I've had a few requests to post this up on RR..so here it is...enjoy
2011 has been an odd year to date, my car capers have been severely curtailed both by an ongoing temporary illness and sheer economics. On top of this we are busy launching a new business so cash flow is a premium. This played on my mind one April morning as I sat in a traffic jam on my commute from Edinburgh to Dalgety Bay in Fife, 15 miles away and the 150 miles a week in slow traffic was costing me nigh on Â£80 a week in the Volvo 850 AWD Estate...on top of this was the Â£900 insurance premium and the cost of parts â€“ always expensive with such a car and the added complexity of the mechanics meant every DIY job was a major stretch of my mechanical bodgery. I was bemoaning this to my friend, Torsten. He told me that a smaller car was the obvious choice and the previous year he and some others from www.autoshite. com had rescued a barn find. The car in question was a 1988 Yugo 45a...on paper a perfect choice...but, would it be any good for my purposes? He had parted with the car in a swap some months before to Nigel B a well known Sussex based collector of old tin. I contacted Nigel who, despite doing his very best to talk me out of it, eventually agreed to sell it to me.
We all know about eastern block cars,,,,in 1964 COMCON countries behind the iron curtain started to import their cars into the UK starting with the Wartburg, this was quickly followed by small numbers of Moskvitch. In the 1970s Ladas and Skodas started to appear and in the 80's the FSO from Poland. These vehicles were either homegrown (the Wartburg and Skoda) or copied under license from Fiat, often in exchange for resources such as steel. These vehicles were met with a degree of contempt by the British motoring press. The cars were often crude and unsophisticated compared to their western contemporaries and the build quality usually left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, they dd sell, they were cheap and easy to fix and had the eternal appeal of a new car whereas a western at an equivalent price would have to be bought second hand.
Zastava had started life as a weapons manufacturer in Serbia, by the 1950' a communist state under the leadership of the wartime partisan, Tito was forging a brave new world called Yugoslavia, bringing together and uniting the often hostile nationalities in the Western Balkans. Tito was no fool and had had the major advantage of having wrested his country from the control of the Nazis with British SOE help rather than with Red Army tanks. This made the Soviet Union's desire to influence the country ineffectual and the cunning Tito had Stalin's measure and infuriated that dictator by not submitting to Soviet Dominance. Therefore, almost unique in Europe Yugoslavia was a communist state rather than a Stalinist client state of Russia. Relations with the West were always warmer than those with thye Soviets despite the 'non-alingment' stance and Tito was very well connected in the British ruling classes, his liaison with Churchill had been the famous explorer, solder, writer and politician Sir Fitzroy MacLean, a friend of my father's who was one of the inspirations for Flemings Bond character. Fitz continued to be a personal friend of Tito and the Yugoslavian regime until the collapse of that country in the early 1990's and was responsible for facilitating many of the import/export deals with the west such as he launch of Zastava cars into the UK.
