When I stumbled across this sunshine yellow Yugo Cabriolet next to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, I didn’t realize I was looking at possibly the rarest car I’ve ever seen, both in terms of original sales volumes and in survival rates.
Just 500 of these little convertibles were manufactured, between 1990 and 1991 (the regular hatch ran from 1985 until 1991). Between 75 and 100 were imported to North America before strife in Yugoslavia resulted in the withdrawal of the Yugo brand from the North American market.
That wasn’t the only surprising fact I would learn upon researching this little convertible. These featured an electro-hydraulic top with fully retracting quarter windows and even a heated, glass (not plastic!) rear window. To keep your hands warm while pushing it, perhaps, to borrow an oft-repeated joke.
Of course, with such old mechanicals (the Fiat 127 donor car first launched in 1971), one would expect the Yugo to be at least somewhat reliable. However, complaints were legion about the little car’s tendency towards breakdowns. They also had a deserved reputation for being outdated and often poorly assembled with cheap materials.
And yet, despite its vintage and its quality, this Yugo Cabriolet I spotted is quite a cute little number. Shale gray upholstery with red piping was available, thus making for an airy cabin even with the roof up.
Still, a convertible is generally a compromise and the Yugo Cabriolet represented even more of one. While the top-of-the-line hatchback had a fuel-injected four, the Cabrio models relied on a 1.3 SOHC four with a two-barrel carburetor and only 61hp and 68 ft-lbs of torque.
To add insult to injury, you paid a hefty premium for letting the sun shine in: $8,900 was the list price, while a hatchback retailed for $4,435. Yes, it was the cheapest convertible on sale, but a Geo Metro convertible was only around $2k more.
The Cabrio was supposed to be the start of a new era at Yugo: the aged 127-based hatch was to make way for the Yugo Florida (Sana in some markets), a smartly-styled and more modern hatchback. Of course, with troubles in the region, those plans fell apart.
Part of the Yugo hatchback’s charm, if you can call it that, was that it was supposed to be simple and unpretentious transport. In fact, the Yugo was marketed heavily as being an “old idea”: basic transport in the vein of the old Beetle. But this convertible, although smartly executed, represented a hefty price hike over that unassuming hatchback. Paying $4k for a shoddily-built Eastern Bloc hatchback was a fool’s errand: you could get a much better used car for the same money. As the Yugo was revealed to be less of a bargain than originally thought, sales slid accordingly. The twice-as-expensive Cabriolet never stood a chance.