Saturday, December 29, 2012

Oakland Street Sighting - 1987 Yugo GV

I've wanted to write this post for a long time. Think like three years. Basically, ever since I started California Streets I've wanted to feature a Yugo, and today it comes to light. It shouldn't be too surprising when I tell you they are hard as heck to find!
The Yugo has a horrible reputation in the United States as the worst car in history. Is it warranted? Probably not. People love to hate cheap cars that are terrible. Even I like to hate terrible cars. But at the same time I find myself coming to love cars everyone else hates. I'm one of those people whose fantasy garage includes a Ford Pinto and an Edsel and numerous AMC products. Meanwhile I frequently loathe cars that are rock-steady reliable, popular and yet so ungodly boring I can't understand why anyone buys them.
The Yugo came to market in the United States when Malcolm Bricklin decided there was room in the market for a cheap hatchback at the very bottom of the price spectrum. Bricklin had already brought us some stinkers in the form of early Subaru imports (the 360 as a VW Beetle competitor) and the fiberglass Bricklin SV-1 "safety sports car" with its unusual gullwing doors. Now he set his sights on the little Fiat 127-based hatchback built in Yugoslavia by Zastava Automobiles.

"Everybody needs a Yugo sometime", crowed the TV commercials. For a while, it worked. From 1985 to 1991, over 141,000 Yugos found homes in the United States. A base Yugo cost under $4000 new. You got what you paid for. The car was utterly basic, lacking many of the features, fit and finish that Americans expected from a new car. Reviews panned the little car for its poor build quality and reliability. They began to die prematurely - most American drivers probably didn't know that the timing belt had to be changed every 40,000 miles. In one famous - and unfortunately fatal - incident, a Yugo became the only car ever to be blown off the Mackinac Straits Bridge in Michigan. By the 1990s, Yugo was a punchline. US imports stopped when the emissions control system failed federal pollution standards, and then in 1992 Yugoslavia plunged into war. In 1999, NATO accidentally bombed the Zastava car factory instead of the company's arms division.
The funny thing is, in its home market, the Yugo endures. Zastava was still cranking out thousands of them years after Yugo pulled out of the US market. New variants were created, the front clip was facelifted, and you could still buy a Zastava Koral with the same basic body up until 2008.

There are still a couple of Yugos running around my area, but they are very scarce. There is a red one in San Francisco (which I have seen only in photos) and this tan GV (Great Value) model that lives in Oakland. I'm guessing that it's a 1987 model mainly because 1987 was the most popular year for Yugo sales in the US. The tan car's Indiana license plate implies that it drove to California under its own power. I first saw this one while stuck in traffic on the 880 freeway with a friend while trying to drive to Alameda for some car scouting. Only weeks later was I able to go back with another friend and actually photograph the little car. Regrettably, I had to cut my photo shoot short because the parking lot where my friend left his truck was being roped off for the night! The road also functions as an exit ramp from the freeway and was very busy at rush hour. I wasn't about to risk my life running across the street amid fast-moving traffic to take better pictures of a rusty old Yugo. I may go back for a re-shoot sometime if I find the car again.

1 comment:

  1. Great to see another closet Yugo fan come out of the wood work :-)