For Sweden’s Raggare, the Power Big Meet is more than just a car show – it’s a celebration of a way of life that is peculiarly Swedish, despite being entrenched in the fashions, music and motor cars of Americana. Since the 1950s, a version of the American Dream has been embraced with an enthusiasm that has endured for half a century.
Big Meet organizer Bibi Gustafsson is expecting three generations of Raggare at this year’s event. “This is our 30th anniversary and the lifestyle has survived. The original Raggare are now grandparents and they are bringing their whole families.”
The festival, which has grown from a meeting of less than a hundred cars in 1977, takes place on July 5th, 6th and 7th just outside Västerås. The high point is the cruising, when the streets of the central Swedish town are transformed into scenes reminiscent of American Graffiti or Happy Days.
The cars will range from Street Rods to Cruisers to Muscle cars and the roar of the engine and smell of gasoline is accompanied by the rock and roll beat. The cruising is a chance to admire other cars and show off a year of dedicated work in the garage.
Raggare once held a fearsome reputation for loose morals and violence, but nowadays they are seen more with curious affection than gang affiliation. In Sweden there are around a hundred clubs with names like Betty Boop, Double Deuce Cruisers and Road Rebels that all evoke an America of the past.
In a barn in Östergötland, at the Street Pack club, Håkan Johansson and Sten Nilsson are giving their 1966 Chevrolet Bel Air a final polish as they prepare to drive in convoy up to the Power Big Meet. This club alone is sending 70 cars, which will join up with other groups en route. This pair of enthusists can’t wait to see the sheer numbers of classic cars, the kilometre long parts and memorabilia market and, of course, the parties.
“The whole thing is one huge party,” says Håkan, “The Power Big Meet is like a dividing line in the year – there’s only before and after.”
Sten insists the bad old days of the Raggare, which included clashing with punks and an infamous dust up with the Sex Pistols, are in the past. Leaning on the wing of his prized Chevvie, he says that the Power Big Meet is for everybody.
“Members of Street Pack include police and lawyers, we have everyone from young guys to 75 year old men who are still driving the cars they imported 50 years ago” he says, as we are joined by a man in a leather waistcoat with enormous sideburns and four inch quiff.
Music plays an important part in Raggare culture. The Big Meet even has its own theme tune: “Go To The Power Meet” by The Go Getters, and Rockabilly group The Boppers are set to headline in Västerås.
Just how important is this weekend in the world of the Raggare?
Sten, a large man with tattooed arms and middle-aged spread draws on his cigarette, “Put it this way. Little kids dream of Father Christmas all year round. We dream of the annual Power Big Meet”.
For Håkan and Sten, it’ll be Christmas in July as they shake, rattle and roll up the E18 to Västerås.