During the 1985 NADA convention in San Francisco, curious dealers boarded chartered buses to a broadcast studio. They wanted to see the communist-built car touted by Malcolm Bricklin, the man who had introduced Subaru vehicles to the United States.
They found a squat econobox called the Yugo. In a book by Jason Vuic, The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, Tony Ciminera, a former manager at Road & Track magazine who became one of Bricklin's associates at Yugo America, described the scene:
"We brought the cars in there and lit them up. They must have had thousands of lights in the ceilings like any studio would have, so the cars were lit up magnificently like at auto shows, only better. ... It was quite spectacular. The dealers really came ... in crowds.
"We had round tables of 10 with a Yugo executive at each who put on a little presentation, about how much they would make, what the profits were, and so on. At the end of the presentation the dealers were asked to write a check, which they did. There were so many checks, we had to get a cardboard box to put them all in."
The Yugo's bargain-basement price tag of $3,990 grabbed public attention, and sales of 35,959 Yugos in 1986 opened the floodgates. The 1987 NADA convention in Las Vegas was chockablock with would-be importers who touted their cars and trucks to dealers as the next Honda brand.
The annual NADA convention has long been the event of choice for vehicle manufacturers and modifiers seeking dealers, including kit-car makers and niche brands.
The mid- to late 1980s were the glory years for obscure import brands -- many of which never launched sales in the United States -- to troll for dealers.