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
Thanks Robert,plenty of nice lookers.The Mercury is especially gorgeous and I love the 2 tone wagon.Did you find any “Plodges” or other export specials?My brother and his mates go to Vasteras every other year,the quality of restorations is first class.
Looking forward to the full updates!!
Sweden isn’t unique in this regard, neighboring Finland has a similar car culture, which I’ve experienced on my trips there for work.
Then again, you could also say that Finland is traditionally part of Sweden anyway, but that’d just upset the Finns.. 🙂
How many American manufacturers shipped CKDs for local assembly? Studebaker did, was quite active world-wide…
I saw a black 56 RHD 6 cylinder Ford convertible at a show a few years ago which was a CKD for Sweden.Sweden drove on the proper side of the road til 66
Then Sweden “wised up” and decided to drive on the right hand side of the road like real cars should . . . . and not 19th century horse/carriage conveyances (!! lol !!)
I’m sure my mate Bryce will tell you which is the correct side of the road!LOL
Thats odd in many ways. Localy assembled convertibles are odd and so are six cylinder convertibles. But the biggest oddity is the RHD, while we in Sweden drow on the left side we still had LHD vehicles. It was always assumed that we should change to driving on the right side “soon” but the change was postponed several times. It was a typical case of authorities “knowing” what was good for the people, but the people didn’t want it. A referendum was held in the 50:ies to once and for all settle the question but the people voted to drive on the left. The politicians had to wait for a while to make the change (this time there were no referendum) not to make it too obvious that they were ignoring the referendum.
Almost all cars in Sweden were LHD, the only exception I know of is the 22-window WV bus (normal busses, pickups and cars from WV were LHD). Even the Volvos and SAAB produced for the local market was LHD. I think we have more RHD cars on our roads now then when we were driving on the left. Now we have postal and other delivery cars with RHD, we didn’t need that then.
I do not know the answer to your question, but I can say that Cadillac shipped at least one. I saw an advertisement for a 1939 Cadillac 75 convertible that had been assembled in Sweden from a CKD kit, now available as a chauffeured limousine for weddings and other events. (I looked into using it myself, but found that it was booked up quite far into the future!) It was profiled on the Swedish Cadillac club website: http://www.cadillacclub.se/clubcars/39%20Nordberg.html
Ford Amsterdam made Mustangs from 1965 to 1967.
Kaiser-Frazer had a plant in Rotterdam, they mainly made the Nekaf-jeeps for the army.
Furthermore Mack and International trucks were assembled here up to the sixties.
(These are the ones I know by heart)
Mr. Monné is our “Mr. Mack” since 1974. Restorations, repairs etc. and 24/7 service in Europe: http://www.mackmonne.nl/
The Mack F700 COE had a good reputation, it was certainly not unusual to come across one in its days.
Chrysler products were assabled by ANA in Nyköping. They also assambled Simca and a lot of brittish brands, most of them (including Simca) later ended up being bought by Chrysler in a deal totaly unrelated to ANA. ANA was later bought by SAAB. GM and Ford were assabled in Stockholm. One of them in the port and the other in Nacka about 10-20km southeast of Stockholm. The Pontiacs assembled in Sweden were based on the Canadian version, basicly a Chevy with new sheet metal. Most of the US sorced cars assambled in Sweden were 4 door sedans six cylinder plane janes, usually black. A few cupés, convertebles and odd brands were apperntly assebled as well, probably to test the market. It must have been cheeper to import the oddites even after the import tax. There main market for localy assambled cars was as taxis or police cars. Before 1954 GM also bought the paint localy and the colors of GM cars were unik to Sweden, although simliar to those of USA.
During the 50:ies the working class of sweden got improved living standard and were for the first time able to buy a summerhouse. During this time the beautiful but inacesseble islands in the stockholm arcepelagio were still cheap. With outboard engines becoming avileble theses islands became acesseble and for a short time workers could buy their own (small) summer island. Out of money from buying a boat and an island they had to build with whatever they could get for free and thus many of the big boxes that the US cars came in were used as building material. Today these islands are expencive but logistics are still a problem, and new laws often prohibits incresed building areas so while the houses have been replaced the sheds are still there with GM and Ford stamps visible on the unpainted insides.
