The Truth About Cars » Yugo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 29 Aug 2015 15:27:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Yugo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Last Rides Premium Selects: You Goin’ Nowhere http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/last-rides-premium-selects-goin-nowhere/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/08/last-rides-premium-selects-goin-nowhere/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 14:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1105953 Today’s morbidly interesting victim is a friggin’ Yugo. If you know where this is going, I think there’s little else I could possibly say to encourage you to click the jump. My taste in cars strays wildly from that of most everyone. For me, exotics sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. If a car […]

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Today’s morbidly interesting victim is a friggin’ Yugo. If you know where this is going, I think there’s little else I could possibly say to encourage you to click the jump.

My taste in cars strays wildly from that of most everyone. For me, exotics sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. If a car is bad enough, I will probably relish the idea of re-engineering it so its road-worthiness is actually somewhat plausible, not to mention more…uhh…thrilling.

See, you have the guy in the Ferrari owning something exclusive due to his bank account. I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have is a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people who take cars too seriously. Sitting way on the other end of this spectrum is the famously terrible Yugo, also exclusive, but for different reasons.

Maybe now you can perhaps understand my delight when I stumbled upon our subject car… and my sadness.

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This wasn’t just any commoner-spec GV though, but a genuine GVL. From what I gather, the difference consisted of a fake basketball court glued to the dash and a special sticker on the air cleaner — you know, to show off when you have your hood open. The elemental-level modifications to the tin have been underway for some time, courtesy of Morton Salt the air.

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I climbed inside, and pretended to make sportbike sounds while admiring the peculiar placement of the village sticker collection. I then became trapped inside the Yugo.

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Coolly, I determined that the dried grease of the door lock mechanism must be overwhelmed by a sharp blow to the lock rocker switch. Only then did the Yugoslavian import release me from its not-just-metaphorical grip.

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I found this section of intact shipping plastic and the car’s low mileage remarkable. However, there was no hard evidence to be found that could be used to forge a tall tale of the Yugo’s final days of ownership. That is, until I found this picture of our protagonist at the helm of this very machine, taken back in August of last year.

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How did I get this image, you ask? A magician never reveals his secrets. License plate frames are one of those things that seem to rarely stay with a car when it changes hands. This one matches the weathered dealer sticker on the car from long-extinct Ruby Chevrolet. I’m pretty sure what we’re looking at here is cradle-to-grave, daily-driven Yugo ownership. I’m getting extreme tightwad vibes here.


 

Tomasz was an eccentric hero.

Tomasz chewed the last bite of Mrs. T’s pierogi, finding even more shredded bits of plastic. He spit them out onto the plate, and continued chewing. It disturbed him somewhat, but he thought, “Mama would be furious, but food is not to be wasted.”

He relaxed in the second-hand chair, and looked up at the flag of his mother country that was pinned to the wall of his one bedroom flat. The flag sagged in the middle, and the top half of the heraldic crest was covered in a light tinge of dust. Eurovision blared out of the small-tube television sitting on the TV cart next to the table.

After swallowing that last mouthful, Tomasz walked into the bathroom for a piss. He zipped up and admired the poster on the wall of a European prize fighter in a ready stance. Tomasz raised his fists as if squaring off with the man, and threw a few light blows to the air.

It was two o’clock in the afternoon, and he was now ready to face the work day.

The 55 year old exited the apartment into the thick air of Summit, IL. Stench from human waste, left to dry out in the sun in large vats, filled his nostrils and mixed with the nearby corn sweetener and asphalt plants. An orange and purple jetliner blasted overhead in a climb-out. The cacophony of truck parks, hissing gas valves, a rail yard, and a major interstate combined into a roaring din of industry.

Tomasz found the Yugo in the usual spot in the parking lot, squatting over its oil stain. He took the time today to perform some routine maintenance on his automobile. After all, he would tell others that this is why “There are no more Yugo left, because Americans are lazy and irresponsible,” and that given a little routine attention (like replacing the carburetor right after buying the car), this frugal machine will run forever. Tomasz added the missing quart of engine oil with his special blend of bottom shelf 10W-30, STP motor honey, and DEXRON in equal parts. The addition of transmission oil was a trick he learned long ago to boost gas mileage. He walked around, kicking the tires to insure they were still inflated to the self-imposed spec of 40 psi. “The high pressure is key for the excellent fuel burn,” he told himself, as was a clean air filter element. He would have liked to replace this vapor-soaked piece with a genuine Yugo part as specified, but those were in short supply. Instead, Tomasz resorted to throwing it to the ground repeatedly to shake off any dust. On a nice day like today, he might give the Yugo a bath with dishwashing liquid. However, thanks to the rust penetrating enough to stain the door cards, those days were long gone. Finally, he unsnapped the distributor cap, and inspected inside. “Hrrmmm.”

