Better than the original? – 50 years of the Zastava 101 – Car Engine

The general public first saw the new Yugoslav folk car at the 1971 Belgrade Motor Show. Photo: Zastava, Car-Motor archive

During the Cold War, the policy of the Eastern Bloc was characterized by a desire to prove it, but in many countries attempts were made to alleviate the never-satisfying demand for cars by developing licenses instead of developing their own designs. Types suitable for this were typically designed by Italian and French engineers, and cars manufactured under their own name were generally sought to be adapted to local needs.

The colorful upholstery and the wood-patterned inlay were the privilege of the De Luxe design

The Yugoslav Red Flag Works (Zavodi Crvena Zastava), which deals with arms and then car manufacturing, has been manufacturing various Fiat models since 1954. In 1955, Prvoslav Rakovič, the factory’s director, Zastava, signed a cooperation agreement with the Italians on the development of the Kragujevac plant, which has led to a steady increase in production capacity over the years. After the Soviets made a “deal of the century” with Fiat, Rakovič also thought of a new type, but he did not consider the proven limousine but the modern hatchback to be ideal, so in 1970 he agreed with the Italians that the Car of the Year production of the chosen Fiat 128 will begin with a 5-door body instead of 4. Such prototypes were also made by the Italians, but they were not brave enough to mass-produce, which was a mistake, as the 128 had all the features except the five-door body to be a category-creating hatchback. This title was eventually pocketed by the Volkswagen Golf, although the Fiat Group put the revolutionary design into production 10 years before the Germans with a front-wheel drive, cross-engine and rear window, but the Autobianchi Primula has not become an internationally known type.

Prior to the start of production, the Kragujevac plant was thoroughly expanded. In 1979, 88,918 Zastava left the factory

Although the Zastava 101, which debuted at the 1971 Belgrade Motor Show, was exported not only to the Eastern but also to the Western markets, the Simca’s 1100 rear design was not enough for the glory of the Yugoslavs. However, his Italian origins did not stop him from succeeding, as it was manufactured without change, with the Aurelio Lampredi’s 1116 cc, 55-horsepower, overhead-controlled (SOHC) engine running on its nose. On poor roads, good-performing, independent suspension, lively steering and a strong brake were in line with current Western standards. Its comfort and practicality went beyond most of its contemporaries with a standard boot of 325 liters and, after expansion, 1,010 liters.

Cynical photo from Britain with the slightly looked down on Yugo. Due to its favorable price, it was relatively successful in the island nation

Although the demonstration was held in March 1971, series production did not begin until October. The modern car also required a modern factory, with a plant of 125,000 m2 in Kragujevac worth 1.35 billion dinars. The bodywork was pressed locally, the engines came from Rakovica, the various parts were supplied to Zastava by more than 50 domestic companies. Contrary to often years of waiting, in the small western Yugoslavia, a new 101 was delivered with a lead time of 3-4 months. After its type (101, Serbian što-jedan), the folk car nicknamed Stojadin (Serbian male first name) soon became known and recognized not only in its homeland, but also in Hungary, among others.

The practical fifth door was prone to soaking due to inadequate insulation

The Zastava has been constantly spending on modernizing the type it is looking for, with the first major upgrade in the late 1970s being given to cars sold under different names from country to country. The 1290cc, 64bhp engine was released, delivering 73bhp for the Special Series with a tachometer, produced in a total of 1,500 units. In the early 1980s, production of both 3-door (Mediteran) and hatchback (128) bodies began, and after another thorough, 1983 renewal, Western exports also picked up. The right-hand drive version, marketed for doors and engine displacement (311, 313, 511 and 513), was quite successful in the UK, where it cost half as much as the popular Ford Escort, but other Western was also available in markets, mainly due to the reputation of the Italian Fiat 128, which was available until 1985, because the production quality of the Zastava was arguably lower than the original, for which its favorable price compensated.


Reports on Yugoslav novelty from the 1971 and 1972 issues of Autó-Motor. “It looks like the 128th, but still not Fiat, but a Zastava…”

Contemporary articles published in Auto-Motor show that the enviable owner of Zastava also had to deal with more or less shortcomings, the difficult-to-switch gearbox and the soaking fifth door, for example, were a recurring source of error regardless of the era. In our last test in 1990, in addition to acknowledging its merits, we already referred to the model updated with cheap plastics as a nostalgic car, even though the series, which reached one million in 1991, remained in production until 2008!

There was also a three-door version with a 1.1 and 1.3 liter engine called the Mediteran, the four-door version was marketed in the UK as the Yugo 413 L. The Poly vendor was manufactured in Sombor, Vojvodina, until 2012

After the South Slavic War, the Kragujevac plant was rebuilt, but in addition to used cars from Western countries, Zastava’s products, which were on the verge of bankruptcy, became less and less attractive to customers, even though it was the second cheapest car in the world in the last 101 years. As Fiat’s investment and the Punto, produced under the name Zastava 10 from 2006, did not solve the problems either, the end of the 101 was marked by the disappearance of the brand after 1,273,532 copies.

License model in license manufacturing
At that time, several different models were also produced in Poland under a Fiat license, but between 1973 and 1983, following a previous cooperation on bus production, the production of the Zastava 101 was also agreed with the Yugoslavia in order to expand the range. The Zastava 1100p was made in the plant where Syrena was previously manufactured. At first, the cars were assembled from parts supplied from Yugoslavia, later, presses for the 3-door Mediteran model were already purchased from them. In 10 years, a total of 58,541 pieces of 1100p were made.

Source: Autó-Motor by

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