Wow-what a revelation! I had no idea that American automobiles were so popular in Sweden. I especially like the two-tone Mercury, all of the vehicles Mr. Kim photographed appear to be in excellent condition. One question though, if American cars and their culture are so popular, why wasn’t it expressed in the automobiles built in Sweden-I’m talking about Saab and Volvo-which in most respects seem to be the exact antithesis of the American car culture?
It’s all about the classic (or just old) US cars and the hotrods, a cult, a (substantial) group of hard-core enthusiasts. Just like in the rest of Northwestern Europe, but I think that the group is relatively the largest in Sweden. From rusted old bangers to fully restored muscle cars, you can see them all at (classic) car shows for American cars.
A couple of points: several of these photographs were taken by another photographer (as noted at the end of the article), and clearly these are highly restored/prepped cars out on cruise night or such. They are not exactly representative of American daily drivers there.
You somehow imagine a new/recent Volvo looking like a 50s American car? These old American cars are mostly owned/bought by those specifically wanting a contrast. If Swedish cars looked like classic American cars, those same Swedish folks would be out buying…something else, eh? That’s the point: to have something different.
Why are old Volvos and Saabs so popular in Oregon and other parts of the US? We tend to express our individuality by that which is different…except of course that as soon as others do it too, it’s not so different anymore.
I’d certainly argue that the Volvo PV444 and PV544, looking a whole lot like a 40’s Ford in 3/4 scale, clearly expresses the Swede’s love for American cars.
Because the american car culture in Sweden is mostly a sub-culture. Most of the people drove ordinary Volvos and Saabs most of the time. And for being a European car, The Volvo bricks were quite american-like. Perhaps that’s why the sold so well over there?
Y’all should read that link on the top of the page about the Swedish “Raggare” sub-culture. It’s a phenomena not easily explained. Basically, it’s a core group of baby boomers, growing up in the 50’s and 60’s with a lot of americana, rockabilly, and cars. Inspired by films like Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One, and the for all that matters, when the trend turned inwards retro with American Graffiti.
In the 60’s and 70’s, those people could by american cars dirt cheap in Sweden. They were early adopters in picking up the cars that only mattered twenty, thirty years later. They drove them, maintained them, restored them, and customized them. There was a lot of really talented people starting early on with the customizing scene, then moving to the states. People like Bernt Karlsson, working for Boyd Coddington. At one time, there were a dozen Swedes working almost exclusively for Coddington.
With time, those baby boomers started to amass real money with their collections, buying and selling cars over the pond. Today, that sub-culture is really alive and vibrant, and quite extraordinary. It’s just one of those things, a regional car-culture, time and place-specific, that has garnered a global following with time.
Your points about the “raggare” origins of the American car hobby in Sweden are something that I wanted to emphasize but did not really have time to go into, since I wanted to get to the cars as soon as possible. Thank you for explaining them further!
An observation that I would like to make, for you to confirm, refute or otherwise comment on, is that although enthusiasm for American cars began in the “raggare” youth culture (now in its second generation) and remains strongest there, the hobby has spread much further than its working-class origins. I met highly educated professionals, artists, and others very far from the “raggare” image who were current or past enthusiastic owners of American cars. Different cars also seem to attract different types of owners. For example, 1960s Mustang convertibles appear to be usually driven by middle aged upper middle class looking men, much like in the U.S. Are these observations off the mark, or do they match what you have seen?
Also, the Citroen badge in your profile photo reminds me that Sweden appears to have a lot of Citroen enthusiasts. I spotted several DS’s parked or being driven in Stockholm, and a 2CV put-putted past me in Visby.
