On the road from Belgrade to Oslo September 2001

sorryserbia.com

The Journey and the Death
A bright yellow Yugoslav mini car from Belgrade to Oslo

Kristian Kahrs
Text and photos

The experience is not very pleasant. It could just as well been a noisy construction site. It shakes about just as much, and you hear a ringing sound in your ears if you drive too fast, too long. But then we’re not talking about more than 24 horse powers, and most importantly: it’s going forward toward its final destination, Oslo.

The car is a Fića a car produced on licence from the old Fiat 600. In Yugoslavia it is called Zastava 750 LE.

Yugoslavia’s dictator Josip Broz Tito started the production of this car in 1960 in response to the German Volkswagen Beetle. The Yugoslavs wanted to produce a simple car that people could afford to buy. But it was over in 1985 because the car was too expensive to produce.

Many of my Yugoslav friends didn’t believe their own ears when they heard about my plans to drive a Fića to Oslo. In the former Yugoslavia, a Fića is not something you drive if you have money for a different car. Not a status symbol.

“Are you going to drive a Fi-Fi-Fića to Norway?! I think you are crazy. You will not be able to get to Norway in a Fića,” my friend Branka laughs as she is mocking my project.

But they can laugh all they want. Nothing is going to stop me from taking this cult car to Norway. In addition to the car, I have bought important reserve parts and a towing rope. Even if I have confidence in my car, I have to be prepared for everything.

You can buy a Fića for about 150 dollars, but it is wise to buy a bit more expensive car if it is going to serve me all the way to Norway. I end up paying 400 dollars for my car.

Fight against bureaucracy

Even if the car is not expensive, there is a thorough process to get the car approved in the Serb paper mill. Being a permanent journalist in Belgrade, the Serbs require that I put press plates on my car.

The licence plate is BG for Belgrade, 34 for Norway, P for press and 01 for the first, best and only Norwegian journalist registering a car on Yugoslav plates.

Before I’m ready to take off, I have to win the battle against the Serbian police bureaucracy. Here nothing has changed since the mid 60ies. The secretaries are still hammering all they can on manual typewriters with copying paper to be printed in five copies. Computers do not exist in the post-communist Serbia. After all, people should have a job!

On the road

My car runs better the first leg than what I expected. Even if the car is from 1985, it hasn’t run more than 60,000 kilometers. In downhill and on flat ground this car can go as fast as 90-100 km/h.

However, just before Budapest, I feel the smell of burned rubber, and I stop. This was a situation I was prepared for. I could have taken up position on the side of the road to hitchhike with the towing rope in my hand. But the Fića does not want to give up. After 15 minutes the car starts again.

The bricklayer Thomas Paffrath does not believe his own eyes when he gets a lift with a Yugoslav, bright yellow mini car. Even if he lives in what was East-Germany, such cars are not a usual sight.

“Oh, what a sweet car. This would be perfect for my girl friend,” he says.

Machine pistols?

German customs official nevertheless seem to want to pick the car apart. “Did you bring any machine pistols,” the German customer says half jokingly. You never know what comes from Yugoslavia, but the Germans are at least thorough.

When the car gets German gas, the Fića runs faster, and it is even possible to take the mid-lane on the Autobahn in Germany to pass trucks! Not bad for 24 horse powers.

But of course, this is not the end of the troubles. Just after I pass the Danish border, the speedometer and odometer breaks down. From thereon I have to drive on the feeling. Reaching Fredrikshavn in northern Denmark after 48 hours and 2000 kilometers. From here I can take a ferry to Oslo.

But in Norway it doesn’t take long before the Fića is stopped in a technical control in Oslo. Have to admit I’m sweating a bit. Left blinker broke down in Hungary, and I still haven’t fixed speedometer and odometer. But the police officers are just smiling and say that this was a funny little car. They take pictures of the Fića from all angles.

The death

The end came in a tunnel in Oslo a rainy day a week later. A Fića does not have the same grip on the road as a BMW. Entering a curve, the Fića doesn’t make it, and I flip around 180 degrees. It doesn’t help when the tires are a bit slippery. The Fića is left against the traffic with destroyed blinkers and front bumper.

The police officers coming to the scene a few minutes later are not especially happy.

“I can have your car towed, and you will not get it back before it is in perfect condition. I can also press charges for reckless driving,” says the policeman dressed in a bulletproof vest.

Here, there is no point in arguing. You just have to be meek.

“I take the punishment I deserve,” I say humbly staring down in the pavement.

The policeman confers with his colleague, and they give me permission to drive to the place I’m staying in Oslo a few kilometers away.

But the adventure is over. The dream of picking up girls with the coolest car in the city is devastated. It would be quite difficult to get new blinkers from Belgrade, and it would also be very difficult to sell the car in Norway. Norwegian authorities demand a two circuit braking system and a catalyzer, a lot of customs and a bureaucracy almost worse than the Serbian.

Therefore, a sad funeral procession starts. The car cemetery is the next stop. My heart would have been broken if I stay to see my car crushed. I turn my back to the car and walk away. You will be missed. Rest in peace.

Technical control in Belgrade. My Yugoslav mini-car is in perfect shape. It made it to Norway, but then it had a sudden death when I missed a turn at the entry of a tunnel.
Technical control in Belgrade. My Yugoslav mini-car is in perfect shape. It made it to Norway, but then it had a sudden death when I missed a turn at the entry of a tunnel.

Nothing is like a clean car. Serbian car washers are pretty good their job
Nothing is like a clean car. Serbian car washers are pretty good their job

Me, the proud owner of a Fića. Photo: Selftimer
Me, the proud owner of a Fića. Photo: Selftimer.

The gas tank is only 28 liters, and it is strategically places right in front of your feet in case of an explosion....
The gas tank is only 28 liters, and it is strategically places right in front of your feet in case of an explosion....

The licence plate is BG for Belgrade, 34 for Norway, P for press and 01 for the first, best and only Norwegian journalist registering a car on Yugoslav plates.
The licence plate is BG for Belgrade, 34 for Norway, P for press and 01 for the first, best and only Norwegian journalist registering a car on Yugoslav plates.

The police officers think this is a funny little car, and they do not fine me despite errors on the car.
The police officers think this is a funny little car, and they do not fine me despite errors on the car.

The Death. After over 2000 kilometers, my beloved Fića has to die. Goodbye. Rest in peace.
The Death. After over 2000 kilometers, my beloved Fića has to die. Goodbye. Rest in peace.


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