Street Scenes: Olympic Era Sarajevo

Cars Near Electric Company Building

The opening ceremonies of the 22nd Winter Olympics took place earlier today, marking the second time the Games are being held on (now capitalist) Russian soil.  As this is also thirty years to the date since the Winter Games opened in Sarajevo, in what was then-Communist Yugoslavia, let’s take a look at that Olympic city, and of course, its cars during the ten year span surrounding the 1984 Winter Games.

Welcome Sign on Airport Building
Many people may have forgotten that the early-mid ’80s were the height of the Cold War, but after the boycotting of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, the choice (in 1976) of Sarajevo, in non-aligned Yugoslavia, seemed like a very well-planned turn of decision making.


The Yugo may be the most enduring legacy of its home country’s car culture, but Sarajevo was home to TAS, a factory that built the VW Golf Mk1 and 2, in addition to the Caddy, and formerly, the Beetle and NSU Prinz.

These shiny new red cars are lined up in front of one of the city’s former shopping malls.  By the end of the decade, the Golf Mk2 was seemingly the most common car in its Balkan hometown.


Of course, the cars on Sarajevo’s streets were a diverse mix of models from both the Western world and the Eastern bloc.  The only model I can clearly identify in this picture is the red Opel Rekord D Kadett B.  I’m sure some of our readers will be able to name a couple more.  As it is Big Truck Week, feel free to name some of the larger trucks and buses as well.

In this late ’70s photo, I see a Fiat 124, and NSU Prinz, a Renault 8/10, a Zastava 750 (Fiat 600 clone, affectionately called Fićo, by the Yugoslavs) and a few models I cannot readily name.  Anyone want to guess some of the others?

As we see in this late ’80s photo, Golfs have displaced a lot of other models from the cityscape but trams, a big part of Sarajevo’s history, remained popular.  Europe’s first electric tram was installed in the city during its brief period under Hapsburg rule, both transporting its residents and serving as a testbed for a similar system planned for Vienna.
Bus and Train Near Apartment buildings106

Given this week’s theme, see if you can name some of these trams.

The blue car speeding past the Holiday Inn is the Zastava 101, a five-door version of the Fiat 128.  If someone can identify the tiny robin’s egg blue van parked on the grass near the driveway of the hotel, please do so (to the left of the tram).  Also, is the cobalt blue car between them a Mark 2 Escort in rally garb??

This Mercedes W111, shot in 1986 in front of the Bristol Hotel, shows a car unlikely to be seen in either the Eastern Bloc or in Europe’s Western countries by that time.  With both a healthy market for consumer goods and less wealth than some of its Western neighbors, Yugoslavia had a car culture distinct from the rest of the continent.

Screen shot 2014-02-05 at 6.16.25 PM
This mid ’70s photo of a housing estate shows, among other cars, a Renault 4, a Citroen GS, a Fiat 1300 and a Citroen Dyane.  All were built domestically.  With a generally healthy disposable income and many of life’s greater expenses covered by the state, more than a few families chose to own a car.  As we see, there were plenty of choices.
In this picture of the city’s Austro-Hungarian quarter, we see a German Ford Grenada, a Fiat 124 (or is it a Lada?) and a pea-green model between the two.  Is it a Skoda 130?

This photo shows, at the left, Mitsubishi’s official sponsorship of the oh-so-’80s Sarajevo Games, with a prominently displayed logo to the left of the hockey stadium.  Enlarge the picture to name the cars at the bottom of the photo.  The Zastava 750, and Mk1 Golf are some of the easier models to identify.

I spy a Mk1 Escort in this photo taken in front of the city’s main cathedral.  Anyone care to guess the model in front of it with the four round taillights?

In case you couldn’t tell, this is one city high on my list of places to visit.  In the Turkish quarter, we see another Zastava 101, behind the infamous Zastava Koral (Yugo), as well as a Wartburg.  It seems this was one of the better Eastern Bloc cars, bought by many who had their choice of a number of Western models.  Note the “YU” sticker on the back of the white 101, a reminder of the days when Yugoslavs could enter most Western European countries without a visa.
Sarajevo 1983 1
More Zastava 750s in this 1983 photo.  These models were built until 1985 before finally being phased out.  Which would you rather have: a Zastava 750/Fiat 600 or a Fiat 127-based Zastava Koral/Yugo?  Note the poster of Vučko, the cuddly lupine mascot of the ’84 Winter Games, on the side of the older building.

Here he is again, waving goodbye during the closing ceremony.  I am studiously trying to avoid making any negative comments about the Sochi Olympics, because there has been enough news coverage which has done so already.  As we watch the games over the next few weeks, try and remember the city for which hosting a famously well-organized Winter Games remains a beautiful memory.