The Yugo The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

Jason Vuic

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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Six months after its American introduction in 1985, the Yugo was a punch line; within a year, it was a staple of late-night comedy. By 2000, NPR’s Car Talk declared it “the worst car of the millennium.” And for most Americans that’s where the story begins and ends. Yet the short, unhappy life of the car, the men who built it, the men who imported it, and the decade that embraced and discarded it is rollicking and astounding, and one of the greatest untold business-cum-morality tales of the 1980s. Mix one rabid entrepreneur, several thousand “good” communists, a willing U.S. State Department, the shortsighted Detroit auto industry, and improvident bankers, shake vigorously, and you’ve got The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.  Brilliantly re-creating the amazing confluence of events that produced the Yugo, Yugoslav expert Jason Vuic uproariously tells the story of the car that became an international joke: The American CEO who happens upon a Yugo right when his company needs to find a new import or go under. A State Department eager to aid Yugoslavia’s nonaligned communist government. Zastava Automobiles, which overhauls its factory to produce an American-ready Yugo in six months. And a hole left by Detroit in the cheap subcompact market that creates a race to the bottom that leaves the Yugo . . . at the bottom.


Praise for The Yugo

“[A] rollicking chronicle of the rise and fall of the homely little hatchback that couldn’t . . . [Jason Vuic] weaves a tale about crazy socialist factories, just-as-crazy Western financial practices, geopolitics in the days of the Cold War and an American public yearning for affordable cars—all combined with the ‘cutting edge Serbo-Croatian technology,’ as the Yugo was referred to in the spoof movie version of ‘Dragnet’ . . . Mr. Vuic is as hard on the Western capitalism that fleetingly embraced the car as he is on the socialist system that produced it.”—Dick Teresi, The Wall Street Journal

"So you Toyota owners think you're having a bad year. You have my sympathy, but you'll have to wait in line after the people who bought the Yugo, the 1980s Yugoslavian import whose story is told in Jason Vuic's The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History . . . Along with the car, the book has an engaging antihero in Malcolm Bricklin, a compulsive floater of franchise schemes and the main importer of the car to America . . . The Yugo is a useful addition to the ever-growing literature of greed."—Charlie Haas, San Francisco Chronicle
"The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History chronicles the introduction of a Communist-made subcompact into the middle of Ronald Reagan's America and how a little car had a big impact on the American psyche. We picked up a copy, assuming it would be a light read for a long train ride. Instead we found a fascinating and rigorously researched history that was more fun than a night’s worth of Yugo jokes."—Keith Bary, Wired
"Given that socialist car jokes have survived better than the cars themselves, it can be hard to recall the West's brief, fiery affairs—more of necessity, perhaps, than love—with those cars in countries like Britain and the United States. For a brief time in the 1980s, for example, British dealers of the Soviet Union's Lada ranked among the industry's best-performing. And as historian Jason Vuic chronicles in his captivating, unexpected new book, The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, for a fleeting moment amid the clichéd go-go excesses of the 1980s, the $3,995 Yugo—loosely based on a Fiat and produced by a one-time arms manufacturer called Zastava—captured the wallets, if not exactly the hearts, of Americans and introduced some oddball charm and entrepreneurial zest into the staid confines of the U.S. auto market . . . Vuic's history is a fascinating read, and an instructive one for the present moment."—Tom Vanderbilt, Slate

"Creating the Yugo required dozens of corporations, thousands of Yugoslavians, international diplomacy, a cold war, marketing genius, consumer idiocy, and major screwups from not just one political ideology but all of them. Any knucklehead with a lawn mower engine and a monkey wrench can build a bad car. It took communism, socialism, and capitalism to build a Yugo. And Jason Vuic has the story."—P. J. O'Rourke

"Was the Yugo the worst car in history? No, although it wasn't far behind such automotive insults as the Trabant. Is this the most enjoyable car book of the year? Yes! Few car books can match Jason Vuic's supporting cast of earnest automotive executives, politicians, and out-and-out hucksters. Chapter after chapter is filled with such outrageous actions in the name of selling cars that you have to keep repeating this mantra: 'It's not libel if it's true.'"—James B. Treece, Industry Editor, Automotive News

"A cross-cultural tale of the little car that couldn't. Thoroughly researched, tellingly told—and hilarious!"—Phil Patton, author of Bug: The Strange Mutations of the World's Most Famous Automobile

"Testimony to the dishonesty, gullibilitysuccess, greed, cynicism, stupidity, and incompetence of virtually everyone involved in attempting to palm off a ramshackle Balkan-made leftover on the hapless American car buyer, who turned out not to be so hapless after all. The saga of the Yugo proves that failure may not be as instructive as sucess, but it's lots more entertaining."—Bruce McCall

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


Yugo Girls!

Q: How do you double the value of your Yugo?

A: Fill the gas tank.

The original idea to sell the Yugo in America came from California entrepreneur Miroslav Kefurt, who in March 1984 imported three Yugo 45s for display at the Los Angeles AutoExpo. Slight of build yet long in personality, Kefurt was a character. He had come to Los Angeles in 1969 from Prague, Czechoslovakia, where he and his father sold used cars. The Kefurts specialized in one model, the Fiat 600, which they sold in one color: red. "It wasn’t that Czech car buyers were demanding red

Read the full excerpt


  • Jason Vuic

  • Jason Vuic is an assistant professor of modern European history at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia. He lives in Staunton, Virginia, with his wife, Kara.
  • Jason Vuic © Last Light Photography