There are times, actually more often than not, when I can’t believe how fortunate I am to do what I do for a living. Being part of the Speedhunters crew is just a small piece of the puzzle, but it’s one part of my career path that has given me more stories than any other in significantly less time. The best part of it all is that I don’t have to hold back when it comes to spreading this joy. It is after all, quite literally my job.
Of course the cause for much of this joy is the ability to travel some of the world investigating different car scenes. They say that variety is the spice of life, and from the few travels I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced, I can say that this is very much the case. Every time I walk down a new jetway I embark upon a foreign land with a renewed sense of curiosity.
My recent trip to Sweden was no exception. While I had been to Gatebil Rudskogen last summer, I was anxious to see how the Swedish interpretation would differ, if at all. I also knew that there were sure to be new builds on display and my primary order of business was to shoot as many of these feature cars as possible.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I would also be asked to pay closer attention to Swedish builds in particular to see if anything stood out. At Rod’s request I spent what little free time I had trying to sort out the cars assembled in Sweden from those built elsewhere in Scandinavia. Initially this seemed like a pretty tall order.
For starters, possibly since Gatebil originated there, most of the cars in attendance are Norwegian which means getting a good sample size seemed unlikely. It’s true that Scandinavians unquestionably have their own style, but could there really be a noticeable difference between the countries? To my surprise, it didn’t take long before patterns started emerging.
Now before getting into my findings let me remind you that I’m obviously speaking in generalities. Any of my observations could likely be applied to a handful of other cars from Norway and Finland, however there were some things that seemed to be stereotypicaly Swedish. Furthermore just because some/most of the cars seemed to be easily categorized, it doesn’t mean all Swedish builds are alike.
Right, so you’ve been warned. With that in mind, here’s my first shocking statement – Swedes love Volvos. I know this may seem quite obvious and these cars can be found throughout Scandinavia, but as a general rule of thumb if you see a Volvo at a Gatebil event, the owner is likely to be Swedish.
I’d presume the popularity stems from pride due to the fact that Volvo is a Swedish brand. It probably doesn’t hurt that the country is also littered with the things which make them virtually the easiest chassis to come across to tune to your liking. Ironically, in a seemingly anti-Gatebil spirit, most of the Volvo owners seem to be purists sticking with Volvo powerplants in standard locations.
But with every rule comes an exception, and there were a handful of Volvo mentalists about. In fact Paddy and Suzy recently featured one prime example of a non-traditional build, but I think my favorite from Mantorp was this station wagon with a Chevy LS shoved through the firewall.
Another thing I started to spot more and more of is this new EMS system from a Swedish company called MaxxECU. After speaking with several owners I learned that it’s essentially an open-source universal ECU built and supported in Swedish language. For a lot of people simply being able to read and understand the instructions is worth the cost of the software.
In addition to the lack of a language barrier, the cost is also relatively easy to live with. But the bit that I found the most creative was that the company has created an Android app to serve up information as a digital dash display. The kits can now include an Asus Nexxus 7 tablet which is mounted in place of an expensive digital dash logger… we are in 2013 aren’t we!?
But perhaps the one common thread running through most of the Swedish builds could be summed up in one overly used phrase – attention to detail. Sadly, there’s really no better way to describe the anal-retentive level of nit-picking I witnessed at Mantorp. Regardless of the genre of car or the particular goals that had been set, the Swedes will leave no bolt unturned in their pursuit of automotive happiness.
In terms of raw mechanicals this can be seen in the form of perpetual ‘overdoing it’. We’ve all seen it before: a case of three bolts when one will do. Rather than building a car to use and abuse until it explodes in spectacular form, the cars built in Sweden seem to place more emphasis on personal build satisfaction.
Whereas the Norwegians seem to throw everything they’ve got towards making the summer festival memorable, it seems as though it’s the brutal winter spent assembling that the Swedes enjoy the most. To put it into racing terms, the Swedes seem to be the nerdy engineers, whereas the rest of the lot are the hot-shoe drivers with a death wish.
To me, the quintessential Gatebil car is one that exists solely for vehicular warfare. They’re usually assembled in a manner which leads you to believe the owner doesn’t even realize next week will ever come, let alone that it may be possible to drive the car another day. They’re built for one reason and one reason only, to be destroyed. But this doesn’t seem to be the case with the Swedish builds I saw.
In a nutshell, I’d say these differences all come down to presentation. While this may seem a bit strange inside the context of Gatebil, to anyone who has visited or knows anything about Sweden it may be quite obvious. I’ve never been to another place on earth that puts so much emphasis into design and style. Stockholm is a perfect ambassador and metaphor for what I’m on about – a very small city (relatively speaking) that is per-capita the greatest hipster/fashionista gathering I’ve ever seen.
To say that looking the part is important would be an understatement. Looking the part is the part. Everything else is secondary. Can the car make 1000hp? Absolutely, but it has to look the part as well. I’m told that much of this stems from a long history of building show cars in Sweden and that Gatebil is simply a newer arena where owners can apply an old trade.
And with that in mind, I’d argue that one of the easiest ways to spot a Swedish car at a Gatebil event is to simply take a quick look at the exterior of the car. If the paint and bodywork is immaculate, I’d say there’s a very good chance you’re looking at a car owned by a proud Swede. And trust me, at Gatebil there aren’t many cars with this clean a paint job, so they tend to stick out like a sore thumb.
Now that’s not to say that they don’t enjoy a good dose of ‘function’, quite the contrary. Swedish builders simply prefer to have a healthy dollop of ‘form’ to balance everything out. Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to get away with a more extreme street car in Sweden that would be totally illegal in Norway; so you see a lot of double-duty style builds here that don’t really exist elsewhere in Scandinavia.
Indeed if there’s something the Swedes seem to have mastered, it’s the art of presentation. There’s something about the way a car is crafted together that defies words or explanation, but a real petrolhead can read it from a mile off. It’s a delicate balance and something that can’t be learned – when it comes to style you’ve either got it, or you don’t.
We’ve all seen cars where on paper a quick scan of the spec sheet reveals an incredible build, but the final execution somehow leaves something to be desired. On the flip side there’s that car that has only a scarce amount of modifications, yet has been the desktop on your computer for the last eight months. It’s in this intangible realm that I found the Swedish builds living.
Even when the goal is to assemble something that looks like a rusted pile of crap, they impossibly seem to know just the right rusted pile of crap to use. Right down to the last details: the belts, seat covers and beer cans. It’s pure style.
When it comes to a car that’s been hacked together to slide and destroy itself, there’s still a certain aura about it. The Swedes can’t just leave good enough alone. They have to shave, polish, tweak and color-match. It’s in their blood.
Looking back now I don’t see how I could have ever confused the different builds. After spending a weekend hanging out and chatting with car owners from all across Scandinavia it became ever more obvious that they all seem to have a mutual respect for each other, but very different ways of going about Gatebil. I can’t say which I like the most, but I can say that the Swedes are definitely doing it their own way.