Read, Write, Run, Roam

I go, Yugo: Kragujevac, Serbia

Statue of the auto worker, Zastava HQ

When I told someone I was going on a day trip to Kragujevac , she paused and said, “Really? I have not been there, and I grew up here.”

It may not be a popular tourist or local destination, but Kragujevac was an interesting, if not inspiring, day trip. Kragujevac (Kra-GOO-yay-vatz) was the first capital of Serbia, and briefly became the capital again during WWI. The city is the home of the first Serbian constitution, high school, and printing press. Kragujevac’s Zastava cannon factory began in 1853, and the city has since become an industrial hub.

If Zastava sounds familiar, it’s because it later became a car factory. A car factory that produced the best-known, worst-ranked car in American history: the Yugo.

I saw dozens of Yugos—old and new—on the streets of Kragujevac. There are quite a few in Belgrade, too. Inspired by the sight, I read “The Yugo-The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.”

Do you remember the Yugo? In 1985, it was one of Fortune Magazine’s 12 “Outstanding products,” right next to…New Coke. What happened after that? Murphy’s law: anything that could go wrong, did. Yugo America’s CEO had a long history of poor decisions. There were clashes between American and Socialist business models. Factory infrastructure was ill-suited to making thousands of Yugos to American standards. Dealers received cars with missing locks, because the parts hadn’t arrived in time.

These had locks

Then there were those pesky safety tests in 1986. Though the tests may have been flawed, the Yugo still had the 8th highest death rate. And the cost of repairing crash damage was greater than the cost of the car.

It wasn’t long before the Yugo went from chic to geek. Corporate bankruptcy, the war/breakup of Yugoslavia, and U.S. sanctions followed. The last Yugo was made in 2008, after Fiat invested a billion dollars in Zastava to make another car, the Topolino.

Italy was not "lovin' it" (see sticker)

These cars may not be able to take a licking, but they certainly keep on ticking. Kragujevac has more to offer than Yugos, but you can’t talk about the city without mentioning the #1 car zipping around town. I’ll write more about the city later.



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