As author Jason Vuic points out in The Yugo's introduction, the Yugo wasn't really the worst car in history. How did it capture the role of Worst Car Ever in the mind of most Americans? This excellent book explains all!
I was in college when the Yugo GV hit the American scene, and many of my peers- hoping to ditch their beater Vegas and 10-year-old Corollas and huff That New Car Smell for real- lined up to buy the only sub-$4000 new car available in America; the slightly wealthier ones ponied up the extra bucks for the nearly-as-execrable '86 Hyundai Excel. Bad move! Within a couple of years, all those Yugos (and most of the Excels) were as dead as Yugoslavia is now.
We've all got plenty of Yugo jokes (e.g., Q: How do you double a Yugo's value? A: Fill the gas tank), and I was concerned that The Yugo might end up being a lightweight, quickie collection of Yugo anecdotes. Not so! Vuic did his legwork, interviewed the major players from New Jersey to Kragujevac, and along the way tells the fascinating tale of Yugo Of America mastermind Malcolm Bricklin. Aaah, Malcolm Bricklin, the visionary who first brought Subaru to the United States, the super dealmaker who conned New Brunswick out of gadzillions to build the horrifically terrible Bricklin SV-1, the hustler who kept the Fiat X1/9 alive well past its American expiration date. John Z. DeLorean looked like a total rube next to the awe-inspiring snake-oil-slangin' might of Mr. Bricklin, who hired Barry Goldwater to grease the diplomatic gears inside his deal with the Yugoslavs and announced that Yugo would be outselling Volkswagen in the US by 1987… this before a single Yugo had yet appeared in an American dealership.
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Things started out pretty well for Yugo America, with Bricklin and his assistants making the deals necessary to get the Yugo to pass American crash and emissions standards and the Zastava factory to get their plum-brandy-swilling Communist workers to hammer together slightly less horrible vehicles. Then came the Consumer Reports negative review, which bashed Yugo America in the teeth with a tire iron, and meanwhile Bricklin went running off to Malaysia to make a nine-figure deal to import the Saga Proton. That deal… well, it didn't go well, and everything sort of goes downhill from there, culminating in NATO bombing the shit out of the Yugo factory in 1999.
Vuic covers the story here, getting all the political and financial dimensions in addition to the stuff that we car freaks like to geek out on. This book hooked me so well that I read it twice, so I'm giving it the first Mercedes-Benz OM617-grade Five Rod Rating since Cars Of The Soviet Union (which actually got an even higher 5-rods-plus-balalaika rating). Murilee says check it out!
[Farrar, Straus, and Giroux]