The Yugo: The Worst Car in America?

The Yugo was known to many as the worst car in America. The Yugo was imported from Yugoslavia and built by a company named Zastava. It attempted to win the hearts of Americans by touting itself as safe, dependable, and affordable. The buzz that surrounded the Yugo created a whirlwind of Yugomania before the car even arrived in America in 1985. Commercials arrived demonstrating its style, and that anyone could drive it because it was so affordable at $3,990. They were “The toughest, most dependable cars a little money can buy.”

According to their advertisements, with the Yugo’s affordability anyone could “buy a little freedom.” Yugo commercials, which can still be seen on YouTube, demonstrate how the Yugo attempted to win over the American public. Everyone from the new driver to the commuter could afford to own this dependable, small car. In their 1987 commercial, the Yugo competed alongside other well-known brands such as Honda, Nissan, and Jeep in the One Lap of America Rally, attempting to prove their quality among other leading small cars.

However, there were reasons why the Yugo was priced so low. As Yugos ventured onto America’s roads, they didn’t go very far… literally. They were known for stripped down interiors and poor mechanical quality. With so much hype before their release, the expectations for the car from Eastern Europe rose, only to fall extremely short.

Elaborating on the Yugo’s tale of woe, Jason Vuic, author of The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, provided an alternative spin on the little car. Though the title suggests that the author agrees with popular opinion, he actually argues that the Yugo is not the worst car in the world. In order for it to be sold in America, it had to pass several emissions and mechanical tests before it was even considered a potential product for the American market. Many import cars do not pass this test, and are therefore not sold in America. His logic is that since the Yugo passed the quality tests, it is obviously not the world’s worst car.

Its reputation as the car Americans love to hate continues to this day. Time includes the following to accentuate this point at the start of a 2010 article that includes an interview with Jason Vuic about the Yugo:

What do you call a Yugo with a flat tire? Totaled. What’s included in every Yugo owner’s manual? A bus schedule. What do you call a Yugo that breaks down after 100 miles? An overachiever.

Though the debate rages on as to whether or not the Yugo is the worst car in American history, it is not the only contender for this notorious title. Cars such as the Pinto, Edsel, and Corvair among others are considered to be the worst of the worst. These cars will forever live in infamy and in junk yards across America.

Note: Being from the 1980s, Yugo materials in the collection are still protected by copyright and therefore cannot be digitized. These items will be available to view in person once the collection is open at the completion of processing.

Sources:
Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of The Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.
Webley, Kayla. “The Yugo: Worst Car Ever?” Time, March 16, 2010. http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1972071,00.html (accessed February 9, 2012).

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

One thought on “The Yugo: The Worst Car in America?

  1. This is probably true about YUGOs. I’ll never forget the sight of a broken down YUGO on PA Route 372, on the uphill slope west of the Norman Wood bridge across the Susquehanna River. It was early Saturday morning, and we were a convoy of Scout leaders and Boy Scouts heading out to Gettysburg for a weekend of history, hiking, and camping. There sat the busted Yugo, abandoned by its owners, in the middle of the westbound lane and abandoned. We noted little machined parts on the pavement. Nothing more.

    Other bad cars come to mind including virtually unusable Renaults which would stop operating in Upstate NY snowstorms, a Mazda GLC Wago that would stop operating when it felt like it, a Mazda 929 I put 3 transmissions in as well as a new radio, several speedometer cables, a new heater fan, new power window switches, new suspension switches, lots of Hirada electric antenna systems. Less you think only minor brands have caused me trouble, let me mention the Toyota Camry that ate up 3 automatic transmisssons (and soured me on Toyota Camrys forever and a day)!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>