Serbia Bids Farewell to Beloved Yugo

The little Yugo car has finally gone the way of its home country, the former Yugoslavia: out of business.

  This morning, the last Yugo rolled off an assembly line that then will shut down for retooling after 30 years of production. 

  "My heart is broken. We all were so proud of Yugo that my neighbor named his son after Yugo," says Prki Dzolovic, a retired employee at the Zastava plant in the central Serbian town of Kragujevac. "What makes you think that Fiat will be producing better quality cars? My Yugo is 21 years old. It's a proper adult and has no rust at all."

  The Italian carmaker Fiat purchased a 70 percent controlling interest in Zastava Automobiles from the Serbian government earlier this year. Production of the Fiat Punto will begin at Zastava by year's end.  

The boxy Yugo was beloved across the former Yugoslavia. "As of today, our national car is secondhand and will be missed," Dragan Ilic, who hosts an early-morning show on a Belgrade radio station, said in telephone interview with ABCNews.com. 

  Thousands of the cars still rumble along roads in Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, the collection of Yugo parts more harmonious and functional than those former parts of Yugoslavia, a federation that collapsed in war and mutual animosity more than 16 years ago.

  The Yugo found its way to the U.S. market in the 1980s and was an instant hit because of its low price ($3,990) and 10-year warranty. But Yugo-mania didn't last because the car wasn't exactly a great performer, nor was it known for its endurance or high-quality.

But to Yugoslavs, the nearly 800,000 units produced and more than 100,000 exported to the United States were a point of pride, an achievement in low-cost engineering and design. By the time the Yugo was discontinued in the United States in 1992, it had become the butt of many an auto joke.   

Among the hundreds of Yugo gags found on the Internet: "How do you make a Yugo go faster? Shut the engine off."

Car & Driver magazine once called the Yugo "The Disposable Car by Bic," likening its transmission's performance to "trying to shift a baseball bat stuck inside a barrel full of coconuts."

Readers of Car Talk magazine voted the Yugo the worst car of the millennium.

  But the Yugo also managed to spend some time in the Hollywood spotlight, being used extensively in the 2000 comedy starring Danny DeVito, "Drowning Mona," a movie that, like the Yugo, bombed.

  The car was also featured in the big-budget blockbuster "Die Hard 3" and, most recently, in a music video for heavy metal band Metallica's latest album.

  And, besides, the cars soon to roll over Yugo's grave have their own punchlines.  Fiat stands for "fix it again Tony," according to some American car critics.

  And Yugo's absence from America did make some hearts grow fonder. It has become a collector's item; a Yugo from 1986 in good condition might actually be worth more than its original list price.

A search of the Internet shows there is a small but growing community of Yugo owners who discuss where to find parts, share home-repair techniques and debate the best ways to keep their Yugos authentic.

  "All those who still have a Yugo and even the buyer of the last vehicle have nothing to fear,"  said Radomir Petrovic , the general manager of the Zastava Yugo plant.  "Our partner factories will produce a sufficient amount of spare parts."  

Despite the halt in production, diehard Yugo fans say they will not give up their automotive love affair. They organize meetings and exchange thoughts on Internet Web sites like yugofanclub.com, and insist they will never drive another car as long as they live.

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