Reggare come out to play

This isn’t a post about Saabs, per se. But it’s a definitely related to Sweden, and as far as the country relates to Saab, I thought it would be worth looking at.

Prior to visiting there, my first thought of a Swede wouldn’t have extended to greased hair and cars with tail fins. I remember a conversation in comments here a few months ago that highlighted the cultural links between Sweden and the US. I know that when I was there, there was plenty of US programming on television and apparently it’s been that way for a long time.

When I was in Sweden last month, there were a few locals joking in comments that I’d start turning “reggare” with the Convertible that Saab were kind enough to lend me. I got a partial insight into what they were talking about through some quick explanations. It seemed like Reggare were perhaps young guys that liked to go cruising around trying to pick up chicks.

This article will give you a much better insight, however. It seems that “reggare” is one of those US cultural links that sprung up years ago and is maintained today, partly out of nostalgia but with it’s own Swedish angle nowadays.

So what’s reggare?

Thousands of 1950s mint condition Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles cruise the avenue with Brylcreemed greasers draped over the steering wheel and rock’n’roll hits blaring on the radio.

You might think you’ve been transported back half a century to small-town America but no, this is a scene found in any number of towns across Sweden where the early days of the US car culture never went out of style.

The fascination for Thunderbirds, Chevrolet Bel Airs, Crown Victorias and De Soto Fireflites with their slick, tapered tail fins and two-tone finish led to a vast subculture that crossed over to Sweden in the late 1950s — and entered a time warp.

Called “raggare,” or cruisers or greasers, the aficionados dress and live like their idols James Dean and Elvis Presley from the post-war boom period when wheels meant freedom — fast, fun and good-looking.

reggareThe thousands of mint condition cars they’re talking about there is a literal number. There was a car show recently in Vaesteraas, with around 150,000 people turning up to look over the approximately 13,000 cars on show.

That’s visitors from all around the world, but it gets more Swedish than that….

Thanks to the longevity of the “raggare” culture, Sweden is now home to tens of thousands of classic American cars, by some accounts the most in the world outside the US.

Numbers vary but according to Klas Brink, who has restored eight 1950s Cadillacs in 12 years, there are now more restored 1950s cars in Sweden than in the US.

“Swedish car restorers are considered the best in the world. Some of the cars that are restored here get sold back to the US,” he said, adding however that most Swedish car buffs would never sell their prized possessions.

Brink noted that only two 1958 Cadillac convertibles were originally sold in Sweden. Now there are more than 200 such models in the country and almost none left in the US.

Perhaps I did indeed get a personal taste of Regarre for myself during the trip. Every Wednesday night during summer in Trollhattan, the locals get out their classic cars and head down to the locks. They park there and wander around looking at each others’ rides. I didn’t see any greased hair or rolled up jeans there, but there were plenty of old 1950s style American classics on show.

Next time you think about stereotyping a Swede, think again.

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