Monday, June 21, 2021

they love the car people hate


In the pantheon of cars considered invariable lemons – think Edsel, Aztec, Pacer – stands above, or perhaps below, all of them. Yugo.

There is arguably no car more infamous than the utilitarian Yugo. It has been called “hard to see on a full stomach” and “the Mona Lisa of bad cars”, and was said to resemble “something assembled at gunpoint” – especially apt because the Yugoslav company that made the car, Zastava, also made firearms.

As Eric Peters did in his book “Automotive Atrocities”, you could say it was “an out-and-out despicable little car”, but don’t let Jay Pierce, whose yugoparts.com stock small cars. It’s going on, you call it.

“This attack ‘comedy’ started with ‘The Tonight Show’ and is an ill-advised way for the network to make money hurting people,” he said with unbridled hatred. “We really need tougher slander laws in this country.”

Mr. Pierce is one of the more outspoken fans of the Yugo, guarding the car’s reputation with an overly protective affection reserved for pet cats usually reserved for blind and three-legged dogs.

“You’ll find people who like it for the ambiguity, just for the novelty of owning the unreleased,” said Valerie Hansen of Columbus, Ohio, who is restoring their fourth Yugo, a rare 1984 model designed by the Yugoslav diaspora. Its engine is smaller than the 54-horsepower version imported by Yugo America.

Ms Hansen said she was attracted to Yugo for two reasons. First, it speaks to her ancestral Balkan roots. Second, its mechanical simplicity means it can repair itself. “You can fix the Yugo with a butter knife and a rubber band,” she said.

The Yugo was not always viewed so favorably, although its $3,990 price ($9,900 in today’s dollars) made headlines upon its launch in 1985. Competing Econobox included the Chevy Chevette, which listed for $5,645; Ford Escort L for $6,327; and a Volkswagen Golf for $7,190.

The generally fitted Consumer Reports review was based on cruelty. Engines “struggling and straining to climb highway grade in high gear.” On acceleration, “our 0-60-mph run took 18.5 seconds.” transmission? “Easily the worst we’ve faced in years.” The interior was “covered with fabric that resembles trowel material.”

On the other hand, “it’s easier to turn on a high beam when you’re trying to signal a left turn.”

Yet initially Yugo did not have any shortage of buyers. “We did well,” said Steve Moskovitz, who was a dealer and is now the chief executive officer of the Antique Automobile Club of America. “A little too good in the beginning.”

Very well because legions of new owners discovered the problems before the dealers. For one, the cars were shipped with spark plugs inappropriate for America’s unleaded fuel.

“We had tiny little Bugaboo’s – this engine didn’t fail,” said Mr. Moskovitz. “It was a great idea, and a great buy for someone looking for basic transportation.”

Other problems will emerge. “It requires specific maintenance,” said Daniel Tohill, who runs it. Yugo America Chat/Talk/Buy/Sell Facebook page. “It was not like other cars.” Most prominently, if the timing belt was not serviced for 30,000 miles, the engine’s pistons could penetrate the valves and destroy them.

It’s hard to understand why anyone would have expected more than just sufficiency from the Yugo. It used parts from Fiat, a marque whose reputation for unreliability prompted the brand to leave the US in 1983. Fiat from Italy was called “Fix it again, Tony”.

In Fiat’s exit, automotive entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin saw an opportunity. Mr. Bricklin introduced the Subaru 360 “Ladybug” to the US, which, in 1969, was rated “Not Acceptable” by Consumer Reports. Ladybug failed, but America’s Subaru survived. In the mid-70s they created the Bricklin SV-1, a gull-wing sports car with a DeLorean design in its design. It also failed. This time, they imported two of Fiat’s sports cars, the X1/9 and the 124 Spyder, rebadging them the Bertone X1/9 and the Pininfarina 124 Spyder. This did not solve the rust problem.

At Mr Bricklin’s behest, Pininfarina terminated his contract with him as part of a deal to build the Elante Pininfarina for Cadillac, leaving him one car short of what the dealers had promised. “That’s why I put someone in charge of finding the cheapest car in the world,” he said in a 2013 panel discussion.

