Old Gold Top Gear: Yugo Sana

This week it’s the turn of the Yugo Sana to make an appearance on PetrolBlog’s Old Gold Top Gear. I fully appreciate there’s probably a generation of PetrolBlog readers who will have no idea what a Yugo Sana is. It’s hardly surprising when you consider that it endured a relatively short life in the UK and was eventually killed off when its importer, Zastava GB, was put out of business by the Yugoslav conflicts.

But for those of you who do remember the Yugo Sana, when was the last time you saw one? I’d hazard a guess that it wasn’t any time recently, as according to How Many Left?, there is only one left on Britain’s roads. All isn’t lost for the Sana though, as there appears to be a further four cars left untaxed, so presumably they’re sat resting on front lawns or being driven around illegally.

Truth is, the Sana wasn’t loved when it was new and there isn’t a lot of love for it now. Even when launched in 1989, the Sana was a rather crude car that was lacking in any character. But it did have a major trump card – its price. For less than £5,500, you could drive away in a brand spanking new Sana. That’s about £1,500 less than a standard, bottom-of-the range Fiat Tipo. You pays your money…

Yugo Sana on PetrolBlogThe references to Fiat don’t end there, as the Yugo was powered by a Fiat Tipo 1.4 litre engine and was styled by Giugiaro, who also penned the Uno and the original Panda. The Sana was no drivers’ car, but in his review, Tiff Needell praised the car’s “semi-sports suspension” that gave it good handling characteristics. Rather surprising. But with a 0-60mph time of 13.2 seconds and a top speed of 97, you could never call the Sana a performance car!

Styling wise, it wasn’t one of Giugiaro’s better days. At best, it looks like an overweight Citroën AX. At worst, it looks dull, uninspiring and bland.

So it’s hard to feel much love for the Sana, but I do think it’s a shame to see that so few are left. Back in 1994, there were some 2,500 of the things pootling about our streets, so the Sana’s decline has been rapid and fierce. It’s a glimpse back at a time when new car makers were making inroads into the UK market and, given the economic recession of the early ’90s, many found favour rather quickly. Often, the likes of the Sana came with a good level of standard equipment and generous warranty packages. For those with no interest in driving or having the right badge, a Yugo was just the ticket.

But as the recession ended, buyers demanded more from their cars and perhaps crucially, were able to get the levels of credit needed to satisfy their desires. Cars like the Yugo Sana simply weren’t fashionable any more. Besides, any hopes of survival for were dashed by the Yugoslav wars.

This piece of vintage Top Gear is notable for a number of reasons, primarily Mr Tiff Needell. He’s so obviously on his best behaviour here. There are no excitable comments. No handbrake turns. And not even a hint of tyre smoke. It’s just ‘Uncle Tiff’ in his best Christmas jumper. Also look out for the Montego going in the other direction and the broken seatbelt hook. Finally, is it me, or does the Sana seem to have a huge amount of rear legroom?

So sit back and enjoy some rare non-smoky Tiff footage. Time to covet the Yugo Sana? Well if nothing else, the Zastava Yugo Sana is always going to be fighting for last place in an A-Z of world cars.

Thanks to celticmadliam for the video and Asterion for the image.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

15 comments

  1. March 15, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    Lovely collar Mr Woollard. Horrid cars. By ‘eck t’old days eh Gav!

    Reply
    • March 15, 2012
      MajorGav

      Ha! Was wondering if anyone would comment on Mr Woollard’s atire! The good old days – just seem so long ago now. 🙁

      Reply
      • March 15, 2012
        Simon Hingston

        Could have been worse I spose. A mk5 Escort?

        Reply
        • March 15, 2012
          MajorGav

          Trust me, there’ll be a number of Old Gold Top Gears before we reach the Mk5 Escort.

          Christmas ‘special’ perhaps?!

          Reply
  2. March 15, 2012
    Joseph

    Actually, in my mind the Sana wasn’t that bad a car – certainly better than the old ’45’ models, and not unlike a Skoda Favorit of the same vintage. Still a lot of Fiat parts-bin raiding going on there – just check out those front indicators – nicked straight off the Uno! As well as the engine, braking system, suspension…

    Reply
    • March 16, 2012
      MajorGav

      For some reason, I quite fancy a Skoda Favorit…

      Reply
  3. March 16, 2012
    Ølholm

    “At best, it looks like an overweight Citroën AX”

    Disagree, it looks almost exactly like a Citroën ZX!

    Reply
    • March 16, 2012
      MajorGav

      Ha! You know, with hindsight, I’d have to agree!

