The history of this factory follows the tracks of the State that decided of built it, the Yugoslavia of Tito, therefore it's related with the tragic war events of the '90s, and also, for several causes, with the USA. In fact, the Yugo cars were exported with a certain success to the USA, but also the bombs that destroyed the factory in the 1999 were American. Therefore, the history of the Zastava -Yugo, as the German Trabant, is an strong symbol of the changes that followed the end of the Communist block and of his group of satellite-states.
The Zastava (official name "Zavodi Crvena Zastava", that means "Red Flag Factory"), was founded in the far 1853 as factory of cannons, with the name "Vojno-Tehnicki Zavod", Technical Institute of the Army (first pic above; in the second pic, instead, the factory today). The automotive production starts only in the 1939, with military models produced under American license: Chrysler, Ford and Jeep (this is the strangeness of the sorrow, because the American airplanes destroyed the factory in the 1999). The models were, during the '50s and '60s, of Fiat origin ("1100", "1500", "125", "600", etc.). The Fiat "600" was called Zastava "750" (third, fourth and fifth pics above, taken from Zastava 750 Online), and it was the car of the mass-motorization in Yugoslavia; the technical features were the sames of the Italian car, with a rear 4-cylinders engine, water cooled.
The Zastava "750" went out of production in the 1989, but the production was continued in Turkey till the 1995. This car was also nicknamed "Ficia" ("little Fiat" in Serbian)! The last model was slightly different in comparison with the Italian version, because the engine was the 843 cc. from the Fiat "850" (39 hp, 125 km/h)...and the steering wheel was the same of the Fiat "126" of the years '80s! In the first and second pics above, the Zastava brands are evident. In the third pic, instead, there is a racing version. These cars were often equipped also with tuned 1100-1300 cc. engines from the Zastava/Fiat "128", and even with 1600 cc. units, like the recent amazing yellow car in the fourth pic: mid transverse engine, 16 valves, Hewland 6-speed gearbox, limited slip differential, 230 hp!!!
In the 1971, starts the production of the Zastava "128", derived from the homonym Fiat model. This car was produced also in an hatchback version (first and second pics, above), called Zastava "101", never realized in Italy. This car is also nicknamed as "Stojadin" (nickname similar to "sto jedan", that means "101" in Serbian). During the '80s, the "101" was officially renamed "Skala" (third pic). Also the pick-up (fourth pic) and the rare 3-door version (fifth pic) are Zastava's variants, never produced by the Italian factory! Anyway, the engine is the same of the Fiat model, 1100 or 1300 cc, SOHC, with front wheel drive. The production of the "101/Skala" has been stopped in the 2001, almost 20 years after the end of production of the original Fiat 128!
The production, during the '60s and '70s, grows quickly: the total production of the Zastava "750" (first pic above) took the point, until the 1981, of one million of exemplars produced. In the 1968, the exportation starts up (second pic), also for some Western market; moreover, the Zastava "101" runs in some international rally, as the "Tour d' Europe" 1973 (third pic), winning the first place of category, and the fourth place in the general classified results. In the fourth pic, instead, another Zastava "101" during a race in Kiev (Ukraina) in the 1980, and with the 1300 cc. engine boosted up to 115 hp. Therefore, the Zastava was an element of pride in the Yugoslavia of Tito, and a symbol of the political philosophy called "third way", with commercial relations, at the same time, with the Western countries and with the USSR.
The "Yugo": the "2CV" of the Americans
In the 1981, the Zastava launches the Yugo "Koral" (or simply "Yugo"), a totally new model, first car totally designed by the Yugoslavian factory. It's a compact (but very "square"...) city-car, powered by Fiat engines: 900 cc side camshaft with 45 hp (the same of the Fiat "127", that give also the platform), for the Yugo "45", and SOHC 1100-1300 taken from the "Skala"/Fiat 128 (55 and 65 hp) for the Yugo "55" and "65". The "Yugo" name was used as official export brand since the '80s; the car was sold in Italy with the Innocenti brand, and was called "Tempo" in the UK.
It's not a very outstanding car, but it passes to the history for another cause: during the mid-'80s, it was exported to the USA (above, hundreds of Yugos in the Kragujevac's factory, an image of the production, the offices of the "Yugo America" -with the star-and stripe flag near the red star flag!- and two pics of Yugo on the USA roads), obtaining an unexpected initial success for a so poor car: the price was so low that several persons buyed the car without seeing it before! And, moreover, the car was produced by an Allied of the "red enemy" (the USSR), with a displacement ridicolous for the American market (900 cc. in the nation of the 6000 cc Chevrolet V8...), and with a very spartan equipment, not good for the American customer: considering all these things, the success of the Yugo seems incredible. But the Yugo was, for the Americans, a sort of "supermarket-car", easy to buy, similar to a washing-machine!
