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Car Cultures of the World: Sweden

Car Cultures of the World: Sweden

Think of Sweden, and what springs to mind? Some questionable Eurovision tunes (arent they all?), flowing golden manes, and those pesky murderous Vikings. What definitely doesnt leap to the fore of the imagination though, is slick haired, leather clad ruffians tearing around in hot rods. This subculture, however, has been active throughout Scandinavia since the 1950s, carving a path of notoriety down generations. Meet the raggare.

Raggare originates from Swedish truck driving slang, meaning gathering. These particular gatherings involve Swedes, as well as Danes, Norwegians, Finns, Russians, Germans and Austrians who harbour a passion for 1950s American greaser subculture. The raggare are inspired by the sepia tinted visions of 50s America and the birth of rocknroll, drawing their fashions from key films of the era such as James Deans Rebel Without a Cause and American Graffiti. Cars are a key part of raggare life, and at regular meets, the pompadour-sporting masses show off their gleaming motors.

The most famous meet is the self-touted biggest and baddest classic car show in the world, the Power Big Meet, held in Všsteras, Sweden. Some 500,000 leather clad Swedes descend on the town, and the streets are choked with over 20,000 cars, ranging from 50s cruisers to hot rods and 1960s muscle cars. As the Swedes will be more than happy to inform you, there are more American classic cars registered in Sweden than there are in the States. Between 4000 and 5000 classic Yank cars are imported to Sweden every year.

The popularity of raggare culture stems from the differing fates of the Swedish and US economies over the decades. As petrol prices soared stateside and the exchange rate bombed, the average American traded in their muscle car for something more economical. No such nonsense for the Swedes, however, who were comparatively affluent, and were able to pick up rusting Pontiacs and Cadillacs for a steal, import them back home, jazz them up, and increase their value ten times over. When compared to Swedens reputation for sensible and sombre automotive offerings, its not hard to see the appeal.

If you attend a meet, manage to dodge the beer cans flying overhead, and shimmy your way through the tattooed congregation flinging each other round a rockabilly dancefloor, you will find some stunningly maintained classic cars. Expect to see Ford Mustangs, Plymouth Barracudas, and immaculately buffed Buicks parked on Power Big Meets fields.

On the lower end of the spectrum are Volvos, spray painted black, which may be the ride of choice for your younger, more budget conscious raggare. The most common raggare car is the 1960s Pontiac Bonneville, which are especially popular due to being cheap and having a sofa-sized backseat, handy for cramming in as many Scandinavian renegades as possible.

As is common among the young and rebellious, the raggare havent gone without their share of infamy. In the groups heyday in the 50s and 60s, hard partying and fisticuffs was common within the subculture, and the name became synonymous with shenanigans and neer-do-wells. Today, however, the dust has settled, and the members are far happier shooting the breeze over a propped open engine than shooting, er, each other.

If youre keen on American muscle cars, save yourself a few hundred pounds on flights this year, and nip over to Sweden, where greaser culture is alive and kicking.