The Yugo…Almost Forgotten But Not Quite Gone Away
By Andy Bannister
One of the least desirable cars of the 1980s was undoubtedly the Yugo, a tiny hatchback sold across the world to people looking for a cheap route into new car ownership.
The Yugo, as the name suggests, was made in Yugoslavia, a country which has since ceased to exist as a political unit, disintegrating in a series of tragic and bloody civil wars. Its manufacturer, originally known as Zavodni Crvena Zastava (Red Flag Plant, betraying its origins in the Communist state led by Marshal Tito) has been through hard times, but Zastava as a make still exists as the leading manufacturer in what is now the country of Serbia.
Most people abroad who can remember the Yugo will picture the square cut, shoddily-assembled little hatchback first unleashed (as the 903cc Yugo 45) around 1983. It was based largely on the mechanicals of the Fiat 127, itself 12 years old at the time, with an all-new body.
Somehow, even at launch, the Yugoslavian version managed to look much more dated than the Italian original, not helped by some typically East European paint hues and particularly cheap interiors. It looks were later further disfigured by some gruesome body kits fitted by optimistic importers trying to push the car upmarket.
Americans called the car the GV and were even treated to a cabriolet version shortly before imports stopped. Surely this was the unlikeliest open-topped car ever?
Other countries recieved a wider range of Zastava/Yugo models, notably the 101 or Skala, a hatchback version of the Fiat 128, which briefly seemed quite modern when it appeared in the early 1970s. This was widely sold across the UK and Europe and for a time was a modest success thanks to a low price (which led to accusations of the cars being “dumped” at a loss to gain access to hard currency).
At the end of the 1980s, a more modern-looking all new five-door, variously known as the Sana, Miami or Florida, was introduced, but its export career was cut short by the onset of the wars within Yugoslavia and the trade boycott which followed.
Fast forward to today and, amazingly, the little square-cut Yugo 45 hatchback hasn’t gone away. Somehow it has survived trade embargos, civil war, bombing by NATO of its factory in Kragujevac during the 1999 Kosovo conflict, plus the march of time which inevitably kills off most long-lived vehicles after a decade or so of production.
The latest Yugo model, now known as the Koral IN, features a strange plastic front end which completely fails to disguise the original lines. It is now fitted with a Peugeot engine, and does not appear to be widely sold outside the home market.
The rehabilitation of Serbia after the fall of President Milosevic has, however, led to a modest revival in the fortunes of Zastava. A larger and much more up-to-date new model, the 10 – basically a rebadged Fiat Punto of the previous generation – is now produced and sold in a number of Eastern European countries.
Who knows, with Renault having made a big success of Romania’s Dacia brand – once another assembler of cheap and nasty copies of long-dead western cars – Zastava could yet return as a prominent player on the world stage.
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