Racing down socialist memory lane: a classic Yugoslav cars video goes viral

Wikipedia photos of cars featured in the video: Zastava 101, Renault 4Volkswagen BeetleYugo 55, Zastava 750, and Polski Fiat 126

A Slovenia-produced video of a race featuring classic cars from the former Yugoslavia has gone viral in the Balkans. The video, in which iconic car models from the 1970s and 80s vie for supremacy, has attracted the interest of older and younger alike, bringing a touch of nostalgia to those who lived through the period, and inspiring a new generation of aficionados of Yugoslav-made cars.

Produced by the team at car-aficionado site Atmosferci, the short video “Charge! – Race with cars of our youth” (Na juriš! – Dirka z avtomobili naše mladosti) features a race between six economy cars that used to be status symbols for the middle-classes during the golden age of Yugoslav socialism. The video had over 400,000 views on YouTube in just one week after it was published.

The cars include three brands produced by Yugoslav factory Zastava from Kragujevac, Serbia, that were based off models by Italian manufacturer Fiat.

The Fast and the Furious, Yugoslav edition

The six cars featured in Atmosferci's video and how the hosts described them.

  • Zastava 101, 1972: “Like the one Tito gave as present to Breznev
  • Renault 4 TL, 1977: Called “The Four” in various languages, which had been assembled under French license in Novo Mesto, Slovenia for the Yugoslav market;
  • Volkswagen Beetle, 1973: Made in West Germany and “initially ordered by Hitler, but ironically loved by the whole world, maybe because it was designed by the genius Ferdinand Porche”
  • Yugo 55, 1983: Atmosferci claims that the old idea ingrained in North American popular culture that the Yugo is “one of the worst cars ever made” simply isn't true.
  • Zastava 750, 1976: Nicknamed “Fičo” in Slovene language; small but surprisingly spacious and would chug with the same intensity in all kinds of weather as well as pull a trailer.
  • Polish Fiat 126 BSI, 1987: a cultural icon in non-Western Europe, nicknamed “little clothes iron” in Serbian/Croatian and Macedonian, and “little flea” in Slovene.

Although designed to be family cars, modified versions of all those vehicles have figures in rally racing — a sport that was the subject of the Yugoslav cult film “National Class Category Up to 785 ccm” (1979).

The title of the Atmosferci video (“Na juriš!”) was the battle cry of Yugoslav partisans. It invokes patriotic pride based on the successful anti-fascist struggle during World War II and Yugoslavia's post-war independence from the Cold War blocs.

In the video, the three hosts and three Slovenian celebrities race each other while sharing remarks such as “my dad used to drive one of these.” The video is spoken in Slovenian and has Croatian subtitles. However, much of the video is self-explanatory, and the results of the race are shown on screen in text form.

Yugo: a symbol of socialist comfort and pre-war harmony

Between 1986 and 1992, Yugoslavia had exported over 140,000 Yugos to the US. In line with the widespread perception in that country that the car was poorly made, several Hollywood movies featured a Yugo for tragicomic effect during car chases. For instance, Bruce Willis’ and Samuel L. Jackson's characters replace it by hijacking a Mercedes in a scene from the 1995 action thriller “Die Hard with a Vengeance.”

But for many Generation X ex-Yugoslavs who had experienced some benefits of that life before the breakup of the federation, these cars carry a lot of nostalgia.

Bosnian rock band Zabranjeno Pušenje has dedicated one of its post-war songs to the Yugo 45. The lyrics (here they are in Bosnian and English) tell the story of how a family managed to purchase the car. Told from the perspective of the youngest son, it says that low-interest loans were widely available during socialism.

The tragicomic video closely follows the allegoric narrative: once the whole multi-ethnic neighborhood used the Yugo 45 model for chores and fun; that all came to an end with the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian War. The car's final purpose is to enable the family to escape from their home, carrying only “two nylon bags” of possessions, and resettle in another city as refugees.

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