Tuesday September 26, 2017
Back in 1981, a time when ownership of a Sony C7 Betamax video recorder was your passport to social success, motorists on a restricted budget were offered a new form of an economy car.
The Yugo 311/313/513 looked very similar to the Fiat 128, which was still in production, but they all boasted a hatchback.
Best of all, the prices were keen and anyone who was previously contemplating a second-hand Talbot Avenger now had the opportunity to ‘Go New! Go Yugo!’ in a ‘stylish looking car that’s a joy to drive’.
The Zastava plant in what is now Serbia had been making Fiats under licence since 1953 and in 1971 they began local production of their own interpretation of the 128 which was also built in Poland.
In its homeland, the 101 was known as the Skala while in the UK they were often acquired by people who wanted compact FWD transport on a restricted budget.
Some of the advertising was equally inexpensive and I do recall seeing a commercial screened on TVS which comprises a series of photographs as an offscreen vocalist crooned about the virtues of ‘powerful headlamps’ and other major sales features.
Zastava also sold a handful of British-market 413s, a clone of the four-door 128 saloon, while the three and five door versions were available in thrilling Mediterranean and Caribbean limited-edition forms.
In 1983, the Reading-based importers offered another model in the form of the 45/55, which combined the Fiat 127’s running gear with locally designed coachwork.
‘Class on Top of Class’ proclaimed the advertisements with a distinct lack of modesty but the latest British-market Yugo – the Zastava brand was downplayed from the mid-1980s onwards - was less archaic than certain Eastern Bloc competitors and offered excellent value for money; a 55 GLS came with front fog lamps, a stereo radio-cassette player and alloy wheels all for under £3,899.
As compared with the Fiat Uno, second generation Renault 5 or Austin Metro the 45/55 did, somewhat inevitably, look dated but then any Yugo was aimed at a market sector less interested in fashion than in overall cost.
In 1985 What Car noted that the 513 ‘had an honest cheapness to it’ and, as compared with its Skoda, Lada and FSO rivals, it was ‘the only one that’s in any sense enjoyable to drive’.
Visitors to the 1989 Motor Show were further treated to a rather attractive 55-based Cabriolet and at that time sales commenced of the Fiat Tipo based Sana, which featured a Giugiaro designed body that appeared fairly contemporary if not exactly inspired.
However, to quote Autocar & Motor, it offered ‘Escort class space for the price of a basic Fiesta’, for the Yugo Sana, cost a vast £2,100 less than its Turin counterpart.
The disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and the subsequent UN sanctions meant that by 1992 imports of all models ceased and today, the old Zastava plant is a part of the Fiat
Chrysler empire, the Sana, 45/55 and 311/511 all being made until as recently as 2008. Outside of major classic car shows you would be hard pressed to find any model still on the road – which makes this 1980s vintage advertisement even more treasurable.
Yes, it's another chance to see our old friend Wally, the bearded Yugo fan.