Yes, the Citroen-scene is quite advanced itself, it’s basically a cottage industry. In any small town there is at least a couple of overgrown hippies that collects Citroens like they were going out of style. I have a DS myself, a parts car I bought for a thousand dollars or so. Was thinking of restoring it, but I have come to my senses now, it’s simply too far gone. I’d rather have a nice one, and I’m thinking of buying one nicely restored. They go for about ten-fifteen grand or so. And you can’t have too many of them, Citroens have a habit of piling up…
On american cars, I’d still say it’s mostly a working class phenomena. There’s a still a class aspect of it, and a certain stigma about owning an american car. Though, the working class today are very well paid, I’d say many in that scene are working as contractors or builders in different trades, perhaps with their own companies. And they plow their fortunes into their hobbies. Also, if you want a mint condition classic Mustang convertible, that will set you back about a hundred grand. So, of course they are driven by “middle aged, upper middle class looking men”, because they are the ones with that kind of money. Though, I’d still say they are all overgrown baby boomers, they just shaped up a bit with age.
Also, there is a local spike in prices. Some cars have skyrocketed in Sweden, because of the high demand within certain circles. And because they could easily sell them globally for that amount. I have just checked what’s on the market right now. Most expensive is a -57 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible for 200 grand. A stunning -60 Chrysler New Yorker convertible for 150. A Shelby GT350 for 125. For about a hundred thousand dollars, you could have a -56 Ford Crown Victoria Skyliner, a Chevy Malibu SS 327, a supercharged Dodge Charger 440, an assortment of -59 or -60’s Cadillac convertibles, a split window Corvette, or a Dodge Challenger R/T convertible. They are of course in mint condition. I’m sure you could find a run down Cadillac convertible of that age for ten or twenty grand or so. This is the crème de la crème.
On the other end of the market, I’d say the cheapest way in is a slant six Valiant. There are quite a few in Sweden, as they were popular as police cars at the time. They will cost about three to five thousand dollars for a genuine Curbside Classic-endorsed example. These days, the Valiants and the likes have been taken over by the hipster crowd, so I guess the scene is sort of reinventing itself from the ground up. Rat Rods is the new black, and cockroaches apparently has a global appeal…
check up old car style weekend .
u not gone belivit
Thanks for a great article! I remeber visiting Sweden twice in the mid-eighties as a kid, and even then, the amount of vintage American iron on the streets was amazing. It sure added to the notion that Sweden was a cool place to be!
In the 1980’s and 1990’s when I was active in the WPC Club, the Swedish contingent of the club was both large and enthusiastic, owning a very nice selection of Chrysler Corporation vehicles, from Airflows to fin cars to late-model cars.
Very nice piece. Fuel must be relatively inexpensive in Sweden, or else the enthusiasts who drive cars like that Delta 88 pour a LOT of money through their gas tanks.
I used to lament so many classics getting shipped out of the country, but any more, I am just happy that a car is going to someone who will treasure and enjoy it.
One note – it appears that the dreaded “All Chevrolets Must Wear Rally Wheels” syndrome has infected Sweden. So sorry.
Well, the cost of fuel in Sweden are similar to the cost of fuel in Norway, around 15 NKR pr litre, in US Dollars around 2,5 USD pr litre or 9,4 USD for a gallon. And I drive a 77 Cadillac as a daily driver…..
Unlinke Sweden, who don’t have taxes on cars when you buy them, Norway is also a country with many american cars of the 50s/60s/70s era, but they are all (mostly) imported after they have reached 30 years. Because of the Norwegian “30-years rule” you can import a car that old without paying taxes for the motorvolum, the horsepower and the cars weight, witch for an avereage american fullsize 70s Cadillac would have been around 100.000-120.000 USD just in taxes….
So I have a 67 Buick Riviera for the summertime and the 77 Cadillac for year round use.
My name is Bob I live in Oregon in the US and now have a 1960 cad convertable that needs full restore but runs and drives and am wondering if I could sell it over there for Moore money and what the process might be I also know of some Moore old american cars I can aquire around here I guess I’m looking for a contact over there too get advice about this thank you
Love the ’59s, especially the wagon.