At Advance Auto Parts, the familiar sound of the little bucket droned, and then puttered outside. One counter person said to the other, “Hey, wait till you get a load of this guy. He drives a Yugo.” Tomasz walked up to the counter with the young man eagerly awaiting to serve him.

“I need a rotor bug.”

The employee asked with bated breath, as if confirming the unbelievable, “For…what kind of car?”

Tomasz replied, “1989 Yugo Gee Vee El.”

The young man peered into the monitor with stunned disbelief.

QTY DC 763: [34]

QTY ON HAND: [1]

Tomasz paid his $13 in cash and left with his new part. One of the employees watched out the window as the Yugo fired up and sputtered out onto Harlem Avenue. He then whipped his head around to face his fellow man, exclaiming, “Holy shit!”

The Yugo’s split muffler bleated past the GM Electromotive plant like a sheep in the Bosnian countryside. Tomasz employed 4th gear at 38 mph for fuel conservation. The plucky automobile responded by vibrating like a paint shaker. Then, he turned on the radio…in his mind, and hummed a favorite tune.

“Żadnego już nie powiesz jutro
OOOooooooohhhhh Ooooooooooohhh
 nie powiesz jutro
Żadnego z nich nie będziesz jutro czuć”

Tomasz turned on his signal for East Avenue — not just to indicate a left turn, but to supply power to the fuel and temperature gauges. As he always had, Tomasz watched as they gradually powered up. The temp was in the normal range, and the fuel gauge indicated half a tank remaining. The needles pulsed slightly with the indicator in unison. (Yes, this is really a thing they do). Tomasz eased the GVL carefully through the turn so as not to slosh fuel out of the tank from the rotten filler neck. The Yugo finished its five-mile commute at the end of the frontage road, and it gasped out a “putt-putt-putt-putt-pitter-putt” before being shut down.

Tomasz checked his Casio. He was right on time to begin another eighteen-hour shift.

Tomasz clocked in, and took his place in the end booth on the northbound side. He then hung his yellow placard in the window.

Illinois Tollway Plaza 37

Your toll collector: Tomasz Kuszczak

The veteran collector of twenty years seniority was as good at his job as you would expect. He warmed up with the building traffic that would form an onslaught of vehicles within minutes. His lane always flowed the fastest. Monies flew through his blue, condom-clad fingertips. An hour in, and his hands already had the tinge of silver and schmutz.

“Hello, how are you?” a man asked, handing Tomasz yet another $20 bill. He ignored the friendly gesture entirely, as it was nothing more than a burden of .014 seconds. Just fractions of seconds that would build exponentially until it deprived the field of motorists sprawled out behind this rig. Tomasz craned his neck out, counting the axles on the man’s trailer, and responded, “Dollar twenty.” Then the money flowed. In this rush hour, he had two “This is bullshit” type comments for taking what the motorists thought were excessive, and one for taking what they thought was too little yet imposing the inconvenience.

It was getting late. The flow through his flashing booth turned into a trickle. The clientele appeared to turn more weary, drunk, and belligerent. Some cackling teens in a beat-up Saturn slapped a pile of filthy pennies in front of him in an attempt to stick it to The Man.

Tomasz responded, “Oh! It’s just like Christmas!”, and slowly counted each penny.

“Twenty-five, twenty-six…”, the Saturn crept forward out of his periphery, “…twenty-nine, thirty-STOP!!” The startled teen mashed the brakes.

“…thirty-three…”

It was 3 a.m. when the murdered-out Dodge Ram stopped at his window. The angry man asked “Is this really your job?” Tomasz was unaffected, and handed him his change. The man in the truck shook his head, snorted, and throttled out into the night. Tomasz just grinned. This was really his job. He was quite content here at Plaza 37 on I-294, right next door to the sewage treatment plant. As the temps rose hotter, that sucker would pump out its rich funk, and the seasonal hires would duck out. He could get all the hours he wanted here. On track to clear $90,000 in 2015 with full benefits. He wished Mr. Ram all the best, watching his one tail light disappear around the bend.

“Break time!”

