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The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

This biography of the Yugo reveals how it went from being an appealingly cheap mode of transport to becoming universally regarded as the worst car in the world.


The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History

Publisher: Hill and Wang
ISBN: 0809098911
Author: Jason Vuic
Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover
Length: 262 pages
Publication Date: 2010-03
Amazon

The perspective taken by Jason Vuic in his book about the Yugo is apparent from its subtitle: ‘The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History’. Clearly this is not going to be an attempt to make a defence for the Yugo’s shortcomings, or to claim that it was unfairly maligned. No, the objective here is to determine why the little Yugoslavian car was so bad, and to analyse why it could never succeed in '80s America.

So of course, there are plentiful anecdotes about Yugos being poorly assembled in a Serbian factory, breaking down on road tests and gradually acquiring the reputation of being barely preferable to walking.Yet there is also a considered investigation into the context of the Yugo’s appearance in the USA.

The central character is an entrepreneur called Malcolm Bricklin, who has made his living importing cars. However, his track record in this business is erratic at best. Bricklin was the first person to sell Subarus in the USA: this venture ended badly, with the vehicles being declared unsafe and unroadworthy, but the more recent successes of the Subaru brand suggest that he may in fact have been onto something. His next project was importing small Italian sports cars; this was also a failure. Undeterred, Bricklin began the search for a more viable import, and found the Yugo.

Of course, there is comedy in this story. In the early '80s, the Yugo appeared to Bricklin to be a great business prospect; looking back, we laugh, knowing how fraught with problems the Yugo was. What is generally overlooked is the fact that, for a short time, the Yugo was a successful car. Its big selling point was its price: at its launch it cost just $3,990. This convinced thousands to sign up for the car, and for a while demand outstripped supply, with some customers waiting several months to take delivery of their Yugos.

Even after motoring journalists had panned it and comedians had incorporated it into the routine, many owners remained happy with their cars. While the Yugo appealed only to a certain demographic – those who wanted a brand new car for very little money – it filled a niche in the market that few realised existed.

So where did it all go wrong? Several factors and a combination of misjudgement and misfortune brought about the Yugo’s demise. In order to boost slightly flagging sales, Bricklin negotiated a deal with the Malaysian manufacturer Proton to add their cars to his portfolio of imports. This required backing from Mitsubishi, which provided most of Proton’s components, and at the time that Bricklin invested this remained unsecured. Then there was the unstable political climate of Serbia, which was now suffering at the hands of Slobadan Milošević.

An even more immediate problem was the short lifespan of the American market for tiny cars like the Yugo. Once the oil crisis of the '70s was forgotten, few car buyers cared much about gas mileage. To have a larger car was to feel safer on America's aggressive roads – if a Yugo collided with an SUV then the Yugo driver came off worse, so it was considered preferable to have a large, sturdy car. Then there was the status that a big, prestigious car afforded its driver, and in the rabidly consumerist environment of the '80s, this was perhaps the most important factor in the Yugo's demise.

While not everyone could afford a Mercedes or a Cadillac, there was also an influx of smaller, cheaper cars that were pitched against the Yugo. None of them were quite as reasonably priced but, in a way, this worked in their favour. They were affordable, but they were a step up from the absolute bottom of the heap. In an era obsessed with status and money, to be the cheapest car on the market may have been detrimental to the Yugo.

From my perspective as a European, one of the major things that this book confirms is America’s lacks of enthusiasm for small cars In Britain in the '80s and '90s we had the opportunity to buy not only Yugos but also cars from other east European makes that never made it to the USA, such as Lada, FSO and Skoda. While Skoda has now established itself as a manufacturer of quality cars that equal anything sold by Ford or Toyota, the others have admittedly been pushed out of the market. Yet their demure size was never an issue here – it was their inadequate emissions standards and their poor quality compared to more modern Asian rivals that bothered us Europeans.

The state of the car industry in the developing world is an increasingly important contemporary concern, and therefore Vuic’s book is timely, even though it deals with recent history. The economy of South Korea has progressed rapidly, and its car industry has made significant advances; the market share of brands like Hyundai and Kia is testament to this. We can expect this to be followed by the arrival of new and unfamiliar names from India and China, such as Tata and Geely. If these cars are picked up by the American market, then we can only hope they have more enduring success amongst America's fickle car consumers than the well-intended but ill-fated Yugo.

8

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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