But the good moment was short: the Yugo, as typical Eastern-made car, was affected by several lack and failures of engine and electric parts, not resolved by a very poor assistance service. In the USA, even a book of jokes about the Yugo was made: "What is the function of the rear glass defroster on the Yugo?" - "To warm the hands of the person that pushes the car, when the weather is bad!". The launch of the 1.3 Cabrio version (up, first and second pics), with catalyzer and fuel injection as the other Yugo sold in America, and equipped with electric-powered roof and windows, doesn't improve the situation. The export of the Yugos ends in the '91. In the third pic, a prototype realized for the European market (1998), with a new front part and several improvements of the 1.3 engine, with Bosch injection. In the fourth pic, instead, the commercial version, obtained simply extending the original coachwork with a rear fiberglass element (like the Fiat "Panda Van").
...what this this series of crazy cars? It's an exposition realized in the 1997 in the city of S.Louis (USA), called "Yugo-next". This exposition showed the cheap car of the ex- Communist country, transformed in a shower, a telephone, even in a bread-toaster! This shows that the "Yugo" is now a sort of Citroen "2CV" or Fiat "500" for the Americans: several American comic movies (with Dan Akroyd or other actors) shows this car in roles similar to the Ford "T" of the comic movies of the '30s years...anyway, the Yugo, at least, is now a sort of celebrity (although it's a celebrity for bad causes)!
The destruction of the Zastava during the war of Kosovo
In the 1987, the Zastava launch a new mid-class model: the "Florida" (up), designed by Giugiaro, and similar to the Fiat "Tipo", but with an own platform. This car was commercialized some year after the effective launch, because Fiat forbidden the commercialization for some year, fearing a concurrence for the "Tipo"! The engines are the 1100/1300 of the "Skala" and "Koral", and the 1400/1600 of the "Tipo" (all with injection). The car, designed by Giugiaro, was pleasant and modern, and was realized also in a pick-up version (fourth pic, above). Many components are of Italian origin (as the rear lights, taken from the Fiat "Croma"). Despite of this new chance of developement, the wind of the crisis starts to blow.
The war between Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, with the threatening "ethnic cleaning" decided by Milosevic and Karadzic, put the ex-Yugoslavia in a state of isolation. The Zastava's production falls, the ONU's sanctions doesn't allow to export the cars, and the factory is close to end the production. But the Zastava's workers continues to work, to give the bread for their family, till the fatal day: the 8 april of 1999, when the Kragujevac's factory was bombed by the NATO and USA army. Many workers dies or remained wounded, the assembly line were destroyed. 40.000 persons remained without work, and the Zastava's workers wrote a desperated letter where they expressed the delusion for the attack by a friendly country as the USA (read the page http://www.iacenter.org/zastava.htm).
The rebirth (recent models)
However, the Zastava story doesn't end here. After an hypotesis of production in Hungary, the factory was partially rebuilted, and the production in the year 2000 has been of 8800 cars. Also new versions of the current models have been launched: up, the new Yugo "Koral IN", certified from FIA, with new bumpers, dashboard and especially with a new gearbox revisited by Porsche (although the look is very outdated...but it has a certain symphaty!).
In the first, second and third pics above, a prototype of the new Yugo "Koral" (pics taken from http://www.hszk.bme.hu/~oj002/yugo/ ), presented in the 2002: you can see the Alfa 147-style rear lights! In the fourth pic, instead, a previous drawing for the new Koral... ok, it's not a miracle of fashion, but in either case the designers were forced to use, in prevision of the serial production, several components of the old Yugo, even the windshield! Anyway, the styling will be probably similar to the first car, but nothing is sure until the effective launch: the only sure thing is the mechnical part, the same of the previous Yugo.
In the 2000, the new version of the "Florida" (up) was launched, with several improvements to the mechanical part and to the look, with the front grille and bumpers restyled. Although the age of the project, it's still an enough modern car, with a very good internal space, and a good aerodynamic. In the 2002, also the station-wagon protoype was launched (fifth pic).
The very beautiful car in the first, second, third and fourth pics above, was realized not directly from the Zastava, but from the Serbian design center "Isuzawa". This car, called "Zoragy" (from the shortened name of the designer, Zoran Radivojevic) is a project of roadster with removable roof, with the engine in central/rear position. Only three exemplars were produced, intended to be based on the Toyota MR2, or on the old VW Beetle platform with Golf GTI engine. But also the utilization of the Yugo "Florida" engine, boosted to 115 hp, was considered. Anyway, this car will remain as prototype, like the static coupè prototype in the fifth pic (intended with the Yugo engines).
In the fifth pics above, instead, there is the prototype -finished in the april 2002- of the future Yugo mid-class model, always designed by Isuzawa: the Zastava "Florida Sedan" (photographed during the realization and the presentation). The car will keep, for economical reasons, many components of the "Florida": platform, engines, and also windshield and doors. Anyway, although the origin (old of 15 years), it's an honorable work: the front part is similar to the Jaguar S-Type! Therefore, there is some project for the future, although the outstanding post-war difficulties.
I finish the Zastava page with a picture of an incredible tuned Yugo, with wider tyres and sport suspensions. Where this pic was realized?...
...in America, of course!
Some pic taken from http://yugocars.fw.hu, http://digilander.iol.it/zastava , Zastava 750 Online