Yugo 45. The worst car in history?

How Bricklin tried to sell Fiat's leftovers

Since 1958 Fiat had been selling a two seater sports car, the Spider, and since 1973 another sports car called the X1/9. Although the basic chassis and engines were created by Fiat the bodies were built and fitted by Pinninfarina and Bertoni. Sales had declined steadily though and by 1982 they decided to give up on the American market.

An employee of theirs, called Tony Ciminera, left to join a car magazine called Road and Track and he happened to meet Malcolm Bricklin at a car magazine convention lunch later that year. Bricklin told him that he was disappointed to see those cars disappearing from the market; Ciminera pointed out that he knew the heads of both Pinninfarina and Bertoni and that they both would have liked to see sales continue in the USA. Ever impulsive, Bricklin insisted that Ciminera set up a meeting with the management of the two companies and by the end of the year the two of them had formed another company, International Automobile Importers, to market the two cars.

Initially the heads of Pinninfarina and Bertoni were sceptical, after they had looked at Bricklin's track record. However, ever the salesman, he pointed out to them that Subaru of America, which he himself had set up originally, was currently importing more than 12,000 cars every month. He failed to mention the fact that he had brought the company to the edge of bankrupcy and that the success of it was more down to the efforts of the new owners and not himself. However contract was signed and their new company became official importers of two cars which Fiat and already decided had no further future in America. Perhaps he and Ciminera should have asked themselves why.

The new company needed capital. Bricklin contacted an old friend of his, a wealthy and influential accountant called Ira Edelson, who contacted a number of potential investors. He was so trusted that a number of them were prepared to put money into the venture, despite Bricklin's history of failed businesses and unpaid bills, but only if he (Ira) was in charge of finance. He agreed and became the company's chief finance officer. There were quite a number of ex-Fiat employees who were still looking for well-paid employment and so a team of experienced people who were familiar with the cars was put together quickly. Unfortunately they collectively felt that they knew better than the Fiat management, and they believed that with a few improvements the cars could become big sellers; and so Ciminera went to Turin to get improvements and alterations made.

Both cars were good lookers with excellent handling but the interiors were poor to say the least. Ciminera had them kitted out with Aircon, leather seats, electric windows, updated sound systems, and most of all improved rust proofing. This was absolutely vital since both cars had a dreadful reputation for rusting away and it was decided to give a seven-year warranty against perforation and a three-year warranty on the paint finish.

At the end of the day these were two very presentable cars. The problem was that they were also very expensive cars, and most American car buyers recognised that they were merely dressed up models of the original Fiats. The Spider (now renamed the Azzura) was priced at a shade under $17,000 and the X1/9 was just under $14,000. They were completely overpriced and they had to compete with cheaper, more modern and higher specification alternatives. They simply didn't sell.

Malcolm Bricklin had done his usual job of selling distributorships by promising high levels of sales. These sales didn't materialise and the distributors were not happy. They demanded a more realistic price; however both Bertoni and Pinninfarina turned that idea down flat. Technically International Automobile Importers had made profits that year but that money came from selling distributorships and not selling cars; money was haemorrhaging out of the company and yet again, by the end of 1993, Bricklin was facing bankruptcy. He had to find a new car to sell, and quickly, otherwise he and his company were finished.

Bricklin turned in desperation to another company that had severe problems; British Leyland. He reckoned that he could sell many of their models in America; but then perhaps he hadn't looked too carefully at their build quality, and industrial relations, which were ultimately the main reasons for that company's eventual demise. In April 1984 he and several of his company's senior staff went to London to meet senior management at British Leyland; but mindful of Bricklin's past they refuse to do any business with him whatsoever, which was probably just as well for both companies.

The story goes that when leaving the BL headquarters they spotted a Yugo 45; they did some research on it and Bricklin went into his usual overdrive to arrange a meeting with the makers of the car, a Yugoslav company called Zastava. The Yugo saga was about to begin.

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Is A Yugo Insurable?

Meet 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