Every day is a school day. I say that a lot, and it’s true. In every walk of life, hobby or job, you’re always learning. Diecast is no exception. I’m always chasing unusual and rare diecasts, especially from countries I have visited or that I have a connection with. I’ve looked at a Greek Bedford, a Soviet VAZ, a Spanish SEAT and Czechoslovakian Skodas. And I have more oddities to look at. But I haven’t yet covered anything from the Balkans, and up until very recently didn’t even know this thing existed.
This is the Yugo/Zastava Koral by… well, we’ll get to that in a little more detail shortly, but I can’t do an article about the Yugo without touching upon the history of the vehicle.
The little Yugo is one of the most infamous and recognisable automobiles of the last 50 years. Often derided as one of the worst cars ever made, the Yugo was in production for almost 30 years from 1980 to 2008. And in my opinion, the poor reputation is a little unfair.
Zastava had much success with license building examples of the Fiat 128 and the Yugo has its roots in a Fiat design for a shortened 128 variant. Built in Kragujevac in what was then Yugoslavia, the Yugo was one of the cheapest vehicles on sale anywhere, not just in the home market. Sales across the globe were initially good and the Yugo was exported to a huge number of countries including China, Chile, Egypt, Greece, Tunisia and the UK among others. The Yugo also had a very successful launch in the US where Malcolm Bricklin imported the car from 1985 and sold over 140,000 until sales ceased in 1992.
Quality on early examples was relatively good, but the Yugoslav conflicts of the 1990s put huge strain on production and exports. Stories of poor reliability and build quality became widespread but devotees of the Yugo argued that due to the low purchase cost, owners were treating the vehicle as a disposable item and therefore failing to undertake basic care and maintenance tasks. If properly maintained they argued, a Yugo could last as long as any other car. And maybe they were right. In Southern Europe and the Balkans you can still encounter examples soldiering on like this Zastava badged car I found in Athens, Greece in 2019.
The Yugo certainly provided “motoring for the masses” in the home market, and gave many families their first taste of new car ownership with a lot of happy memories. The poor reputation had stuck however, and despite nearly 800,000 being sold before production ended in 1998, the Yugo often finds itself branded “the World’s worst car”. That’s not a fate that will befall this miniature anytime soon though. It’s just too cool.
Finding it was truly a learning experience and my gratitude has to go out to my friend Neven who provided this example and also educated me on the history of the casting. The original toy was made by Auro Metal, based in the Northern Yugoslav (now Serbian) city of Subotica. The brutal Yugoslav implosion of the 1990s swiftly put paid to production at the Auro Metal plant but the tooling and licenses were sold in 1991 to GMK Metalbox, a Hungarian toy manufacturer from the Szépvölgy area of Budapest. Early versions featured the metal chassis of the Auro Metal cars but they were swiftly replaced with plastic items when stocks were exhausted.
My example is a police car based on the Auro Metal “Milicija” (Yugoslav Militia) version.
It’s a little on the crude side but it has bag loads of charm. The bonnet is a tiny bit too long but the rest of the proportions are instantly recognisable and there’s an opening rear hatch and a removable light bar in case you don’t want the police look.
You’ll all know by now what kind of vehicles excite me and the Yugo is one of them. This diecast has the combination of everything that I look for when collecting: interesting subject, rarity, obscurity, cool factor.
From purchase to putting this post together, this car has given me a great amount of happiness and in the spirit of Lamley, that is true tranquil collecting.