After handling most of the morning rush, Tomasz punched his time card and left the chaos for his tinny sled. As he prodded the gas pedal to warm the engine so it wouldn’t stall, he dreamed of being back at his place, handling some light chores before hitting the sack. The Yugo avoided the frenetic danger of LaGrange Road and I-55, cutting its way back along old Route 66. Tomasz waited in the right lane for 55th Street. His indicator flashed, and he checked his gauges again. Then, something peculiar happened. The clicking slowed to a stop. Tomasz was puzzled by this, and clicked the signal lever off and then back on. There was a buzz, and that’s when the smoke rolled out of all the dash vents. Tomasz whipped off his seat belts, and bolted out the door.

“Kurwaaaa mac!!”

He waited for a short time for the smoke to dissipate before nervously getting back into the idling Yugo and limping home.

In the weeks that followed, Tomasz tried in vain to get his Yugo’s lighting circuit working again. There was a brief eureka moment when he discovered the burnt-out fuse, but its replacement only resulted in even more smoke. The boys at Advance Auto Parts sadly could not help with finding “the wires” in their computer either. He began skipping all the shifts at work that required a nighttime commute. He could have a professional take a look at it, but realized his machine required specialized foreign auto technicians. Those were expensive. Tomasz came to the conclusion that purchasing this car in 1989 for $4,600 after rustproofing had a pretty good final ROI. He opened the hatch and examined the rust hole in the strut tower again. This area looked important. He sighed, closed the hatch and said, “You’re not costing me any money.”

The GVL left the apartments and puttered across the street to Pick-N-Pull. Tomasz parked his car for the last time. He perused the cars for sale with wonder. He didn’t know that the junkyard sold cars, and they were cheap!

“This Neon here. This good car?”

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Book Review: The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/book-review-yugo-rise-fall-worst-car-history/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/book-review-yugo-rise-fall-worst-car-history/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 15:41:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=993850 Society likes stories about failure. Who knows how many people have bought books about the fall of financial institutions, tech companies, sports teams, organized crime families, and politicians? People interested in the automotive industry are no exception when it comes to stories of failure. Bob Lutz never wastes any time discussing the sales flop that […]

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Society likes stories about failure. Who knows how many people have bought books about the fall of financial institutions, tech companies, sports teams, organized crime families, and politicians? People interested in the automotive industry are no exception when it comes to stories of failure. Bob Lutz never wastes any time discussing the sales flop that was the Pontiac Aztek. A movie was made about the failure of the Tucker Car Corporation. And society as a whole loves to tell jokes about the Yugo, widely thought of as among the worst cars of recent history.

But sometimes it’s just as worthwhile to read about the achievements, especially when attaining the end goal seems improbable. The achievements are what historian Jason Vuic focuses on in The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History. To Vuic, the fact that a group of people managed to get together and sell the Zastava Yugo in the United States was an extraordinary achievement, illustrating the circumstances to the last detail. He emphasizes the projects undertaken by Yugo America Inc., from making sure the Yugo could meet US emissions standards, that the construction of the car could meet actual quality standards, and gain customers.

The story of the Yugo would not be complete without the story of Malcolm Bricklin, and Vuic doesn’t disappoint in that area. Vuic first covers Bricklin and his foray into a franchising hardware stores (which went belly-up due to lack of a warehouse) before writing about the automotive-related ventures. Vuic starts by dedicating a chapter to Bricklin introducing Subaru to America. (He was promptly forced out of Subaru by new investors after the Subaru 360 was given a terrible review by the Consumers Union.) After that there’s another chapter on the Bricklin SV-1. (The SV-1 stood for Safety Vehicle 1; it wasn’t, with heavy, leaky doors and shoddy fiberglass-backed acrylic body panels.) And then comes a chapter about Bricklin importing the FIAT X1/9 and the Spider. (Those were way too expensive for the 1980s.)

By the first third of the book and before ending the story of the Yugo in America, Vuic portrays Bricklin as a man capable of raising immense amounts of money, but ultimately incapable of producing lasting results. However, Vuic emphasizes the achievements rather than failures. In the case of Subaru, Bricklin at least brought Subaru to America. For the Bricklin SV-1, at least Malcolm Bricklin got as far as building an assembly line and delivering 1,800 cars. As for bringing the X1/9 and Spider back to America, at least he had a business partner that made important improvements to the cars.

