The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History – Jason Vuic, copyright 2010.
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Pages: 262 (including notes and index)
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
You will not find me reviewing many non-fiction books, not because I don’t read them, but because most of the ones I do read are for personal interest rather than enjoyment. A lot of the non-fiction I read is for educational purposes and I don’t want to subject anyone to my personal views on politics, religion or other matters; this one was purely for enjoyment.
“Q: What’s included in every Yugo owner’s manual?
A: A bus schedule.”
– The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, page 31.
I first came across the book several months ago advertised online and knew right away that I had to have it. You see, my boyfriend is Croatian and the Yugo is viewed, here, and all over the former Yugoslavia as a symbol of a former identity and a prestigious historical icon. Outside of the Balkans, however, the Yugo is synonymous with the terms lemon and jalopy. I can’t say I had ever heard of the Yugo before I moved to Croatia, but since that time, I have come to understand how much it means to a people who were responsible for its inception.
Jason Vuic, a university professor from Virginia, writes extraordinarily well and did a fine job of turning a subject (cars) I would normally find deplorable into an exciting and highly informative read. The book is less the story of the Yugo itself and more the story of Yugo’s success devastating failure in America. Vuic follows the many unfortunate business ventures of entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin which culminate in the 1980s with his most successful failure, the Yugo. He outlines the very real problems Bricklin faced in bringing the Yugo to America. Zastava (the manufacturer of the Yugo) was not keen about overhauling the car in order to make it road ready for the United States. Furthermore, there was the issue of trying to sell a communist made car in capitalist America in the middle of the Cold War. While the Yugo was an inexpensive option for American consumers, it was also shoddily built and simply did not exude the sort of image that most people were interested in portraying in the midst of the materialistic 1980s.
There are some bits of technical jargon throughout the book, but for the most part Vuic does a terrific job of making things easy to understand. I found myself really howling at some points as there is no shortage of Yugo jokes. The book is filled with a plethora of humorous anecdotes, especially as concerns the psychology of the socialist mindset in the day-to-day lives of Yugoslavs who were charged with the manufacturing of automobiles in a closed market.
“ …Barbara Wendling, a Yugo America quality control specialist [said] ‘…Zastava purchased [a Hyundai] Excel and brought it to the factory. They took it apart and examined it to find design ideas for the [new Yugo] Florida. But the funny thing was, they lost some of the car’s parts and couldn’t put it back together again.’ To their credit, the Yugoslavs did succeed in building a second car – not a good car, mind you, but a viable car nonetheless.” – The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, page 120.
My boyfriend tells me that Vuic is a Serbian name, but much to my chagrin, after scouring the internet, I was unable to find any information about the author’s origins. It would have been nice to know from what perspective the Yugo saga was being told. I realize it is only a car and you might well think these things shouldn’t matter, but after the war in the 1990s, ethnicity plays into everything here and can effect perspective on the most trivial issues. There were also mini history lessons as regards both the creation of Yugoslavia and its turbulent end; having some idea of the author’s biases would have really helped. For most readers I doubt this will be a problem. Most will find this to be both an informative and very entertaining read.