By John-William Greenbaum
As the progenitor of arguably the most pathetic series of automobiles ever to be imported into the United States, I’d say a Yugo 45 deserves to be featured here. However, this one, the Yugo 45A, was more of an offshoot of the vehicle Americans were used to seeing (the Yugo 45). Built by Zastava in Kragujevac (which is now part of Serbia) as a possible replacement for the aging Zastava 750, the original Yugo 45 was itself supplemented by the short-lived Yugo 45A in 1987.
Still, it wasn’t much of an upgrade; aside from weighing about 100 pounds more due to a higher level of interior trim and having steel door handles, there was virtually no difference. The first Yugo 45’s of any kind were built in 1978, and they were exported not to the US, where they gained infamy, but rather to East Bloc countries such as Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and, most famously, Poland. It was here that they were first called “Yugo,” with Czechoslovakia and Poland both buying the cars in tremendous quantities.
The Czechoslovakians lacked a subcompact car whilst the Poles relied on the tiny, uncomfortable Polski Fiat 126P “Maluch.” However, while it may have looked more modern and gotten better gas mileage, the Yugo was a death trap if it ever got into an accident involving a larger vehicle. The chronically problematic front axle also made steering the car difficult, prompting one critic to call it “the perfect car for driving in a straight line”. Also, it had severe aerodynamic issues; although designed to employ many Fiat 127 parts, it didn’t borrow directly from the far-superior Fiat 127. A Yugo was once blown off the Mackinac Bridge in the United States by a gust of wind, for example.
In the US, the Yugo 45 didn’t sell well or even last long in the market. When most Americans think of a Yugo, they’re thinking of the Yugo 55, which had a slightly higher trim level. Regardless, the Yugo 45 had most of the characteristics of its successor. It was powered by an engine that delivered about 45 horsepower with a top speed of around 70 mph (ditto the Yugo 45A). Interestingly, the Yugo could maintain its fuel efficiency at top speed, getting about 40 miles per gallon of gas. When it was doing the speed limit, it could get around 45-50 mpg.
However, it was plagued by other problems. For example, in a high-speed turn, the wheels would infamously scrape against the wheel wells. Quality control problems also plagued the car in both the west and the East Bloc markets. As such, the car didn’t sell well in many East Bloc markets. Why, for example, should a Polish citizen buy the Yugo when he already had access to the Polski Fiat 126P? Even though this car too was pretty lousy, it was at least Polish-made, less expensive, and parts were more readily available. The Yugo’s needing near-constant maintenance was another problem.
Of the 794,428 Yugos of all types produced, a whopping 141,115 of these were sold in the United States; nearly 18% of total sales. Many more were sold in Yugoslavia (and the former Yugoslavia) itself, as well, and it was models like the Yugo 45A that were sold domestically. Even though the Yugo 45 was still being produced, the Yugo 45A did at least offer a modernized interior as well as better door handles.
Ultimately, outside of Yugoslavia, the Yugo was essentially a failure in the East Bloc. With less expensive cars of equal or even better quality on the market with a larger supply of parts available, the Yugo didn’t really have a market niche other than being just another communist-manufactured product. The Yugo’s slightly larger 4-door cousin , the Zastava 101 or 1100, did sell well in Czechoslovakia and Poland, and its five-door hatchback “big brother”, the Yugo Florida, also sold well.
In Yugoslavia itself, the Yugo 45 was made right up until the bitter end. The same, however, could not be said of the Yugo 45A. It was discontinued due to the Balkan Wars, with the steel door handles and higher level of interior trim not being possible to maintain while Zastava was also churning out rifles and ammunition.
Model by Ixo for Croatian DeAgostini “Legendarni Automobili” Figure by Lionel, painted by the author's Father Years Built: 1987-1994 (Produced in Serbia after the breakup of Yugoslavia) Engine: 45 HP 4-cylinder four-stroke Fuel Type: Gasoline Top Speed: 70 mph
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