Vuic gives numerous anecdotes of the challenges endured in ensuring the Yugo was ready for America. For instance, Vuic tells of a long fax sent to the Yugo factory in Kragujevac by Tony Ciminera, the senior vice president for production and engineering. Called the “four-meter fax” by Zastava managers, it specified all the parts of the car that needed to be added or fixed by the factory. Another involved Zastava employees drinking brandy every morning and during breaks, which seriously concerned American employees in charge of getting the cars built to US standards. One more story involved the separate “Yugo-A” line at the factory, when Zastava bosses nixed the idea of having a select group of workers be eligible for higher wages and possible bonuses for meeting targets, stating that it was impossible in their system. When Ciminera pointed out that the bosses rode to work in Mercedes cars, he received the response that “Some workers are more equal than others.”

Unlike Malcolm Bricklin’s past ventures, Yugo America took a number of steps to be taken seriously. One thing they did was hire Kissinger and Associates, Henry Kissinger’s consulting firm, to bring on a consultant named Lawrence Eagleburger, who was a former ambassador to Yugoslavia. Additionally, Henry Kissinger was needed when Yugo America considered importing the Proton Saga built in Malaysia (a rebadged second-generation Mitsubishi Mirage), due to his relationship with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, and Yugo America agreed to some hefty consulting fees ($200,000 and $10 from each Proton Saga sold in the United States). They spent millions of dollars on an ad campaign that aired when most Americans watched the evening news. The car had around 250 dealers.

As Vuic is a historian, he also concentrates on the Yugo’s impact on foreign policy. During the 1980s, American companies were looking to do business in Yugoslavia, and the Yugo was a public symbol of the relationship between the two countries. The U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia had a Yugo and traveled to local functions in the car. In the case of Yugoslavian foreign policy, exporting the Yugo was a source of hard currency for paying off massive foreign debts. Croatians did not like the Yugo as the car was built in the Serbian part of Yugoslavia and staged public protests against the Yugo’s export, due to Yugoslavia’s human rights record and the existence of political prisoners.

Close to the end of the book, Vuic puts the spotlight on one last accomplishment. And that was the Yugo’s ability to become a part of American popular culture despite the car’s exceptionally slow sales. The advertisements during the evening news put the word “Yugo” in people’s mouths. Jay Leno alluded to the Yugo during his routines on The Tonight Show during the late 1980s. David Letterman sometimes mentioned it in his Top Ten lists. The Yugo became a punchline for newspaper columnists across the country. Baby boomers will know what the Yugo was, while their faces will turn blank if asked about the Vector.

In the end, despite the accomplishments, Yugo America had to go bankrupt. The cars didn’t sell and had way too many defects, especially when compared to the cheap Japanese cars a decade earlier. There was a great deal of trepidation about safety. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the pending breakup of Yugoslavia meant the country had more on its mind than exporting Yugos. Furthermore, parts for the car came from different Yugoslav republics, so it was nearly impossible to continue building cars amid the tension in the region. By 1992, the Yugo couldn’t come to America anymore due to lack of inventory and lack of sales. There were no more achievements for Vuic to write about, only failures.

Be aware that this book doesn’t read like any of the Bob Lutz books. It does read like something assigned by a college history professor to undergraduate students. (All the footnotes throughout the book give that impression.) But the book’s significance lies in the fact that during the 1980s, when customers began buying up Honda, Toyota, and Nissan cars in droves, leading to a deluge of books analyzing the business practices of Japanese companies, the Yugo experience in this book provides a notable contrast, chronicling the things that went wrong for a brand with plenty of potential.

All in all, The Yugo is an excellent read, depicting the accomplishment of bringing a car made in a Communist-bloc country to America. Considering the descriptions of the factory that made it, the portrayal of the individuals involved in bringing it to America, and the quality of the Yugo itself, the fact the car was sold in the United States at all is commendable. Nevertheless, the Yugo couldn’t ever be sold in America for an extended period of time, and sooner rather than later the project ended in failure.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end, once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. If you happen to have a Yugo in Northern California, he would love to drive it sometime. (He’ll even buy a tank of gas to help double the value of the car.)

