Imagine wearing a seatbelt that is tied to your passenger’s seatbelt, so that anytime you move, they can feel it. That would feel pretty odd, right? Well, such a terrible restraint design existed in Serbia, specifically in Yugo cargo vans. Behold.
This is a pretty random article, I have to admit, but it’s something that has my coworker Jason and me baffled. So I must share it.
While putting my diesel, manual 1994 Chrysler Voyager to the test on a 3,500 mile road trip from Germany to Turkey and back, I stopped by Belgrade, Serbia and met a kind, car-loving giant named Dragoslov. He showed me some awesome cars in his neighborhood — cars that I shared with you in a previous article. Here are the videos from that story:
I hung out with Dragoslav for several days. He showed me a butcher shop and took me to his friend’s garage; he and I picked up a Yugo steering wheel for my coworker Jason; we went to a workshop and miraculously got my van’s air conditioning fixed for $25; and I had the privilege of meeting Dragoslav’s amazing family. We discussed politics, relationships, food, careers — damn near every topic under the sun. But there was one subject that I could tell was living rent-free in Dragoslav’s head — a topic that he desperately needed to get off his chest, if only so that someone, anyone, could understand his plight. That topic was The Seatbelt.
This isn’t just any seatbelt, mind you. This is a seatbelt so uncomfortable that Dragoslav remembers using it many years later. It’s a seatbelt that has occupied the man’s nightmares, and likely the majority of his therapy sessions. Dragoslav first mentioned it to me while we were car-spotting around town. “My friend and I were sitting in a Yugo cargo van,” he told me. “And we were wearing these horrible seatbelts. Horrible I tell you!” he cried, tears building up in his eyes.
“There, there,” I comforted the six-foot-five Serb, motioning him to lean down so I could give him a hug. “When he moved....when he moved I could...”
“It’s okay, you can tell me,” I whispered as I patted him on the back.
“I could feel his every motion. It felt like I was being touched by a ghost.” He burst out in tears, shaking.
I tightened my grasp to comfort him, but I knew it was no use. This seatbelt buckle-related trauma was too much for any human to handle, and well above my pay grade. It would require the likes of Robin Williams’ character from Good Will Hunting to bring peace to this poor man’s heart. Later in the day, with tears now dried, Dragoslav found the strength to show me the torturous contraption:
“Those buckles are moving around, so when the passenger moves, you feel his move here [motions to chest]. It’s really really uncomfortable” Dragoslav whimpers in the clip above.
He mentions how these buckles could only be found in late model Yugo vans like the one shown below:
“It was made for maybe 3 years in that configuration. 2005-2008,” Dragoslav estimates.
That “van” in the photo above (it’s basically a hatchback with a partition) is for sale, and though this particular one isn’t equipped with the rubber piece that connects the two buckles at the top, you can see that the buckles are not hard-mounted to the floor. They are mounted via a flexible tube:
This mounting strategy gives the buckles a large range of motion, so as you can imagine, if those buckles are connected at their tops via a strange plastic/rubber contraption like the one shown below, it will feel as if you and your passenger are attached at the hip. When one of you moves, the other will feel it in the waist and chest area — a sensation that, per the shock in Dragoslav’s eyes, is a weirdness that nobody should ever have to experience.
Why exactly did Zastava use this design? If I had to guess, it was to keep the buckles from flopping all over the place. Still, how did nobody sit in the car with a passenger and immediately decide “Yeah, this isn’t going to work. Let’s change this”? It’s just silly.
I’ve seen other seatbelt setups that tie two buckles together. The Jeep Wagoneer seatbelt above has two buckles both sharing one attachment point. While I bet one passenger can feel the other’s motion in certain circumstances, the fact that there’s some amount of floppy belt between the two buckles likely makes it feel a little less creepy than the Yugo’s contraption.
I don’t know what Zastava, maker of the Yugo, was thinking, here. But our poor man Dragoslav paid the price for it.