Car Design: The best way to start on this subject is to have some fun and start at the bottom. One thing I learned early on about cars is that the worse the car is, the more famous it will become. Take the Yugo (Please), a car that was not only voted one of the “Worst Cars Ever” but also one of the “Worst Cars of the Millennium” and finally “Worst Car in all of History”. Granted, it was the only car where you could order a tow package…in the front, and who’s factory was bombed in 1999 by NATO forces out of revenge, but the abuse of this one appalling bucket of loosely fitted bolts was amazing. Even today, 24 years after it was introduced here, more people recognize the Yugo name than they do Scion and Kia. A check of Facebook will return 244 pages and over 500 groups dedicated to the Yugo, some with over 20 thousand fans. People love to hate this car, and that fame is renewed with every Yugo joke.
What do you call a Yugo with a flat tire? Totaled. How do you double the value of a Yugo? Fill the tank with gas. What do you call a Yugo with brakes? Customized. What is the difference between a Yugo and a golf ball? You can drive a golf ball 200 yards. (Thank you, I’ll be here all week)
The poor little Yugo was spawned in Yugoslavia by the Zastava Corporation with a design based on the Fiat 127. The Fiat version survived for 12 years and even won the “Car of the Year” in 1974, the Yugo didn’t. Imported to the United States by Malcolm Bricklin in 1986, the car was actually built on a separate line at the Yugoslavian factory by elite workers who were paid an extra 1.23 per hour, but seemed to have spent the money on liquor. Basically the car was made out of something just slightly more durable than toilet paper rolls, with an engine that produced negative horsepower and an electrical system that made Lucas (The Prince of Darkness) seem cutting edge. Time Magazine said it best: “The Yugo has the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint”, and other critics said “It is hard to view on a full stomach”. On a side note, Malcolm Bricklin didn’t seem to like cars very much; he was the man who brought unspeakable horrors to the US in the form of the Fiat X1/9 and 2000 Spyder, the Bricklin SV-1 and the Subaru 360.
So, back to design…why was the Yugo worse than other hateful little cars like the Trabant, the Lada or the Fiat Uno. The design concept was for a cheap four passenger car, and that’s exactly what they produced. As with most things, a combination of issues killed the Yugo, including the fall of communism, a terrible EFI replacement due to cost cutting that almost ended with a recall, a United Nations embargo of Yugoslavia, the mercy bombing of its factory, an issue with the timing belt, the fact that people considered the car disposable and neglected to do basic maintenance, and finally the unfortunate death of a person who’s Yugo was blown off a bridge during a 50mph wind.
On a design scope, the car was flawed but the problems were not insurmountable. The original Yugo, called the Zastava Koral was actually produced for 30 years finally ending in 2008. Remember that the car caused a media frenzy prior to its release and we Americans love to trash celebrities. I think there are a lot of similarities with the new Nano for Tata Motors. When that arrives in the US, we may revisit this discussion. For now, what do you think? Was the Yugo the worst car ever, or just a victim of the events of the day?