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Behind the Garages At Sears Point: Treasure Trove of Hell Projects! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/behind-the-garages-at-sears-point-treasure-trove-of-hell-projects/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/behind-the-garages-at-sears-point-treasure-trove-of-hell-projects/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2013 13:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=482582 I visit Sears Point aka Sonoma Raceway a couple times a year as part of my gig as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court. That means I do a lot of roaming around the facility, in search of vantage points to shoot photos of the action. Last weekend, while covering the […]

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I visit Sears Point aka Sonoma Raceway a couple times a year as part of my gig as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court. That means I do a lot of roaming around the facility, in search of vantage points to shoot photos of the action. Last weekend, while covering the fourth annual Sears Pointless race, I stumbled on a parking area outside a line of race shops just on the other side of the wall near Turn 10. Inside these shops were all manner of high-buck machines, but the get-to-it-someday stuff sitting outside was pretty interesting.
A well-weathered Lotus Europa with tags expired only six years— how hard could this project be?
Or a BMW 850 with peeling clear-coat and some body damage. Depreciation hasn’t been kind to these cars.
As a matter of fact, there was a LeMons 850 racing at Sears Point at the very moment I was admiring the potential project 850. It got stomped by a Buick Skyhawk and an MGB, among other glacially slow “race cars,” but it was still quite luxurious-looking on the track.
Guys that work at race shops cannot resist buying a Yugo when the opportunity presents itself.
This mean-looking Maverick Vega drag car looks like it has run fairly recently.
The kids these days, they like those Nissan Silvias.
This car sure looks familiar! This Plymouth looks like it might even be a runner (in stark contrast to my car, which has been dismantled down to the molecular level).
BMW E9 projects are always so tempting, though I’ve heard the horror stories from those who have attempted to fix up a non-perfect E9. Run away!

01 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 02 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 03 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 04 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 06 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 07 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 08 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 09 - Sears Point Hell Projects - Picture courtesy of Murilee 'Judge Phil' Martin 591-UG-Pointless13

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More Details On The Fiat Ellezero aka “Grande 500″ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/more-details-on-the-fiat-ellezero-aka-grande-500/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/more-details-on-the-fiat-ellezero-aka-grande-500/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2012 16:52:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=427349 Our European Best and Brightest dropped some knowledge on us, informing TTAC that the Fiat Panda, was not going to be Fiat’s new 5-door vehicle coming to the U.S. Instead, the vehicle we’ll be receiving is a new car codenamed the “Ellezero”, which will be based on a modified Panda platform but look a lot […]

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Our European Best and Brightest dropped some knowledge on us, informing TTAC that the Fiat Panda, was not going to be Fiat’s new 5-door vehicle coming to the U.S.

Instead, the vehicle we’ll be receiving is a new car codenamed the “Ellezero”, which will be based on a modified Panda platform but look a lot like the Mini Countryman. Prototype pictures have leaked out of Fiat’s Serbian plant (which once built the Yugo) – the image above appears to show the car outside the factory gates, while wearing Belgrade license plates. Engine choices are said to be the 900cc TwinAir powerplant, a diesel and the 1.4L turbocharged MultiAir engine. Guess which choices won’t be coming Stateside? Seven seats are said to be an option, though we can’t imagine anyone other than pygmies being comfortable back there. AWD will also be offered.

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Curbside Classic: 1988 Hyundai Excel – The Damn Near Deadly Sin http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1988-hyundai-excel-the-damn-near-deadly-sin/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1988-hyundai-excel-the-damn-near-deadly-sin/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 16:58:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372753 Americans are a forgiving sort, and redemption from sin is just the right gesture away. Well, that applies more to politicians and celebrities than to car companies. It can be a little more challenging to overcome the damage from a poor quality car, especially if you’re the brand new kid on the block. Just ask […]

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Americans are a forgiving sort, and redemption from sin is just the right gesture away. Well, that applies more to politicians and celebrities than to car companies. It can be a little more challenging to overcome the damage from a poor quality car, especially if you’re the brand new kid on the block. Just ask Yugo; they quickly walked away. As did Peugeot, Alfa, Fiat and countless other imports, even though they had been around for decades.  But the Koreans are a tough and determined folk, and when they got their less-than Excellent head handed to them on a platter, they dug in their heels and figured out what it would take to be given a second chance. 

The Excel was Hyundai’s first fully self-developed car, which suggests that they might well have waited a couple of years before tackling the world’s biggest and must demanding car market. Hyundai Motors itself got its start in 1967, building licensed Ford Cortinas. The next big leap forward came in 1975, when the Pony appeared (below).

Technically, the Pony was developed by Hyundai too, but with a lot of hired help. George Turnbull, former Managing Director of Austin-Morris at British Leyland quit in 1972, and as a parting gift (to himself?), took two Austin Marinas with him. Turnbull and the Marinas turned up at Hyundai, along with some other ex-BL designers and engineers. The resulting RWD Pony certainly reflects its origins, although Giorgetto Giugiaro was hired to do the final styling.  At least the Marina’s ancient BMC engine was abandoned, in favor of Mitsubishi units in 1.2, 1.4, and 1.6 L size.

