I WAS saddened to hear that the Zastava marque has come to the end of the road after being in business for 30 years. Although never particularly liked or respected in the UK, these cheap rehashed Fiats had an honesty about them that endeared them to more people than you’d imagine. They first appeared on the scene in the UK in 1983 the form of the 311 and 511 (three years after being launched in its homeland) – a useful hatchback version of the Fiat 128 – and were quickly joined by the 45, a squared-off version of the Fiat 127.
In terms of market, they were priced to compete with the Lada Riva, FSO 125P and Skoda Estelle but, in many ways, had quite a lot more going for them. For one, they were front wheel drive and, being modelled on Dante Giacosa’s baby Fiats, there was a spark of driving pleasure to be found, if you could get past the rubberiness. Sales were never spectacular here, due in part to not being marketed with the same effectiveness as Lada and Skoda (both importers knew their customers and pitched deal-hungry dealers with deadly accuracy). However, things looked to improve – in the UK in 1989, with the arrival of the Sana (AKA Florida).
In terms of market, they were priced to compete with the Lada Riva, FSO 125P and Skoda Estelle but, in many ways, had quite a lot more going for them.
During the mid-1980s, Yugo 45s were also exported to the USA and, after a costly process of Federalization, they were launched as the country’s cheapest new car. Given it had the market to itself over there, it soon reached notoriety for its insufferable naffness, even making a handful of guest appearances in a number of Hollywood films, including Dragnet.
For Zastava, the Yugo Sana was always going to be its bridgehead into the glittering market that was Western Europe’s. Based on the Fiat Tipo’s platform (so it was contemporary) and styled by ItalDesign, it looked like it had the ingredients to clean up in the budget market sector. However, initial quality was lousy and ,although steps were taken to improve the situation, it was not enough. When the Balkan War hit, it effectively spelled the end for the Serbian Yugo over here. Those stocks left in the UK were panic sold – and the 45 briefly became the cheapest car in the UK (in 1992) – yours for a mere £1995. I was even tempted myself.
In the mid-1990s, the Sana became the first zero-valued car in Glass‘s Guide.
After the War, Zastava soldiered on – but not in the West, continuing to build Europe’s cheapest cars. However, the brand’s time is now over and the factory will be redeveloped so that a new range of Dacia-rivalling, budget-priced, Fiats can be built there.
Should we shed a tear? Perhaps not, but spare a moment for the passing of another manufacturer…