I suspect that the desire to be different is part of the Scandinavian culture. The Swedish side of my family is very much like that : follow the rules to a fault, but find another way to be different. (For my parents it was also the car, but since we were American, we had Swedish cars instead of vice versa. A Saab sure stood out in 1967 in the Philly ‘burbs! ) For my wife’s Italian-American family, it’s just the opposite. Rules are considered annoying and made to be broken, but you have to look like everyone else while you do it. They still don’t understand why I don’t want a Camry…
When the Marist Bros. Seminary closed sometime around 1970 and a private entity bought most of the property turning it into the Marin Ballet Center and the Marin Racquet Club (Belle Avenue and Elm Street in San Rafael – I grew up two houses down), I noticed every other car going to the Ballet Center was a Volvo and every other car going to the Racquet Club was a Mercedes or Porsche.
Speaking of Sweden, I saw this article on Hemmings blogs when Sweden switched from right-hand drive to left-hand drive
as well as this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q52RfAiZlws
I was in Stockholm last weekend and it is indeed one of the best places to see classic american iron being driven everyday. Spotted this amazing Caddy there:
Now that’s my idea of a CC Caddy! Great catch. I’m really lusting after that!
I saw that exact same Caddy about two months ago, not far from the spot where you took your photos, but unfortunately could not get my camera phone ready before it was gone, since I was driving at the time. That was the story behind several great unrecorded Cadillac sightings: a robin’s egg blue 1953 Sixty-Two convertible towing a camper trailer on a rural highway, a 1962 Coupe de Ville in a stunning custom two tone clay and black, a black 1969 “rat rod” near the Stockholm central train station, and others.
When I was on a rock tour in Sweden in 2003, one morning the promoter needed some extra transportation to ferry the band members to the outdoor venue, and as the members of other bands rolled out in a group of VW Eurovans, our foursome was left to wait for the new recruits. Imagine our surprise when an immaculate, triple-black ’58 Imperial convertible rolled up, the driver got out, and announced he’d be our driver for the day (!) I asked him if this was his car, and he said, “Yah.” Did you restore it? “Yah.” The engine? “Everything.” Paint, bodywork and interior? “Yah.” Unbelievable. It looked (and rode) like a brand new car. Even the engine block was painted the correct gold. These people have some of the most stunning late ’50s and early ’60s American iron I’ve ever seen anywhere. They’re truly “car crazy.”
When I was in Belgium in the late 80’s I remember seeing many contemporary American cars (especially Cadillacs and Lincolns) on the streets of Brussels and throughout the country. I also saw 50’s and 60’s American cars here and there, and the large car museum outside of Brussels (AutoWorld) had a great collection of such cars. I wonder – is Belgium second to Sweden in terms of the popularity of American cars in Europe? Besides Belgium and Sweden, I don’t recall having seen many American cars in the other European countries I’ve visited.
Love the 1962 Thunderbird…
I spent the summer in Sweden and Denmark back in the early ’70s. I was traveling with a high school friend and his family. My friend’s father brought along a car for us to travel in, it was a 1969 Malibu SS 396. Traveling through-out Scandinavia in that car was like traveling with a rock star. This must have been right at the beginning of this Swedish obsession with American cars because there weren’t any American cars that I remember seeing at the time I was there. Where ever we parked this car people would gather taking pictures and peering in the windows. I occasionally heard the slightly snarky “dollar grin” shout-out from some observers and had to ask my hosts what it meant, me having no clue. My friend’s mother laughed as she explained that the big chrome grilles reminded people there of a big smile or “grin” and the “dollar” meant anything American. A cultural lesson I never forgot
Sweden is beating us at our own game!
This article is fascinating. In ’98 I sold a ’55 Chevrolet 210 for export to Sweden. Being a four door with a six and three speed I was told it was eagerly sought over there – unlike that combo was here.