It was found in Yugoslavia. Mr. Bricklin went there and “faced that piece of rubbish factory with 50,000 people, 2,000 people, 127 communist unions,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, isn’t this fun?'”

But Yugo will face a far more formidable nemesis than communism: Jay Leno.

“I will always have the feeling that Jay Leno personally killed the car,” Moskovitz said. “No one likes to own a car that’s a joke.”

It’s a theory of believers that Carr would have made it if it weren’t for those jokes, a prominent guest host of Mr. Leno’s “Tonight Show” routine beginning in the late ’80s. “Leno has done irreparable damage to my business and the owners of Yugo,” Mr. Pierce said.

“Yugo has come up with a very clever anti-theft device,” went a Leno gag. “He made his name big.”

But it wasn’t just Mr Leno (who did not respond to an email seeking comment). Even now car enthusiasts may say things like: “You know why the Yugo has a standard rear window defogger? To keep your hands warm while pushing.” Or: “How do you double the value of a Yugo? Fill the gas tank… if there’s gas in it.” This has been sported in films such as “Doing Mona” and songs such as “In a Yugo”.

Some Yugo drivers take offense. “We’ll make jokes at our expense,” said Ms. Hansen, but the humor can be sarcastic.

When David Lang bought a Yugo GVX in 2018, one of his goals was to drive across Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge, notorious for a Yugo that spiraled out of control in 1989 and killed the driver.

“People are like, ‘Don’t take it over the Mackinac Bridge!'” said Mr. Lang, who lives in Brown City, Mich. “That was the first thing I did with it.”

Incidentally it was on the anniversary of the accident. He said people reacted as if he was jumping a car over 19 burning buses. “I’ve done it twice now.”

“People are buying these cars now as a joke, and to win prizes at car shows,” said Nick Bygrave, an employee of Midwest-Bailes Italian Auto, an Ohio Yugo parts supplier in Columbus. They found a 1987 GVS covered with moss that had been lying in a field for 20 years, but it was gone. Once the moss was dead, it looked like a matte paint job.

“I don’t mean to sound my own horn, but it won the car and coffee every time,” Mr Bygrave said of the regular visits.

His strategy is to put his Yugo next to the most expensive car at a show, as he did at the Midwest Motor Vice Show in 2018. “My car was parked a few feet from a Countach, and I won the Best Survivor award. car,” he said.

As award-winning cars go, Mr Bygrave’s $500 Yugo was a bargain, but has sold cheap. In 1986, Noce Cadillac in Chicago offered a free Yugo with the purchase of select Caddies. According to a newspaper account, no one took Yugo.

When Kevin O’Callaghan Bought 39 Yugos for His Students at the School of Visual Arts in New York turn into idols, the highest price paid was $80. “A man took it to my house,” she recalled. “I asked him what he wanted it for. He said: ‘I don’t want anything for this crap. I just want a ride home, and not in that car.'”

Yugo is not in the nada or kelly blue book online price guide, but in the car auction website bring a trailer Sold one Yugo in 2016 for $2,200 and another in April for $7,500. Hollywood Motors of Long Island recently offered 1998 GV $6,450 . for.

“This…it’s a very, very bad idea,” the description reads. “However, the thing about bad ideas is that more often than not, they end up being a lot more fun than ‘good’ or ‘safe’ ideas.” Buying Yugo, it suggests, is the equivalent of drinking fiery tequila shots. The car is now listed as for sale.

For all its flaws – its many, many, many flaws – owners say the Yugo is less troublesome and more attractive than usual thought. When Mr Bygrave planned a trip from Ohio to New York, his boss—remember, who owns a Yugo parts store—told him, “I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Mr Bygrave wrote “NYC OR BUST” on the back window with a craft store marker and walked out in a blizzard.

After 11 hours, “when I arrived in New York, people were blowing horns, a cop sounded a siren, a man in a dump truck was filming us by phone,” he said. “My cheeks started hurting when I smiled.”

In 1992, Yugo succumbed to the mixed wounds of a recall from critics, comedians, dwindling sales, emissions standards, and bankruptcy. But by 1999, some argued that the car would make a comeback when the Yugoslav civil unrest was resolved. “And then NATO put five missiles in the factory,” said Mr. Bricklin, “but other than that….”



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