Meet the Swedish Rockabillies

Apr 22, 2014 at 8:38 AM ET

If you were to triangulate where the Fonz is most popular in the modern era, there’s a good chance that Scandinavia would be a hardcore Happy Days hot spot. The squeaky-clean American era of rock ‘n’ roll music, muscle cars and pinup style is considered a golden age by a group of young and old Swedes, whose backyards are crammed with classic cars like Pontiacs, Mustangs and Buicks. Pompadour haircuts and polka-dotted skirts are part of everyday life for the Swedish Raggare.

The subculture’s name, Raggare, comes from the truck drivers’ slang for “gathering,” which was used in rockabilly times to mean collecting women in cars. It is a peculiarly Swedish subculture that has, so far, stood the test of time. The first rockabilly gangs started to pop up in the late 1950s, and to this day, a substantial amount of Swedes live their lives as if they are in ’50s or ’60s America.

Once a year in early July, a large portion of Sweden’s 500,000 Raggare and their guests from all over world gather for the “biggest and baddest classic car show in the world”—the Power Big Meet in Västeras. During the festival, the little town is packed with almost 21,000 cars, including street rods, ’50s cruisers and ’60s muscle cars. Everyone likes to boast with the fact that there are more American classic cars registered in Sweden than in the U.S. itself. But the Raggare culture is about much more than just showing off their wheels. It’s about the lifestyle, music and culture.