When I put my ’57 Chevy Two-Ten sedan (original 283/PG) up for sale at a large automotive swap meet, it was purchased by a knowledgeable Swedish buyer. The car was not a Nomad, convertible or even a Bel air hardtop, but the most ordinary Chevrolet produced that year.
Here is a Picture of five american Classic cars that did arrive on the last boat from America. This year our guess that it will arrive about 3000 older american cars 1983 and older most from the 60:s and 70:s.
I am sure Sweden is the biggest country in the World on old Amercian cars outside america. Welcome to look for your self in Vasteras first week of July 2014 when it comes about 10000 old American cars to the Power Meet
While in Sweden this summer, I very badly wanted to visit the Vasteras Power Meet, but I had commitments with Swedish friends who had no interest in going to it. It is probably just as well, because I would have arrived in a VW rental car, which would have felt rather lame. I am considering going in 2014, and importing a classic American car to drive to the event so that I can arrive in style!
I think a 1969 Caddy would be the perfect car to arrive in!
Was this photo taken at the port of Gothenburg? My understanding is that Gothenburg is the delivery point for roll on/roll off car transporter ships.
Hello Robert Kim! Pictures is from Port in Gothenburg Place where old american cars come in each week on the Boat from America. If you want to come to Sweden with your car and drive for a month or soo I am more then happy to help you, I have my home 30 minutes from port and 30 minutes from Airport so you fly in and then been picked up at Airport by your car, you got an valid registration in your home state and we buy an Insurance at Sweden Customs then you drive 1 month on your home plates, then you sell car or ship it home again, email me email@example.com and Robert you need Car entusiast friends in Sweden
I’m one of those crazy Swedes. Here’s my ride.
One of fourteen 1966 Pontiac Bonneville wagons in Sweden.
Feel free to look at my pics of some of the U.S cars that we have in our small country:
hey this cadillac eldorado was imported to Sweden in 2006 from Nevada.
The following link is in Finnish, a relatively easy and commonly known global language. In the thread You can find a lot of links to pic sites, containing pictures from cruising nights in Helsinki, Finland. If You love american cars, then You may spend a few sleepless nights going through this material 🙂
No link I see….
I’m a swedish man and like american muscle cars. Have a few legends like Camaro, Firebird; Charger and Corvette cars. If you come to Sweden write a email to me so you can get a idea what to see between Gotenburg and Stockholm and where the carmeets is and when.
Hi Tz, I have a 1963 Olds F85 Cutlass for sale. 1963 F85 in very good running condition. High compression 215ci V8. Third owner, garaged for the last 8 years. Actual original owner was an old lady in Delaware. She put most of he miles on the car. Have her photo standing next to the car. Some history documents and original owner’s manual with metal identity service plates.
She has her dings, scratches and scabs, but overall very nice. 4 Barrel carb, and brakes rebuilt last month. Beautiful original interior in exceptional condition. Headliner very nice, no tears or stains. All interior lights work. All systems work well. One tear in drivers seat. Some dents in rear quarter panels, long scratch along driver’s side rear fin. Ethyl, the original owner had her challenges getting the car in and out of the garage.
I can ship the car anywhere in the world.
One of my cars!
I rescued a 1964 Cadillac Sedan deVille from an impound yard back in the Ninetys. It was in decent shape and I was going to fix it up. Life got in the way and I never did. I sold to a guy down the street who said he was sending it to a buyer in Sweeden. Looks like it went to a good car-loving place. ??
1965 Mustang for sale 331 Stroker roller cam aluminum head disc brakes Tremec 5-speed 411 posi beautiful everything works needs nothing 300 horse at the wheel 60,000 American
I HAVE FOR SALE A 1957 FORD FAIRLANE 500 , AN 80,000 MILE SURVIVOR CAR $14000 O.B.O.
Will have a 1958 Cadillac 60 Fleetwood special for sale within the next week. Anyone have any suggestions on where to post in Sweden?