, when a proud Serbian corporation by the name of Zastava rose to glory as an arms manufacturer offering a dazzling array of assault rifles, handguns, machine guns, and grenade launchers. But with weaknesses in the growing markets of remote mines, acid vats, and other supervillain essentials, Zastava hedges their bets in automotive engineering. First Ford, and later Fiat, began licensing designs to Zastava to supply the Yugoslav Army, and eventually, a demanding consumer market.
The American visionary entrepreneur, Malcolm Bricklin, took note and posed a simple question: “What if we could take the style and grace of the Eastern Bloc, and offer it to the American public at an unheard-of price, by completely doing away with quality control?” With the formation of International Automotive Importers (IAI), the Yugo GV (“great value”) reached U.S. shores with great fanfare, as consumers jaws dropped before an utterly sexy new face at the party. BBC screenwriter Richard Porter (yes, Top Gear’s Richard Porter), ushered in the Yugo era with this candid shot of a nearly topless Yugo on Crap Cars:
Immediately there were complaints that the cars rolled off the line with substantial cosmetic damage, including dented side panels, chipped glass, and in one unfortunate case, pit stains on the driver’s side headrest. Aesthetics aside, getting the price down to $3,990 was no walk in the park. Under the guidance of Bricklin, cost-cutting became sport:
- Upholstery was fashioned from closeout counterfeit jeans sold at Goran’s, the hottest department store in Sarajevo
- Radio components were sourced from Al’s Stolen Radio Components, Staten Island, NY
- Window washer mechanism design licensed from some nerd at a middle school science fair in Wisconsin
- Actors hired to portray satisfied Yugo customers in TV, radio and print ads were never compensated, with IAI executives instead holding original Zastava warheads to their heads and pointing to the door
Ultimately, the Yugo etched its place into history as one of Time Magazine’s worst cars of all time, as well as the World Business Review’s Top Three Biggest Omens of Judgment Day (citation unavailable).
Did You Know? Bricklin lost a good part of his Yugo fortune on legal fees, battling George Lucas & Lucasfilm for the Yugo’s shameless poaching of Boba Fett’s likeness for its logo.
Ripe Car Name: Yugo GV
Years in production: 1986 to 1992
Price: $3,990 in 1986 (approx. $8,260 today)
Price equivalent: 443 sets of Axilla underarm crutches