Crap: The Story of Yugo

They say that it’s impossible to succeed without first willing to risk failure. That’s certainly true of entrepreneur and self-made multi-millionaire Malcolm Bricklin. Best known as the man who brought Subaru to America, he’s also noted as the person who decided to import a car from Yugoslavia which has since become infamous in automotive history.

“Crap, Pure Crap”

The Yugo made its American debut in 1987, with the release of the GV model, which sold for a base price of $3995.00 (around $8000.00 today). “GV” was meant to stand for “good value.” Owners of the vehicle and the mechanics who worked on them came up with other interpretations of those two letters, most of which aren’t fit to repeat here. A popular joke in the late 1980s went something like this: “Q: How do you double the value of a Yugo? A: Fill the tank!”

RELATED: See images and galleries of early Subaru models

After the dealerships failed, the cars were snatched up at bankruptcy auctions and used as promotional items. I remember a mobile home salesman in North Carolina who gave one away to every individual who purchased a new double-wide trailer (not making that up).

Amazingly, the car has become a subject of some interest to students of business history, who have advanced a number of theories about why it failed. These range from, “the car was too cheap for status-driven Americans” to “the unstable Yugoslavian economy provided an insufficient platform for a thoroughgoing promotional effort.” But those ideas are all bovine excriment. The reason the Yugo tanked was summed up by a veteran mechanic I spoke with:

The things were crap, pure crap. Within 50,000 miles the head gaskets would crack, the fuel and water pumps would fail, the wiring would burn up, the brakes would fall off, even the radios could barely play. I worked on dozens of those damn things back then. They made me plenty of money, along with a lot of headaches. At least I never bought one. The owners were the ones who got screwed.

More perceptive words were never spoken.

RELATED: See another unreliable car – the Fiat Spider

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