      But it still has shades of an AX that’s been put through the photocopier at 125%! 😉

      Reply
  4. March 16, 2012
    FailCar

    I actaully saw the Yugo club at the Classic Car Show at the NEC back in November. A woman grabbed me on the stand and showed me photos of her Sana and was asking for donations to help keep it on the road claming that it was the only one.

    Feeling for her cause I dug deep and gave her all the money in my pocket.

    22p. I think I may own it now?

    Reply
    • March 16, 2012
      MajorGav

      Ha! Brilliant.

      Alex was mentioning this on twitter.

      It’s like a Sana timeshare. When are you going to book your slot with the beast?

      Reply
  5. March 16, 2012
    FailCar

    I was going to make a joke about the woman from the Yugo club here. I’ll refrain. She was a lovely woman. Barking, but lovely.

    Reply
  6. April 22, 2013
    Milos

    Hello from the owner of Yugo Sana (Florida 1.4 1991) with 280.000km on the clock and still running just like very first day.

    Can you please explain how are you able to write this article when you probably haven’t even seen this car live, and I’m positive that you have not even driven it?

    It is not the best car on earth, but it is definitely nowhere near the way you describe it.

    Remember that we live in 21st century and this kind of propaganda works, but only for kids I’m afraid.

    P.S. Anything can last and work, you just need to take care of it.

    Reply
    • April 22, 2013
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Hello Milos – thanks for commenting.
      Your Sana sounds like a peach of an example!
      I’m sorry this article came across as overly negative – that certainly wasn’t the intention. It’s a rather affectionate look at one of Britain’s less fashionable cars. It’s a shame to see so few on the road.
      I had the fortune of experiencing a passenger ride in one a little while back and it certainly wasn’t without charm!
      Would choose one over many new cars! 😉
      Enjoy yours.

      Reply
  7. March 23, 2014
    Andrew Haycock

    Firstly, sorry for bringing up comments years after the post was made, but I’ve only come across this now.

    My Dad bought one of these cars way back in 1990. It was the first brand-new car that we had ever owned. I can provide some commentary, but in the interests of disclosure, I had experience of this car between 1990 to 1998 from the ages of 11 to 19. I only ever drove it twice and that as a learner driver. Therefore, these comments are based on 24 to 16 year old memories.

    The car was crude. This was most noticeable with the interior fittings. Our example had a bright orange piece of plastic in the huge gap at the side of the dashboard that my Dad had squeezed in to stop it from rattling. The window winders perpetually felt like they were going to break off (didn’t though in fairness), the plastic was hard and unrefined and I loathed those rear seatbelts so very, very much. It had a heavy tailgate with struts that could barely, and indeed often didn’t hold it up. It was extremely loud inside, especially on the motorway and it was the last car that I have seen to start rusting by the time it was 5 years old.

    That said, I loved the car a great deal and I am indeed still fond of it. The design was far more exciting at the time than our esteemed author gives credit for. Perhaps in hindsight it doesn’t look too fresh, but it drew a lot of attention at the time. The car was certainly modern in it’s appearance, it’s interior was bright and very roomy (even as a 6’1″ teenager I had plenty of head and leg room in the rear) with a large boot. The engine was actually quite brisk in reference to it’s day and the official figures were pretty conservative, with acceleration being brisker than advertised and a top speed that could actually top 100 (wouldn’t be able to say how I know that though :).

    Steering was awful though. I could feel the engine vibrate when I held the wheel an experience I’ve not ever felt in any car I have driven since. It was quite heavy at low speeds, but not terrible, but the gearbox wasn’t too great either.

    The seats by contrast, were actually very comfortable and the suspension was definitely sporty. I helped my Dad replace the rear struts on the car when I was 16, he’d ordered the struts for the Sana and on the listings of compatible vehicles was the Golf GTi. In general it was a hard-ish ride, but the car cornered beautifully with very little body roll.

    If the war hadn’t happened, then I think there was actually a lot of promise in the car and the company’s future. At the time it seemed like the Eastern block company that was most likely to meet western standards. Compared to the Lada Samara (a car I absolutely loathe) and the Skoda Favorit (a car I’m fond of and I owned it’s successor the Felicia, a fantastic car) the Sana seemed more forward thinking, better equipped (though the Favorit was better built) and altogether a more pleasant experience.

    Reply
    • March 27, 2014
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Nice summary and a great memory.

      Love the bit about squeezing the orange plastic at the side of the dashboard to stop it rattling. You simply don’t get treasures like that on new cars!

      No need to apologise for the ‘late’ comment. We always welcome comments here!

      Reply

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