A penny-pinching price couldn’t save the Yugo from becoming an American punchline


The current crop of vehicles available on dealer lots across the U.S. has never been more expensive, but we have yet to see a new manufacturer trot out a truly budget-friendly option for cash-strapped buyers in search of a new car. Possibly because the last handful of times someone tried such a plan, it failed miserably.

When we say “budget-friendly,” we aren’t talking about the $20,015 2020 Nissan Sentra. Think a four-figure price tag. The Yugo, for example, whose original $4000 price tag translates to less than $10,000 today. It was a small car with a purpose firmly rooted in affordable transportation. Sadly, there were other factors doomed the little four-seater from the start other than its cheapskate nature… did it ever stand a chance, though?

The Hagerty Forums answered that question with a resounding no. The Yugo doesn’t have many landslide victories to boast of, but when we asked the forums which car was doomed from the start, the Yugo carried the vote. The poor car was doomed from the start.

Concours d'Lemons Amelia Island
Kyle Smith

The story starts with Malcolm Bricklin (yes, that Bricklin) on another entrepreneurial kick in 1984. His scheme of importing Bertone X1/9 and Pininfarina Spider models was on its last legs and that meant Bricklin was quickly searching for the next thing that could break into a strong business. He traveled the world in the hopes of finding a car that he could import and sell for a handsome profit.

What he found was a Fiat-based hatchback being built in Yugoslavia. The car was the abject opposite of luxury, with a wholesale price of just $2000. By 1985 the Yugo was being sold to Americans. At first, there were lines out the door. The Yugo’s popularity quickly fell apart, though, as the non-existent quality control shone through and the performance left buyers wondering whether they had purchased a car or a small shed—since they moved at roughly the same speed.

Concours d'Lemons Amelia Island
Kyle Smith

The Yugo’s 14-second 0–60 time and 86 mph top speed were lacking even in the era of … honestly, we’re at a loss. The downscale nature of this car defies all comparisons. The car became a punchline even to those who had never experienced one—which was likely a disproportionate number of folks, since Bricklin succeeded in peddling a scant 141,000 of the super-economy cars before calling quits on the venture in 1992.

Concours d'Lemons Amelia Island
Kyle Smith

The poll results were a landslide victory for the Yugo, but it was hardly the only sad situation the Hagerty Forums recalled. If you want to have your voice heard in the Answer of the Week, be sure to chime in on the Question of the Week topics that get posted each Friday.

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