Zastava is inextricable from Kragujevac, named for the kraguj (griffin) bird
Today claiming a third of the Serbian automotive market, and boasting an automotive history spanning more than a half-century and over four million cars, Zastava is Serbia's oldest manufacturing firm. It celebrates its 55th
year of automaking on August 26th
Zastava's story begins in 1851, with the construction of the Army Technical Institute ("Vojno-Tehnički Zavod")
cannon foundry in the Serbian town of Kragujevac. Indeed, Zastava is inextricable from Kragujevac, a town founded in 1476 as a community of 32 houses named for the kraguj
After Serbia's independence in 1818, Kragujevac's importance to the country grows considerably. By 1822, 283 houses have been built in Kragujevac, where 3,000 people now live (approximately a tenth of Belgrade's population of the time). The first Serbian court is founded in Kragujevac (1820); the first Serbian high school and printing press (1833), and first pharmacy.
Through 1839, Kragujevac serves as the country's capital, during the reign of prince Milos Obrenović. The first Serbian constitution is proclaimed here in 1835.
Kragujevac today is Serbia's fourth-largest city
The founding of Zastava in 1851 marks a turning point in Kragujevac's development. With the Zastava cannon foundry, which casts its first gun barrels in 1853, comes a military vocational school in March 1854. It is the first school for skilled workers in Serbia.
At the end of the 19th
century, the cannon foundry changes its name to the Military Engineering Works. In the first phase of its existence, the firm rapidly expands its production program, and the complexity and quality of its products.
Between 1914 and 1915, during World War I, Kragujevac again becomes the capital of Serbia, before the title irrevocably reverts to Belgrade.
By the 1930s, Kragujevac has begun turning out Ford trucks for the Yugoslav army. On the eve of World War II, the Works employs 12,000; counts over 10,000 modern machines, and has long been building and repairing vehicles. By now, the Military Engineering Works is one of the largest firms in the Balkans.
Following the war, Zastava produces Jeeps under license from Willys-Overland through the early 1950s.
Having diversified into heavy engineering; vans, and trucks, Zastava will turn toward car production in 1949, when construction of its automobile manufacturing plant begins.
Now Zavodi Crvena Zastava,
the firm is exporting automobiles to Western Europe by 1971
. By the 1980s
, the Yugo - the most affordable import ever sold in America - has become Zastava's most famous vehicle. Named after Yugoslavia, the country in which it was built, the Yugo wins more than 145,000 customers across America before the Yugoslav Civil War forces its withdrawal from the market.
Contrary to the belief of many, Yugoslavia was not a COMECON country. The Yugoslavs had no allegiance to the Soviet Union, and traded freely with the West.
Today, Zastava produces cars (as Zastava Automobili);
trucks (as Zastava Kamioni),
and commercial vehicles (Sombor-based Zastava Specijalni Automobili).
Thirty years before the Yugo, however, there was the question of which automaker the nascent Zastava would align itself with. Alfa Romeo of Italy; Austin of England; Delahaye of France; Fiat of Italy; Renault of France; Rover of England, and Willys of the United States all compete for the honor.
The question is resolved in the 1950s,
when an Italian automaker today known for its strategy of internationalization begins to branch outward.