Auto hucksters and impoverished communists desperate for revenue collaborated to create the Yugo, a small car made in the former nation of Yugoslavia that was poorly engineered, ugly, and cheap.
Malcolm Bricklin was the entrepreneur who based his career around importing small cars into the US market. His goal was to introduce an affordable, compact car into the US market, which at the time was dominated by large V-8 powered sedans. His bottom line was, of course, to make himself a ton on money.
The low Yugoslavian manufacturing costs meant the car, which came to the US in the 1980s and 1990s, could be sold for $3,990 and still make a substantial profit.
It was cheap inside. There were only a few buttons and everything was made from plastic with the dashboard and center console one single piece. There were only two air vents, both in the center. And you could see the big bolt holding down the seat belt receiver. “Carpet” was listed as a standard feature and the best thing about its rear-window defroster was that it could keep your hands warm while you pushed it.
There were jokes about it. 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.
Most made it to only around 20,000 miles or so, during which time they would often burn through two or three new clutches.
The radio lasted a month, while the gear shift was notorious for coming off. Dash lights burned out quickly and rainwater would leak through gaps in the body panels and around the window seals. The ignition switch was prone to simply popping out of the steering column.
Handling was scary as the steering floated and the ride harsh and jarring.
The body left you with the impression that it was probably best not to park under a tree because bird droppings might leave a dent in the roof or hood.
The Yugo was slow and anemic; it was powered by a 55-horsepower 1.1-liter carburetor 4-cylinder engine which, when you looked under the hood, shared its space with the spare tire...and the spare tire was larger. The engine was so weak that carrying four passengers, if they could squeeze in, was nearly impossible. The engine was also prone to self-destruction when its timing belt would disrupt the synchronization between the engine’s pistons and valves, causing them to collide and destroy the engine.
It had a stick shift transmission. I knew a lady (one of my employees) whose son had bought her a Yugo so she would not have to ride the bus to get to work and buy groceries. One day while at work I received a call from her asking if she could stop by the office and pick up her check rather than have it mailed. After being told it was OK, about an hour later I got a call from her asking if I could run down the street and pick her up and bring her back to the office. She said the car had broken down in the middle of the street and she had coasted into the parking lot of a shopping center. When I got there I saw a pile of parts in the middle of the street and a trail of small parts leading right up to her car. The transmission had exploded.