By Dave S. Clark
Some countries have cars that are synonymous with each other – Porsche, BMW and Mercedes with Germany, Ferrari and Lamborghini with Italy, the Big Three with the USA and Yugo with Yugoslavia.
Having made two trips to the former Yugoslavia and seeing every former state except Slovenia, I’ve had ample time to spot many Yugos and other classics that have been able to stay on the road. If you enjoy classic car spotting like I do and are heading to the Balkans, you’ll be excited to know that Yugos won’t be the only vintage (or vintage looking) car you’ll see.
Here are the most common classics I spotted in the region:
Zastava 750 – This is one Yugoslavian car I would love to have in my garage. The Fića is basically a Fiat 600, but built in Serbia rather than in Italy and, as the name indicates, they were fitted with a 750cc engine. I’d love to own one as a little car to run around town in on summer days. Spend a day in any former Yugoslav country and I guarantee you’ll see one of these. All of the examples I’ve seen have seemed to have aged well and been taken care of. (I also need to remind myself that though the oldest 750s are pushing 60 years old, well the newest ones are only 30.) The rear engines must suffer from a bit of an overheating issue as on hot days, you’ll see the rear deck lids cracked open to bring in some cool air.
Yugo Skala – Like the Zastava 750, the Yugo is built on a Fiat design and manufactured in Serbia by Zastava. Yugos don’t have a great reputation around the world. Well, no, they actually have a terrible reputation. There’s even a book called The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History which documents how awful these cars supposedly are. On one hand, I see why people think they are garbage. They don’t look terribly attractive. (Although, personally, I have a soft spot for the early 101 models, nicknamed Stojadin, fitted with the round headlights, but I’ve been known to like ugly cars like the Lotus Europa.) Peek inside and they look like they were probably 20 years out of date when they rolled off the assembly line. But the thing is, they work. Or at least it appears that they work, judging by the number of them still on the road in Balkan countries. But again, their looks can be deceiving. You may think you are looking at a vintage car, but in actuality, it could have rolled off the assembly line in 2008.
Renault 4 – The very utilitarian looking Renault 4 is another classic you’ll see on the streets fairly often as the French manufacturer had a factory in Slovenia back when it was part of Yugoslavia. Although of similar vintage as the Zastava 750, these definitely aren’t as cute and haven’t seemed to benefit from the same care and attention that the Fiat look-alikes received. They are front-wheel-drive, powered by tiny 750cc motors and have a ton of space. I can’t imagine how horrendously slow they would be with just a driver, never mind loaded up with passengers and cargo. More than 575,000 of them were built in Yugoslavia and a big reason there are still so many on the road, is that they were built from 1973 all the way to 1992. It’s pretty strange to think that some of the examples I saw could have been just 22 years old. Notice a trend here?
Citreon 2CV – Citroen was another European manufacturer that opened up shop in Slovenia to build a small-engined economy car for the Yugoslavian masses. Like the other cars I mentioned, it also had an incredibly long manufacturing run, at least compared to cars in the North American market, which I’m more familiar with. Production started in 1948 and ran all the way until 1990, although I’m not sure when the last Slovenian-built model was assembled. You can spot 2CVs from miles away, even in the dark, with their little bug-eyed headlamps mounted to the front fenders. Its unique styling makes it a car I never get sick of seeing. When I do spot one, I usually fantasize about rolling back the canvas top on a hot day and road tripping to the closest beach.
Trabant – The Trabant is definitely the quintessential car to represent communist regimes. It was built in East Germany and despite the fact that Yugoslavia was never part of the Eastern Bloc, many Trabants still got to the country somehow.
Those were the cars I saw the most of. I also spotted the odd Ford Taunus, built by the German counterpart of the company and a Capri or two as well. One of my favourites though was a beautifully restored Chevrolet Advance Design-era pickup in the heart of Belgrade.
If you’re in a former Yugoslav country spotting cars or if you want to see photos of what people are spotting, check out the #autoslavia hashtag on Instagram.