In the early 1950s Zastava started producing cars. Now car makers who have evolved from weapons companies usually make pretty well built vehicles. The manufacturing culture in the arms sector has always demanded manufacturing precision for obvious reasons but also functional and reliable products. Deals were struck with Italy, exchanging raw materials and steel for technology in industry and agriculture and Fiat contributed a number of car and commercial designs. In 1981, the year after Tito's death, Zastava started to import their cars into the UK and the 45a was the second of these. Unfortunately for Zastava the reception in the UK was mixed. What was quite a good wee car was tarred with the same contempt as the other communist offerings. Contemporary reviews of the 45a were lukewarm, grudgingly acknowledging the cars as 'quite good' in their class but then asking readers 'if they would be seen dead in one'. When you consider some of the abysmal cars being made in the UK at the time â€“ The Ital springs to mind it is interesting to note the contempt directed towards the Yugo. Despite selling in large numbers in the US the 45a was also derided over there. I'm not going to go into detail as to why what is, a cheap, reliable, product should be so vilified as better minds than mine have given the question thought (see Jason Vuic's excellent book) this probably tells us more about our society and it's obsession with status and the role the motor car plays in that than it does the car itself. Clarkson hasn't helped and his ridiculous buffoonery in squashing one with a tank is a cheap shot really Yes, the Yugo is no Golf but then it never set out to be one. Any trawl of the car forums invariably turns up a debate of 'the worst car every' and the Yugo seems to make it although I suspect very few of those posters have ever seen one let alone driven one. Anyone under 35 who professes to have driven and writes it off as plop has proably never driven one or maybe even seen ne in the flesh as there are very few of these cars left now...only 22 45's survive taxed or sorned in the UK, according to the 'how many left' website. To those who view their car as transport rather than a status symbol and put economy and simplicity above image the Yugo has a great deal of appeal. In this post 2007 economic slump, a slump we are all assured we are coming out of but only see creeping costs and bleak employment prospects perhaps the Yugo has never been more relevant. The illusion wealth, painted for us by the availability of cheap credit, the business model of the modern car industry and the increasing view of 'rip off Britain' more and more people are looking at austerity and economy as very necessary virtues rather than being bogged down in the petty accumulation of possessions of status.
In Serbia and the former Yugoslavia countries, they are baffled by the attitude of the west towards their car. A vehicle they are rightly proud of and a symbol of how unity once existed in that tragic part of the world. Tito had the Zastava's built from parts from all over the country, thus all contributed. One of the few things that contemporary Croatians and Serbs agree on, the Zastava was a team effort. The car is the antithesis of status symbol which is why the west didn't 'get it' and why 'Yugoslavians' are still baffled and angered by our attitude towards it. Here was a worker/s car, a car with no pretence. In the case of the 45a, tried and tested Fiat 127 running gear with the tough and willing 903cc push rod 4 pot belting out....45 hp. The styling was based on an Autobianchi never sold in the UK. The car could be worked on by the most amateur of mechanics, parts were readily available in local stores and could be bought off the shelf at grocers. The quality of the steel was first class, Yugoslavia had the last laugh at Fiat as in exchange for the blue prints they gave them the lowest quality steel whilst keeping the best for themselves. The quality of the steel is truly impressive, if you haven't seen a 45 in the flesh, the steel is Volvoesque in it's thickness and durability and, as such, they don't really rust. No popable thin French tin here â€“ rather solid and well assembled steel. There never was any 'status' built into the car, it was simply a well designed tool. Perhaps the reason why it is so despised is that as such it prods our social insecurities which we shore up with our accumulation of status symbols. The car asks 'why'?
The 45a I now own was a barn find which a combined effort of members of the autoshite.com forum saved. The 45a is a desirable car in autoshite circles so when member 'rootes-arrow' heard that a Yugo 45a was facing the weigh bridge as the building it had been stored in for 7 years was facing a redevelopment project he contacted the owner who agreed to spare the car if an owner could be found on the proviso it was moved on quickly. It is amazing what you can find sitting in old barns and garages for years which, with a bit of mechanical fettling here and T-Cut there can be returned to the road for the same as a few tanks worth of diesel. It had been bought from new by that famous purveyor of eastern European vehicles, The City Garage of Coventry. A white 'A' spec Yugo45. (red and white 45s we4re imported by the dozen by dealers and some of the larger dealers would carry a stock of up to 50 red or white 45s for quick deals) by a lady driver from new and used rarely (31k on the clock) until 2005 when it was laid up in a garage near Leicester with 32k on the clock and left there until found in 2010. 'rootes-arrow' put an appeal on the autoshite.com forum and long standing member 'Torsten; stepped up and with 'Andrew 323i' A framed the car back to 'Torsten's' storage facility in south London.
These photos show the condition of the car when found:
Torsten cleaned the car up, got it moving and fixed the non functioning horn. Despite trying very hard indeed to fail the car the MOT tester had to provide the wonderful document only failing it first time on a misaligned head lamp. Testimony indeed to the ruggedness and simplicity of the car.
