Sweden is a place of sensory overload for a fan of classic American cars. Having seen many articles and photographs over the years in car magazines, newspapers, National Geographic, and other media outlets about Sweden’s love for the V8 powered and chrome decorated American cars of decades past, I expected to see many of them when visiting the country this summer. The incredible variety of American cars that appears on the streets of Sweden’s cities and towns on a regular basis still astonished this author, though, exceeding all expectations. The mix of decades, makes, models, and conditions seen on a daily basis has to be seen to be believed.
Swedes of various walks of life embrace almost every car culture under the sun, with new and classic cars from around the world seen on a regular basis, but big American cars clearly occupy a special place. A Swedish friend who is an American car enthusiast described the national craze for American cars as easy to understand. Sweden is a big, sparsely populated country – only 9.5 million people as of 2012, in a country the size of California – with long, straight roads stretching over vast distances that are an ideal driving environment for vintage Detroit iron. The cities are also mostly accommodating for large cars, with only a few historic districts having the narrow, convoluted streets often seen in other European countries. Couple the driving environment with half a century of following American rock music and pop culture (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/oct/01/raggare-swedish-rocknroll-cult), and the result is the unique popularity of American cars in Sweden.
The American car hobby in Sweden is remarkable for not only its depth, but also its breadth. The makes and models most popular in the United States – Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Fords, Mopars, Thunderbirds, Mustangs, Corvettes, pickup trucks, 1930s Ford hot rods – all are well represented in Sweden. Immaculate restorations of plain four door sedans that get little attention in the United States are also commonly seen in Sweden, though, this white 1962 Pontiac being an example. Some cars have become coveted collector’s items in Sweden before they caught on among collectors in the United States, such as the 1955-56 Ford Crown Victoria, especially the glass-topped Skyliner model. The American car hobby in Sweden is a very large market (over 5,000 cars imported from the United States each year) with its own dynamics and tastes, often independent of those in the United States itself.
The photographs so far have shown immaculate restorations and modified cars at a cruise night. There is another side to the American car hobby in Sweden, however, and it is equally significant: the cars that are driven every day, parked outside and still used regularly with all of the wear and tear that goes with daily use. The photos that follow show a small cross section of those cars. Keep in mind that the cars in these photographs were regularly seen in a 10 block radius in Stockholm and represent a tiny fraction of the diversity of the American car scene in Stockholm, which is itself generally considered to be overshadowed by the American car hobby in Sweden’s smaller cities and towns. They will give a short introduction to the world of curbside classics in Sweden.
Cadillacs of the 1960s appear frequently in Sweden, with good reason: they are among the best cars that Detroit has ever offered, with style, space, big block power, and GM’s best drivetrains of their era. Among many convertibles, Coupe(s) de Ville(s), and sedans spotted in Stockholm, this 1963 Eldorado convertible especially stood out. A 50 year old (golden anniversary) gold Eldorado, one of only 1,825 made that year, it is parked on the street and driven every day.
Chevies are even more ubiquitous than Caddies, of course, and this 1966 Impala convertible is a fine representative of the breed with its black over red color scheme and Rallye wheels. Sporting Super Sport and 396 badges, it actually has a 383 small block under the hood according to its owner, and its mix and match build is perfectly in line with the nature of these cars. The stroked small block no doubt provides more than enough motivation for this Impala.
The 1950s continue to be a popular era for music and clothing styles, and perhaps partly as a result, American cars of the 1950s continue to be popular as well. Fords, Chevies and Pontiacs of the pre-OHV V8 era are common sights in Sweden, often carrying young or middle aged men in rockabilly outfits from the decade. This 1953 Chevrolet 210 four door sedan has a few dents and scars accumulated over the past 60 years but remains a well preserved daily driver.
Not all of the 1950s American vehicles in Sweden are cars. This 1957 Ford Ranchero, from the first year of Ranchero production on a full size Ford platform, is a beautifully restored survivor of the 21,696 produced that year. It may be a very recent import from the United States, as it had a new United States Marine Corps sticker on the rear window.
Real trucks are a far more common sight, as new and vintage American pickup trucks are popular work vehicles in Sweden. The identity of this Ford pickup was not readily apparent, but it wears the 1942-47 grille used on wartime and immediate postwar pickups. Its original-looking speedometer was marked in kilometers per hour, indicating that it may have been an exported vehicle when new.
Muscle cars and other 1960’s intermediates appear surprisingly infrequently in Sweden, apparently outnumbered by full sized cars of the same era, but the occasional one makes an appearance. This second generation Dodge Charger spotted near Stockholm’s Old City looks ready for a role in The Dukes of Hazzard, if only it had a Stars and Bars in place of its vinyl top
The Chevrolet Nova, Dodge Dart, and other compacts have their place as well, as budget muscle cars – just as Americans have used them. This Nova, with its 20-something driver and his young daughter leaning against it, would fit perfectly into any small town in the USA.
Big cruisers are the preferred choice for most Swedish enthusiasts of American cars, though, so one on a budget is likely to seek out something like this 1970 Oldsmobile Delta 88 instead of a Nova.
Even the products of the Malaise Era of American cars get some love in Sweden. The owner of this Chevy is proud of his 1976 Chevrolet Malibu and wants everyone to know exactly what it is.
Many of the cars shown in this article will receive more detailed coverage during the next several days. As an ending for now, here is the sight of one of the most elaborately decorated tailgates ever manufactured by humanity, now representing the United States in Sweden.
Photos #1,2,3,4 & 15 courtesy Carl Johan Rehbinder