The 1950s are alive and well in Sweden, of all places, where a thriving subculture of self-proclaimed “greasers” celebrates the optimism of post-war America, the music of Elvis Presley, and the vintage cars of Detroit.
These greasers come by the thousands to the lakeside city of Västerås each July for Power Big Meet, a three-day party that looks like something out of American Graffiti. They hang out, they drink, and they spend an almost absurd amount of time cruising the main drag in big cars—preferably American, but occasionally Swedish because of course, and German because old Mercedes-Benz sedans have sweet fins, too. “It’s super-inspired by Americana and American motor culture, but it’s really become its own culture,” says photographer Axel Öberg.
American culture came to Sweden, like so many other places, after World War II. Rock n’ roll music and Hollywood films exposed Swedish kids to the likes of Chuck Berry, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean, and made cars as cool there as they were here. Over the years, those kids became adults, who stoked their nostalgia while introducing the next generation to the ’50s.
About 400 greasers with 80 cars gathered for the first Power Big Meet in 1978. Nearly four decades later, the event draws 150,000 people and 24,000 cars. Organizers boast it’s the biggest vintage American car meet in the world. The cars, like the people driving them, come in every description. Some are beautifully restored, others are highly modified, and more than a few are, well, the term “heap” comes to mind.
Everyone shares a love of cars and 50s culture. When they aren’t cruising, they’re checking out the sprawling swap meet, listening to music at ear-splitting volume, and at least 20 people exchanged vows in the drive-in chapel. Öberg, on assignment for National Geographic, set up his camera alongside the main drag and snapped photos of more than 100 passing cars. His favorites were Swedish cars, like the hot pink Volvo with crazy graffiti. “It feels like the next step in this culture, and how it’s evolved,” he says.
By the end of the weekend, Öberg was a convert. He plans to attend this year’s Power Big Meet, and is contemplating how he’ll get there. “I was a bit tempted to get a car in New Jersey and ship it over,” he says. Anything will do, just as long as it has fins.