Here are a few pictures of the car in the MOT station.
As mentioned, this 45 is a poverty spec one in white with a beige interior. Reviewed as an ugly car in the 1980's it now has it's own presence. The squat nature of it, the boxieness, the plunging nose line to the almost hidden rectangular lights. From the rear, to the uninformed, it has a Mk1 Golf shape. The car sits high on its wheels, good grand clearance essential in the Balkans. The doors close with a satisfying clunk, the boot is of reasonable size for such a small car and the catch is a simple affair â€“ the turn of the key both unlocking and opening the door â€“ no need to lock. This 45 is a 1988 â€“ before the 'face-lift' that saw the quarter windows disappear. It is totally original and has never been welded and other than a bit of frillieness and a few rust patches, it is very solid. The only after market additions are yellow head lamps and alloy wheels that look like they may be from an Alfasud, slightly larger than the standard steelies and wider.
Inside it is a feast of beige. Beige dash which looks like Caramac, carpets, seats, fuzzyfelt door-cards. The plastics are cheap but I have seen worse in a Renault and remember the Citroen Visa was pretty poor in this department. Cheap but they do seem durable despite having a reputation for fragility. The switch gear may be cheap plastic but the electrics under the switchs are quality and flick with a satisfying 'click' serious quality compared to the switch gear in our other car, a 2002 Renault Scenic which already has numerous switch gear issues due to the ludicrous cheapness of the design and components. The dash is soft plastic, carpets are adequate, seats are comfortable and dare I say it, better than those in the Scenic. The rear bench seat has 3 as standard belts and folds up to create a decent load area. The tilt mechanism on the front seats is certainly tougher than that in the Mk1 and 2 Golf and the seats sit solidly on their frames.
Fuzzy Felt door card finish
The famous 'row of five'
Equipment is basic but all there. You get a rear fog lamp, reversing lamps, 2 speed wipers, side lights/parking lights and headlights, a cigarette lighter, hazards, reasonable ventilation, a very effective fan fed by the bonnet air-scoop. There are warning lights for essential systems, a speedo (not working) and a fuel warning light. There is an aerial fitted but no stereo as standard and the centre console has no stereo slot â€“ fitting one would require fitting a new console.
Driving position is good with loads of room for my 6 foot frame. Steering wheel is well positioned and on the small side, no power steering but it is direct and responsive and highly manoeuvrable at low speeds. The four speed box has a reputation for fragility but in this one feels solid and direct with a slight vagueness when finding first...probably my unfamiliarity at driving four speed cars. Visibility is excellent. All the controls are at hand, the only odd one being the location of the fog light â€“ set on it's own out on the left in a 2 switch bank that on this car is 2 degrees off the horizontal and I suspect was added by the importer.
The car still has its importers quality control stickers in place and was supplied by the City Garage in Coventry.
Under the bonnet the superb 903cc engine sits nestled under a large flat air filter and it's carburetor. It is a tried and tested and very tough unit havijf been around since the 1950s in the Fiat 500â€“ a timing chain moving the cam which opens the valves via pushrods. The early OHV design but one that has produced engines of legendary toughness â€“ no cambelt to worry about here. The engine looks tiny in what is a small engine bay and is dwarfed by the gear box. A radiator the size of a large laptop sits to one side at the front of the grill. Other occupants include the spare wheel (a safety feature pioneered by Daf cars). Ignition comes from a coil, condenser and contact points. For someone used to working on British and more modern cars everything is visible and accessible, The parts for this car are ludicrously cheap and easily sourced through the club, were necessary, from Serbia. This car has a new alternator that cost 99p.
I didn't know what to expect, my open minded view of the car having been tarnished by the lexicon of abuse â€“ I was looking at ownership as an economic necessity, certainly not an experience to be either enjoyed or valued. So with trepidation, my friend Martin and I set of from his flat in Richmond on Thames to drive the 2 hours to West Sussex and the home of rare car legend, Nigel has a vast collection of rare tin including very rare Moskvitches, Renaults, and Japanese Coupes of the 70's including a graceful Isuzu. He also has the earliest known Transit Van. Nigel had been using the Yugo as a daily over the winter and had fitted the Alpha alloys as he believed it makes a huge difference to the handling. I have only driven a 45 once before, a very rare convertible a school friend had imported from Canada and I think he has a point. After an hour of drooling over the contents of Nigel's garden, we dragged ourselves away, I was aware that I had a very long drive to Edinburgh and was not yet convinced I would make it. Martin and I took the Yugo for a spin round the block. Sitting behind the wheel the car burst into life with little choke. I was immediately amazed, progress from standing was nippy and the car pulls very well up to 30mph. What amazed me was the directness of the steering, you can really feel the road and the feedback. It is actually rather nice to drive and a felt a slow grin spread over my face. Martin had a go as well and the appreciation of this willing wee hatchback was mutual. The tiny exhaust gives a great tone and the car feels a lot bigger on the inside, it also gives an impression of speed, speeding in town is easy to do and I must fix the non functional speedometer asap.
The 463 miles to Edinburgh would involve stops at my sister's house in Chiddingfold, my digs in Harpenden, and then up to Edinburgh. As the top recommended speed of the Yugo is about 60mph (any more risks blowing the head gasket or the water pump) I opted to head up to the M25, M1, M18, A1M, A696, A68 Otterburn to Edinburgh â€“ the iconic Dere Street and the most dramatic road between Scotland and England. A daunting journey in a modern car let alone a 25 year old 45hp supermini.
Motorway progress is as tedious as any other vehicle, made more so by the road and engine noise which are what you would expect from a car of this type. However, watching the glacial progress of the fuel gauge versus the distance covered gives you a warm, confident feeling. But it is on the empty A roads and even better on the B roads that the car suddenly becomes a complete hoot to drive. It scoots round corners with great confidence reminding me a bit of an early mini without the bouncy suspension, similarities with the mini don't end there â€“ the driving position is pure Ignossissis, the wheel sits in the hands like a bus's, probably closer to a Maxi than a mini and keeping the revs up and momentum going respectable progress is easy to make. Compared to some of it's contemporaries, this is a pretty good wee car. Between 0-30 mph progress is decent â€“ 30-45 is a bit sluggish if you don't get the gearing right and over 45 it picks up again with decent speed. It is a long geared car â€“ a glance at the owners manual gives a top speed in 3rd of 73 mph with a top speed in 4th an optimistic 84mph. The only thing to look out for is long periods at top speeds (i.e. 70mph) which will eventually destroy the engine. Some cars want to be driven and this car is one of them. The last time I had a grin on my face as large as this was on the A68 in a 205 Gti 1.6...the Yugo gives an impression of speed to the occupants, the roarty wee engine and the exhaust snarl away in a satisfying way when revved hard and it demands you to progress. It is easy to find yourself speeding in town. The fun really started on leaving the A1 at Newcastle to take the A696 north west to Otterburn and over the hills to the A68, Jedburgh, Lauder and Edinburgh. The border at Carter Bar has a succession of hairpins on either side and is a great test of a car's abilities and the wee 45 did not disappoint overtaking a Kia Rio and an HGV on the way up and a Dispatch on the way down.
All this fun cost pennies â€“ nearly 60mpg!!!!! I used 38 Liters â€“ 8.5 Gallons of gas. I suspect that premium fuel gives better returns as the car is set up to use 98 RON â€“ rare in budget supermarket fuel.
