The big disappointments. The Yugo, one of the worst cars in history, is becoming a fashion phenomenon in the United States

Zastava Yugo. A name that may not be unknown to you. In fact, this Yugoslav model was imported to France in the 80’s 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 located in Serbia, it lacks no assets.

Its design is almost modern, and its appearance has nothing to envy the city cars of the time. Clearly, its production in factories in the East makes it somewhat rustic and basic. Intended for the countries of the Soviet bloc, and for some exports in Western Europe, the Yugoslav will know a very strange fate.

A country car

The Jugo is fast becoming the car of the Yugoslav people. We see it everywhere. It should be noted that the inhabitants of the country had little choice. A law passed by Josip Broz Tito, leader of Yugoslavia, bans the import of foreign cars.

During the first years of his career, even a few thousand copies managed to cross the Iron Curtain to come to rest in the windows of French, German or English dealers. The Yugo is then sold as an alternative to the Lada or Skoda sedans. This Yugo is therefore aimed at the few European drivers who would find the Lada Samara too bourgeois.

With Yugo, Bricklin tries to repeat the trick with Beetle

Brickilins, the smart guy

But the status of this little Yugo will soon change. In the United States, an entrepreneur known for importing Subarus in the 60s, then creating a brand called Bricklink in the 70s with the help of the Canadian government, sends his teams in search of the rare gem. They will have to come back with the cheapest car in the world.

This car must be sufficiently secure to be able to be imported into the US market, while being without competition in terms of tariffs. In an interview, Malcolm Bricklin said: “I sent people to find me the cheapest car and they found me the Yugo. It was so … not expensive and less than a year later we had it in the US”.

The cheapest car on the market

Against all odds, Bricklin actually manages to import this little Yugo. In the land of large American sedans and 4X4s, this city car has some significant advantages. It is very fuel efficient with its modest 1.1-liter, 55 horsepower four-cylinder engine. Above all, it sells for only $ 3,990.

A price that makes it the cheapest car found on American soil. But Yugo’s arrival 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 the latter acquiring the right to export goods to the United States.

Yugo will seduce a young clientele.

Yugo will seduce a young clientele.

Americans love Yugo

The American press quickly grabbed the subject. There are lots of articles and reports. All media want to touch 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 fallout of the media from Yugoen’s arrival in the US market.

So much free publicity for importer Malcolm Bricklin, who rubs his hands. Even the trade press gets involved. Motor Trend awards it the “Imported Vehicle of the Year” award. At Chrysler, we declare ourselves ready to buy the company. On the first day of marketing, 1050 Zastava Yugo were sold!

The war will put an end to the ambitions of the Yugoslav car

The war will put an end to the ambitions of the Yugoslav car

An insane success and a terrible fall

In all, Bricklin managed to sell 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 fell. The first crash tests deter the average American from bringing his family on board. Yugo quickly becomes the subject of jokes from The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live or other American TV shows.

A Philadelphia dealer offers to give a Yugo away for every Toyota purchased. Most buyers reject the gift. The first customers regret the eerie 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.

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