I started this article because I was researching a Scandinavian subculture of ‘greasers’ said to be responsible for Sweden having amassed more restored American 1950s cars than the United States itself has today. The “Raggare” movement, which emerged from a post-war youth counterculture mainly in Sweden and parts of Norway, is known for its undying love of vintage American hot rod cars and 1950s pop culture.
We’ll look at this unlikely Swedish subculture in more detail in just a moment, but while researching the Raggare, digging through forums and old photo albums put together by members, I got a little sidetracked when it led me to a staggering amount of abandoned automobile junkyards scattered around the Swedish countryside, filled with American cars, piled high and rusting away far from home…
One of the most interesting sources I found was the Flickr page of a mechanic called Mike (who goes by “MadMike64” on the online photography platform) from Gothenburg, Sweden.
Mike’s albums are filled with memories and old photos of the Raggare at car meets from the 1950s onwards; it’s a car lover’s online scrapbook of American Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, lovingly restored by the Swedish greasers…
1954 Cadillac Hearse
Midsummer in Sweden, 1983
But perhaps even more interesting are his junkyard albums…
One after another, Mike’s collection of junkyard albums open up to ghostly graveyards of decomposing metal corpses, once kings of the American road, now at the mercy of nature.
An abandoned Studybaker
With as many as 10 different albums, labeled “Local junkyard”, “Eda junkyard”, “Osby junkyard”, “Töksfors junkyard”, “Behind the old service station”, the devoted member of the Raggare movement (his dad was also a raggare) has clearly found an abundance of them over the years, tracked down at the end of unmarked dirt roads, deep inside forests or just on the outskirts of town, almost as if they were as common to find in Sweden as a Ford dealership in America.
One of the more famous junkyards, one that has almost become a tourist attraction of sorts for urban explorers and vintage car enthusiasts is the Båstnäs Car Graveyard.
The brothers who owned Båstnäs lived on the land and continued selling abandoned American cars up until the 1980s. Today you can still the see the forgotten cars strewn around the land, filling the fields surrounding the brothers’ two dilapidated homes.
If you’re ever interested in visiting it, the GPS coordinates are 59° 21′ 43.14″ N 11° 50′ 20.29″ E. You can visit it virtually on Google (and you can actually see the cars from Google Earth).
You can also see much more of this incredible graveyard on photographer Svein Nordrum’s website here.
While many Swedes are demanding the country’s junkyards be removed and the forests cleaned up, ironically, environmentalists are pleading for them to stay, arguing that wildlife have made nests in the automobile remains. And if they get there way, the cars will stay there until they’re dust.
Yet another famous but still active Swedish junkyard I came across stashing abandoned American cars in the Scandanavian woods, is Bloms Bilskrot, about 400km north of Stockholm, holding countless treasures. It’s so huge, it would apparently take several days to explore it properly.
And here’s the website of yet another Swedish scrapyard in the middle of a forest casually claiming to have the biggest inventory of vintage American card on this side of the Atlantic.
So if I was looking for an answer as to why or how a subculture like the Raggare emerged in Sweden, restoring more American vintage rides than even America itself, crazy about 1950s greaser pop culture and dressing like James Dean, I think I found my answer…
From Mike’s Raggare albums, above: 1962 Impala and 1961 and a Buick lesabre at the Power Big Meet, Sweden, 1984. Below: 1959 Galaxie built in the 60`s, wrecked in the 70’s and restored in the 80’s.
So let’s finally turn our attention to the faces of the Raggare counterculture. When they first appeared in the 1950s, they were mostly stereotyped as the bored and rebellious gangs of young men causing a moral panic in Sweden, speeding through small towns drunk on moonshine, usually creating havoc wherever they went.
“Ragga” roughly means “to pick up girls” in Swedish and they were known to do just that, picking up impressionable young women in one town and finding new ones in the next, having their “bad boy” way with them in the back seat of the car along the way.
Today, the Raggare have quite a different reputation, met with amusement or only mild disapproval by modern mainstream society. There’s been some controversy about the raggare seen waving the Confederate flags while driving their old muscle cars, but to quote an article published last year by Jalopnik about the car culture, “like most cultural icons, the Confederate flag doesn’t translate fully when its taken overseas … and in Sweden, it’s both a symbol of America and rebellion, and not of anything with scary undertones.”
The face of a raggare nowadays will usually be that of a middle-aged Swede who just enjoys meeting up and proudly showing off their vintage restored American hot rods.
While, raggare are still sometimes depicted by the media as “white trash”, a blue collar, smalltown band of car fanatics, they’re also the subculture behind the most famous and biggest car show in the world, the Power Big Meet.
Held each summer since 1978 for enthusiasts of old American cars, in 2014, a record 17,000 cars participated and 200,000 visitors showed up.
Between 4000 and 5000 classic US cars are imported to Sweden each year, and in recent years there has also been a resurgence of younger raggare and the culture’s archaic attitudes towards women seems to have been left well in the past.
So if you have a thing for “American Graffiti” subcultures and vintage rides, particularly ones rotting in the woods, it looks like you might have a new reason to book a ticket to Sweden.