Roughly 5,000 classic American cars are imported into Sweden every year. Most often, they are bought by car lovers who have an affinity for a period in the 1950s and 60s when full-bodied, colorful, powerful vehicles were mass-produced by American automakers. Sweden didn’t follow this trend, which is one reason that explains the existence of raggare, a popular Swedish subculture that emphasises classic cars, leather jackets, rock and roll, and all the components of mid-century American style. While not all Swedish car lovers are raggare, raggare form a big part of Stockholm’s classic car scene, and their influence may be broader than most people realise.
Raggare: Sweden’s Greaser Subculture
The raggare culture began as aesthetic rebellion against Sweden’s small, understated cars and prim and proper culture, but the law treated it as a violent rebellion. A moral panic spread over Sweden in the 1950s as a result of raggare. Early raggare were persecuted for their loud cars and personalities, which were inspired by America’s “greaser” subculture. Stockholm officials commissioned a report on the best ways to curb this fad.
In fact, laws were established that allowed police to indiscriminately stop American cars. The fad was suppressed, but not entirely. And as Sweden began to loosen its grip on the culture, raggare came out of the shadows. Today, raggare’s influence can be seen in many locations across Sweden. A notable raggare hotspot is Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden, which is known just as much for its classic cars as its freezing-cold temperatures. This is an exaggeration, of course, but Kiruna is home to Midnight Sun Cruisers, a prominent raggare club.
Classic Car Shows
Although raggare are typically seen as a rural phenomenon, they exist in major cities in the form of car shows and street races. Stockholm is the site of an assortment of auto shows, many of which feature classic cars that unite raggare with unaffiliated hot rod aficionados. One of these is the Stockholm Vintage & Sports Car Meet, whose 2019 event featured hundreds of perfectly-polished and impeccably-washed classic cars. The 1958 Edsel Ranger, 1963 Imperial Crown Convertible, 1965 Oldsmobile Starfire, and 1958 Ford Thunderbird were some of the raggare-appropriate models displayed at the event.
Two hundred kilometers away is the town of Linköping, which hosts an event that has been called the largest American classic car show in the world – and it’s in Sweden. If the previous facts haven’t convinced you of Sweden’s classic car love, 20,000 cars and ten times as many people travel to this small town in early July to experience the Power Big Meet. If only 1950s lawmakers could see raggare culture now.
Street racing is an illegal but popular activity in Stockholm that presumably has its roots in the raggare culture. However, street racing has developed its own culture over the decades which may have cut its raggare roots. This doesn’t mean that raggare don’t participate. Cars that race in the Stockholm Top 10 (one of many underground street races that include the Stockholm Open, an annual event that began in 1982 and was temporarily legalised) include ‘68 and ‘69 Chevrolet Camaros, darlings of the raggare community. Stockholm street races can draw thousands of spectators and often the law looks the other way. In fact, a police car was once filmed participating in a street race in southern Stockholm.
Sweden has a large population of classic car lovers, which is fed by the country’s longstanding raggare culture. Raggare groups can be found all over Sweden from small arctic towns to major metropolises like Stockholm. Street racing and world-renowned car shows are just some of the events that bring the raggare out in full force.