Brummare: the last gasp of internal combustion?

When the EU banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2027, most car shows and enthusiasts in Europe turned their attention to electric cars. Many Swedes were among them—but not all.

The movement or subculture known as Brumma has been linked by some sociologists to the raggare culture of 1950s Sweden, in which working-class youth focussed their leisure lives (or sometimes their entire lives) around their cars. Brummare, as members of the modern tribe are known, defined themselves in opposition to the EU ban, arguing that the driving of “real cars” (most of which are now classics or antiques) was a part of Swedish working class cultural heritage.

The name was coined by a journalist as a rather sneering play on the older raggare label, and was intended to mock the childish focus of brummare on engine sounds. But as with so many subcultures previously, the tribe adopted the insult as its identity, and as a neat summary of their opposition to the end of the internal combustion engines. As a popular bumper sticker has it, bättra brummare än brömmare (“better a brummare than one who brakes”).

This slogan indicates that the subculture has a greater sense of irony than its detractors might assume, given the nature of the legal loophole that allows them to keep driving their vehicles. An EPA tractor is a special category of car or truck which has been modified or converted into an agricultural machine or emergency tractor. The practice originated in Sweden during the second world war, when a shortage of spare parts for real tractor led to farmers modifiying old cars to fill the gap.

In later years, the car-tractor became popular among rural youth who were too young to get an ordinary driving license; given their speed is capped at 30km/h, EPA vehicles—more commonly known to their owners as A+traktors—can be driven by sixteen-year-olds. As these vehicles are registered as tractors, and tractors were for a while exempted from the fossil fuel ban due to their importance to Swedish agriculture, EPAs registered during this period are technically exempted from the fossil-fuel ban. This means that their numbers are diminishing with time, as wear and tear and a lack of parts (not to mention the increasing expense of obtaining petrol or diesel, legally or otherwise) take more of them of the road with each passing year…but this slow extinction only adds to the scarcity value of those that still run.

Brumma culture is most obviously manifest in Skane at the Vallåkraträffen rally, held every August on the west coast of the county. Reports of physical conflicts between brummare and electric vehicle enthusiasts are mostly skröna (urban legends), but the two tribes nonetheless see themselves as mutual antagonists. However, even as their numbers diminish through defects and defections, the brummare have the upper hand: after all, it only takes one A-traktor on a winding country road to keep a whole chain of more modern vehicles stuck behind it at 30km/h…

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