Throwback Monday: Famous Factories

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 7.49.38 AM Welcome to Throwback Monday where we take a look at how things once were, or at least how certain famous cars were once built. This week we are looking at the sad history of Crvena Zastava, which many in the U.S. know as Yugo, or, the worst car ever sold here. Zastava’s origins go back to the 1850s with the building of a cannon foundry in the city of Kragujevac in what is now Serbia. The growing arms company, then called the Military Engineering Works, began assembling a limited number of automobiles and trucks in 1904, ostensibly to cart around all those guns one would imagine. That sporadic automotive production continued until 1941 when Axis forces invaded Yugoslavia, breaking it up and taking control of all industry. The city of Kragujevac has the inauspicious distinction of being the site of the largest massacre of Serbian civilians by their German occupiers. That however, would not be the last time that war would devastate the city. During WWII Yugoslavia would also suffer through a civil war between Royalist Chetniks and communist partisans. The communists would eventually prevail, resulting in the abolition of the nation’s monarchy and the founding of a socialist state. Following the war, the company was renamed Zavodi Crvena Zastava (Red Flag Institutes) and in a referendum its employees voted to build automobiles. In 1953 the first of those left the factory. The next year Zastava would sign an agreement with Fiat to build localized versions of the Italian company’s cars in the Kragujevac factory. That relationship would last for decades, engendering Kragujevac to be anointed the Detroit of Yugoslavia. How prescient that would be as both the Serbian city and Detroit would eventually fall from their places as industrial ideals. The Yugoslavian breakup of the Nineties greatly impacted Zastava as trade sanctions imposed upon the country dried up both access to parts and exports. This was just as the company had entered the lucrative U.S. market with their impressively cheap Yugo car. Those were built on a special line at the factory, and by workers who were better paid in hopes that quality wouldn’t doom the company’s chances in the States. As the Kragujevac factory was also a source of arms manufacture, it was bombed by NATO forces during the conflict, and auto production was halted. It would begin again following the war, and the breakup of Yugoslavia, but numbers would never be what they once were, and the city would mirror Detroit in its fall. Today, Zastava is owned by Fiat, and goes by the weird name FIAT Chrysler Automobiles Serbia. Fiat bought the controlling stake in the company in 2007 and two years later would buy Chrysler here in the U.S.. This video, Mechanical Dream by Iva Kontic, is from three years ago—six years after Fiat’s purchase—and is comprised of images of the still moribund factory and city of Kragujevac, with dialog taken from interviews of various former and current employees. The Yugo’s cheapness might have been a joke here in the States—one worker incredulously asks, “what did people expect for that price?”—but the human cost in its, Zastava’s, and ultimately the nation’s failures is nothing to laugh about. [vimeo][/vimeo] Image: Vimeo

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