Hyundai’s exports began with the Pony, including Europe, and Canada from 1983 on. The Canadians took a particular shine to it, and the Pony was a big hit up north, selling over 50k units annually. When I was in Korea in 1980, traffic was a sea of these Ponys, including pickup versions. Every taxi ride reinforced the image of what it was: the developing world appliance-mobile; simple, rough riding, noisy, but rugged in that old-school RWD way.

Since it wouldn’t meet US standards, we were spared its pleasures on our home turf, although I doubt it would have compared all that poorly to the similar RWD Datsun 210s and Corollas of the times; maybe a bit less refined. After a ten year run, Hyundai was ready to take the plunge into the FWD world; a tricky transition that had tripped up more than one major manufacturer.

The Excel was fully Hyundai developed, although Giugiaro styled the body again. And with their new baby, Hyundai launched a massive assault on the US in 1986. Powered by a very attractive $4,995 ($10k adjusted) starting price, the Excel arrived at an auspicious time, given that the Voluntary Import Restrictions caused shortages of Japanese cars, rapidly rising prices, dealer markups, and waiting lists.

The infamous Yugo (I’m still hoping to find one for CC) had appeared just the year before, priced at a rock-bottom $3990. But there were serious doubts about the Yugo’s provenance and durability from the beginning, and they quickly proved to be all-too true. For a grand more, the Hyundai looked very appealing, even if the Made-In-Korea stamp back then had the the equivalent image of Made-In-China in more recent times.

Putting quality issues aside, the Excel was a steal compared to the barely warmed-over tiny ex-Fiat Yugo. The Excel looked handsome enough for the times, was fairly roomy, and its driving dynamics were adequately competitive with the lowest-end Japanese imports, while undercutting them by several thousand dollars.

The result was explosive, with Hyundai selling 126k Excels in the US that first year. That was the biggest first year sales performance of a newly introduced import brand ever. But it quickly unraveled.

The Excel was Hyundai’s GM X-Body (Citation, etc.), its builder having underestimated the challenges of a completely new FWD car with all-new engines and transaxles. Quality and reliability issues surfaced very quickly, and Hyundai was tainted with the same bad rep that killed the Yugo. I don’t know exactly what the early Excel’s greatest weaknesses were, but American import drivers had been spoiled by the Japanese cars’ well honed reliability by then, and were not about to embrace anything retrograde in that department.

And what were they like to drive? It was a highly unmemorable experience. I drove one once, fairly briefly, and my only now-dim impressions were of it being a reasonably functional appliance. It didn’t inspire in any regard, but neither did it engender loathing. The 1.5 L engine teamed with the three-speed automatic was feebler than average, certainly more so than a Sentra and Civics of the times I had experience with.

Hyundai limped along in the US, having made dubious history with its explosive introduction followed by its nearly immediate implosion. But time and continued steady progress in resolving the Excel’s issues healed some of the wounds. Whether Hyundai purposely waited some ten years before it got aggressive with its ten-year 100k mile warranty and a massive product expansion is unclear. But Hyundai is a text book case of how to redeem oneself with the demanding American consumer: hang around long enough and keep putting your face out there, and pretty soon all is forgiven. Image Rehab: an American specialty; available to Koreans too.

More new Curbside Classics here

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Quote Of The Day: Yugo By Chrysler Joke Here Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/quote-of-the-day-yugo-by-chrysler-joke-here-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/quote-of-the-day-yugo-by-chrysler-joke-here-edition/#comments Mon, 19 Apr 2010 22:07:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=353275 Chrysler is considering bringing a Fiat-engineered subcompact sedan from Serbia to North America under the Chrysler brand. The Chrysler brand product plan, unveiled in November, called for a Fiat-derived subcompact sedan to be imported in 2013. The vehicle would be built in Kragujevac, Serbia, where Serbian automaker Zastava Automobili once made the Yugo. Chrysler? Fiat-engineered […]

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Chrysler is considering bringing a Fiat-engineered subcompact sedan from Serbia to North America under the Chrysler brand. The Chrysler brand product plan, unveiled in November, called for a Fiat-derived subcompact sedan to be imported in 2013. The vehicle would be built in Kragujevac, Serbia, where Serbian automaker Zastava Automobili once made the Yugo.

Chrysler? Fiat-engineered subcompact? The Yugo plant? C’mon Automotive News [sub]… April Fools was weeks ago. Besides, this seems too cruelly ironic to even properly be a joke. Remember, these little gags have to come from a place of love…

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