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The Yugo - The Rise and Fall of The Worst Car in the World - Book Review And Link To Yougo Library

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Jason Vuic, Published by Hill and Wang, New York

A Book Review
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

            • SEE ALSO: TACH Library - Yugo Stories
             • SEE ALSO: Yugo Car Commercial 1986

I met Jason Vuic during an author’s book fair at the Detroit Public Library’s National Automotive History Collection a couple weeks ago. About two-dozen authors of books about cars gathered to promote and sell their books and Vuick’s Yugo book jumped right out at me. I immediately bought one.

You see, I have a history with the Yugo. Dan Burns, official photographer for the epic Cannonball One Lap of America rally, and I co-drove a specially prepared Yugo GVX in the 1968 One Lap – 8,600 miles in 8 ½ days literally circumnavigating the continental US according to a nearly non-stop endurance rally format. Some would call that self-abuse, I suppose, but we had a great time. I’ll tell that whole story another time. Suffice it to say that lots of minor pieces of the car didn’t survive the journey, and we nearly didn’t make the 200-mile distance between gas stations in Utah, but we finished the event, dog tired but with good stories to tell.

Jason Vuic is a charming, enthusiastic and articulate fellow, an academic and an historian by vocation, specializing in Eastern Europe - the former Yugoslavia in particular. His people come from that part of the world and he spent a lot of time there doing research while soaking up the culture and language. When looking for a topic to explore liturelerely he chose the Yugo automobile, a quirky little Fiat derivative that made its way against all odds to the US market making a huge splash before disappearing as quickly as it appeared.

A big part of the story surrounds Malcom Bricklin, notorious habitual entrepreneur who began his automotive career bringing to the US a terrible little car from Japan called the Subaru 360. He then imported the great-handling little Fiat X1/9 mid-engine roadster and the Pininfarina Spider (formerly the Fiat 124 Sport) as well as a plastic-bodied sports car named after himself. Without the colorful Mr. Bricklin the automotive world of the late 80s would have been a more boring business to be sure.

Bricklin brought the Yugo to the US in 1985, at a time when the market was craving a cheap, small car. The Japanese were moving away from that segment of the automotive market as were US automakers – no more Chevette and that ilk. A tiny, Fiat-based car costing just $3990 brand new triggered what became known as “Yugo-mania.” By it’s demise in 1991 over 150,000 had been sold. Fewer than 1,000 are known to survive today, and a few fans remain as well.

The reasons for its demise were many, not the least of which was dismal quality. Each chapter of the book starts with one of the many jokes the Yugo inspired, usually insulting one-liners like: Q. How do you double the value of your Yugo? A. Fill the gas tank. Q. What do you call a Yugo that breaks down after 100 miles? A. An overachiever.

Q. What do a ceiling fan and a Yugo have in common? A. They have the same motor. You get the picture, I suppose.

Being an historian, Vuic spends many pages on the political history of communist Yugoslavia and the factory that produced the little car. While that hybrid nation was sort of behind the “iron curtain” it did not bow to directives from Moscow. As a result they had a special relationship with the West under the strong arm of Marshall Josip Broz Tito. Another connection I have to this intricate story stems from a college course I took called “International Communism” wherein each class member became the resource person on a communist country. Mine, as you might guess, was Yugoslavia.

Even without the connections I have to the story, I think you’ll have fun reading Jason Vuic’s lively, comprehensive, humorous and engrossing story of the ill-fated, flash-in-the-pan Yugo.


© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved