The Yugo: A Collector’s Item?

Exported to the United States in the mid-to-late 1980s and sporting a pricetag as low as $3990, the Yugo was considered by most Americans to be a joke car. From Saturday Night Live to The Simpsons, comic writers poked fun at the tiny Yugo, making jokes about its safety, its engine, and its reliability. But this car, originating in what was once Yugoslavia, is finally getting a second look.

The last wave of Yugos came to the United States in the early 1990s, when the brand was in trouble due in great part to its poor publicity. Although new Yugos are still sold in former Yugoslav states like Serbia, Croatia, and Macedonia, attempts to begin re-importation in other European countries and in the United States (under the company name Zastava) have not fully materialized. That doesn’t mean Yugos aren’t receiving any attention in America.

It appears that enough time has passed for the Yugo to become somewhat of a collector’s item. Because of its rarity, a Yugo from 1986 in good condition might actually be worth a few thousand dollars – not bad in comparison to the $3990 for which it initially retailed. We see a plethora of Toyotas, Hondas, and even Chevrolets from this era still rolling, so those makes are nowhere near as remarkable, even if considered more reliable.

Why would anyone want a Yugo these days? Yugo fanatics cite the now-retro look of the car, its fuel efficiency, and the fact that it came from a country which no longer exists. People see the rare Yugo drivers and ask quizzically about the car. In addition to the expected ribbing, some Yugo owners get thumbs-up from folks who admire the spunk and relative novelty of the small Slavic vehicle.

A poke around the internet shows that there is a small but growing community of Yugo owners who are discussing where to find parts, sharing repair techniques, and debating the best ways to keep their Yugos authentic. Many Yugo collectors are car geeks who enjoy weekend mechanic status. They see Yugo upkeep as a novel, fun challenge.

One Yugo fanatic, Dave Benton (known in cyberspace as “DaveYugo”) fixes up old Yugos for racing purposes, souping up the little engine and creatively engineering necessary parts. Playing on the their reputation, Dave’s racing Yugos ride under the title “Underdog Racing” and afford him the privilege of low weight for more speed and acceleration. For details, check out his website: www.daveyugo.com

Despite poor results in crash tests and lousy ratings from insurance companies, some steadfast Yugo owners stick by their autos. One Yugo driver at Epinions.com actually has this glowing praise for the 1986 Yugo GV: “If you can stick-shift, and appreciate subcompact cars, you will find Yugo to be one of the best-built and most-fun little cars in your driving experience.”

Dig a little deeper online and you’ll see old-school Yugo logo t-shirts popular with emo kids and other youngsters dipping into the past for a dose of Balkan hipness. From the funky Y-shape that appeared above the grills of Yugos themselves to the rounded block letters of the Yugo logo, the now-cool graphics have mingled with the car’s joke status to create a small ripple on the novelty merchandise pool.

Finding Yugo merchandise, though, is a lot easier than finding an actual Yugo. My own foray into the wilds of online auto-buying websites yielded skimpy results. On www.autotrader.com, I found only one Yugo located in the United States: a 1988 GV in Arizona that was selling at a classic car dealer for $1495. Ebay Motors yielded a different Yugo on auction, a 1990 GV in Virginia. With Yugos so hard to come by, it’s no wonder that these little Slavic sleds have developed their own subculture.

If you’re thinking there’s no way you’d go near a used Yugo, the opportunity to buy a new one may present itself eventually. Serbian automaker Zastava, manufacturer of the Yugo, continues to work on deals that might bring the next-generation of Yugo to America before 2010. So keep your eyes peeled for the little cropped car.

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