The family love it â€“ the kids think it is cute, my sister thinks it should be driving round Rome and the neighbours, far from sneering at it, are impressed with the unbelievable cheapness of the car. In fact, no one I have spoken to about the car has sneered at it â€“ the usual response is 'how sensible' and from those mechanically minded ' those are good cars., much maligned'. There are only 22 left and I own one of them and intend to for some time to come!
1988 Yugo 45a
Departed Yapley, Barnham, West Sussex at 1145hrs
leg 1 â€“ Chiddingfold, Surrey 23 miles 30 mins break
leg 2 Harpenden, Herts, 63 miles 30 mins break
leg3 Nottingham, 100 miles 30 mins break
leg 4 Durham, 146 miles 30 mins break
leg 5, Edinburgh, 130 miles arrived
Total 463 miles
arrival time: 1100hrs â€“ total journey time 11 hrs 45 mins, driving time: 9 hrs 45 mins -
Average Speed 49 mph
Fuel used = 38 lts/8.35Gallons
Consumption: 55.6 mpg
Oil burned: 0.5 ltrs
Since getting the car home I have cleaned the interior which has come up beautifully. It is rare as a radio has never been fitted so there are no holes cut in the door cards. Also the usual broken bits are all complete. All the car needed was a damn good hoover and plastics given the WD40 treatment and it now looks mint in it's beige glory. The exterior was hand washed and then T-Cutted. I like to do this asap with any new purchase because it gives you a really good idea of any issues early on. The plastic trip was given a good squirt of WD40 and polished up restoring the dark gray to it's original colour.
Driving it yesterday I noticed that the battery was sluggish on the start and indeed ran out of juice when I flooded the engine by giving it too much choke (it doesn't really need any). So I fitted a new generic battery from Unipart after the quote for the Yugo one came in a bit steep. The car has a huge battery tray and was obviously designed with the intention that your Dalmation farmer could fit a tractor engine if required.
This morning I took the car to the office in Fife. It proved such a lovely sunny day that I decided to knock off a bit early and, windows down and rear window vents open, I decided to have a spin round Fife and Clackmannanshire. So I headed from Dalgety Bay to Rosyth before picking up the wonderful Fife Coastal Route westwards from Rosyth through Limekilns, Charleston and the beautifully preserved 16th C town of Culross (home to Lord Thomas Cochrane, the legendary frigate captain and inspiration for the character of Jack Aubery in Master and Commander â€“ the first of Patrick O'Brian's excellent series of books). Then up to the bridge over the Forth at Kincardine before returning on the M9 to Edinburgh. On the coastal B Roads the car was great fun. The engine thrumming away up front and the great snarl of the small exhaust making the car sound like something from the Lombard rally. The car pulls out of corners really well. I revise my previous by saying it doesn't handle as well as a mini but it is still confident with minimal body roll and the Alphasud spec tyres give heaps of grip, without them it could be a handful. Brakes require some force to get the best, the discs are tiny so not surprising really. The tricky thing was keeping the speed down on the motorway as I have no desire to blow the head gasket or water pump â€“ the car is not designed to cruise for long periods at 70mph. So about 60 miles of cross country driving â€“ the fuel gauge didn't move at all â€“ always a bonus and, with the exception of the billowing clouds of white smoke from the exhaust (I added a bit too much Redex) the car got a lot of looks. The lack of badges leaves folk scratching their heads and when combined with the exhaust tone has the boy racers craning their necks as they try and work out what the hell it is.
My late father owned a Westfield Sei (a wide bodied Lotus 7 clone) with a 1.6 crossflow and twin Dellortos. He always said that to get the same level of fun experienced in a Westfield at 60mph you would need to drive a Porsche 944 at 90mph...he had a point and the Yugo is a bit like that. It isn't the fastest car in the world â€“ very far from it â€“ but it gives an impression of great speed to the driver and is engaging and challenging to drive properly...all this fun at 50mph...got to be good for the pocket and the license!
With thanks to:
and Phil Dust of the Zastava-Yugo UK Owners Club for the history and background of Yugo cars in the UK