The first person to import Yogos into the United States was a gentleman called Miroslav Kefurt who had a fair bit of experience racing Fiat 600s. This would not have been high-speed racing by any means since this small car had a top speed in the region of around 60 mph! Nevertheless he was a fan of small cars so was quite impressed by the Honda 600 which, with a top speed of 80 mph, felt very fast to him compared to the Fiat. He picked up quite a fair amount of mechanical skills and we set himself up in business servicing and repairing them.
By 1972 Honda had withdrawn the 600 from the market but it had become a cult car that many owners had fallen in love with so renovating old ones became a very profitable business for him. He became the local specialist in small cars and started to have ambitions about importing them himself. By 1982 he had heard of a company called Zastava in Yugoslavia that was building a car, called the Yugo 45, based on the Fiat 127; okay this car was completely out of date but it had an excellent reputation for reliability. However this reputation was built by Fiat, and not by Zastava!
Displaying perhaps a degree of naivete he contacted the manufacturers and went to visit the factory in Serbia. What he found out was a little less impressive than the American idea of a modern car manufacturer.
The plant was dirty, noisy, badly lit, and crowded with workers who never seem to get a great deal done. As a communist state Yugoslavia at the time was one in which it was more important to give people jobs than to get them to carry out work efficiently and economicaly. The result was that overmanning was rife and quality was low. A lesser man (or perhaps a more sensible one) would have got the next plane back to America but Kefurt was determined to make a success of his venture so he discussed an importing contract with the management. He met with almost total apathy.
As they pointed out to him American cars were luxurious with big engines, air conditioning, power assisted steering, the full works. They were not going to create Yugos with these nonessentials since they were judged not on the quality of what they built but on the quantity! Nevertheless they agreed, after a great deal of pressing by Kefurt, to giving him distribution rights for the Yugo 45 in the state of California.
They agreed to sell him 5000 cars every year but they never came up with anything resembling a contract! No prices were agreed, no warranties were offered, and payment terms were cash on the nail. Kefurt may have been a good small car renovator but his business skills were a little less than perfect.
Nevertheless he paid for his first three cars and arranged for them to be shipped over and so the first Yugo 45s reached America in early 1984. An excited Kefurt dashed out to inspect them; but he soon realised that they were absolute rubbish. The standard of finish was dreadful, the tyres were actually retreads, the locks didn't work, and some paperwork they found revealed that they had already been sent to a distributor in France, who had promptly sent them straight back again! Nevertheless Kefurt and his staff worked on them to make them look more like the sort of car that an American would want to buy, and he started the test process which is necessary before any cars imported into America could be sold. The car he provided failed dismally on the first test, which was for emissions.
He got in touch with Zastava who were completely uninterested. They had no intention of changing their car which, after all, was selling well enough in their home market. Nevertheless he pressed ahead with a sales push, printing brochures and arranging for a stand at the 1984 Los Angeles car show. Undeterred by the fact that one of the three cars he took theere broke down on the way he got his wife and four pretty young daughters to dress in miniskirts, and Yugo T-shirts. Claiming that the engines had a warranty for 10 years or 100,000 miles, whichever came first, he managed to get orders for 42 straight away, distributed 400 Yugo T-shirts and gave out thousands of brochures. There is no record however of his mentioning the fact that the manufacturers of the car didn't offer any warranty whatsoever and that the 10 years/100,000 miles was what salesmen call 'selling heat'.
Most of the motoring press was completely taken in. Small cars were becoming more and more popular in the United States and for good political reasons the American government were quite happy to foster good relations with Yugoslavia since they saw it as a buffer against the more rigid communism of the Eastern Bloc. The car was going to be much cheaper than the average American car; and attracted by the sales hype a number of car dealers were interested in distributorships. It was just a shame that the car was of such lousy quality that it didn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of meeting American safety and emission standards. But then Malcolm Bricklin came onto the scene.
Copyright © Ian Palmer 2021 All Rights reservedMeet The Yugo | Enter Michael Bricklin | The Bricklin SV1 Fiasco | Bricklin Faces Bankrupcy Again | The First Yugo In America | How Bricklin Promised Zastava The Moon | Lipstick Is Put On The Yugo Pig | America Decides The Yugo Is Awful | The Proton Saga | The End Of The Yugo