The Swedish scene
At last the time came to bid goodbye to Mr. Reich and Mr. Andersson, who had looked after us so well during our stay. Sweden is a delightful country and very safety-conscious as far as motoring is concerned. The droll thing is, however, that although its drivers religiously observe their 50 k.p.h. speed limits, hoot before passing another car, and invariably wear safety-belts, they drive on the left-hand side of the road in l.h.d. cars. and thus not only make things difficult for an Englishman, but dangerous for themselves. We enquired whether it would not be possible to force a change in this arrangement through Volvo and Saab deliberately selling r.h.d. cars but we were told that people would not buy them as they feared that such cars would suffer a drop in value on the used-car market. Carlsson made no secret of the fact that he would much prefer to drive a r.h.d. car in Sweden. There are also very strict laws about driving under the influence of drink, which Swedes observe very conscientiously. These safety precautions seem to have been of benefit, for whereas two years ago the total number of persons killed and injured over the twelve-month period was 20,892 for 122,841 traffic elements, in 1950 the figures were 11,178 for 49,394 traffic elements. Sweden is essentially a civilised country – it limits its T.V. programmes to two hours a day!
Sweden’s 12% of main roads, which ran past dense pine forests and numerous lakes, are generally good. They comprise a network of some 11,569 km. of surfaced highway, usually of bitumen but occasionally of stone or concrete. By-roads running through the forests are very rough and break up badly as the winter frosts melt. Approximately 82,000 km. of such roads have a gravel surface, of which less than 2,000 km. are oil bound.
Heavy lorries are mainly the high-quality Scania-Vabis, and Volvo, many of the latter having their rear wheels cocked up in the air when carrying light loads, presumably to save drag and tyre wear. Not many powerful motorcycles are seen on Swedish roads but mo-peds may be ridden from the age of 15 and are tax free. Normally taxation is on a basis of weight, a car such as the Volvo costing approximately £20 a year to register, while there is a petrol tax of about the same severity as that prevailing in England. Number plates are usually of plastic and the Road Fund licence is carried within the car and not visible on the windscreen as at home. As these words were being dictated a Students’ Rag was proceeding through the streets of Gothenburg, April 30th being the day when those students in the area who have passed their exams, take off their black caps and put on white caps to celebrate their success.
On a more serious note, it must be emphasised that Volvo and Saab held nothing back from us, being prepared to show us everything and answer all our questions. The visit proved of very considerable interest but eventually the time came to fly away by SAS to London, where Motor Sport’s Production Manager took delivery of his new Porsche, and the Editor drove away in the intimacy of another front-drive vehicle, this time of British manufacture, towards the Hampshire wood where, exactly a week before, he had heard the first cuckoo of the year.
Already Sweden and its conscientiously-made automobiles seemed a considerable distance away! – W. B.