Skipping town to avoid Bíladagar, Akureyri’s Car Fest

By Dave S. Clark

Wherever I travel to, I always try to seek out things that excite me as a car enthusiast. That means car museums, cool car shops, or just finding fun road trip routes to take. That’s why I started this blog. In June 2013, while travelling in Iceland, I was surprised to come across one of the country’s biggest car festivals, Bíladagar, completely by accident. More surprisingly, I wish I hadn’t come across it at all.

As my wife and I pulled into the country’s second city, Akureyri, I instantly noticed the large amount of classic and modified cars on the streets of the gorgeous small town. Shortly after arriving, we were sitting in a restaurant facing the large window that looks out onto one of Akureyri’s main streets.  A train of 50s American cars rolled past with a few 60s and 70s muscle cars as well. I was pretty surprised and excited by this, considering the only vintage vehicles I’d seen up until this point were old Series II Land Rovers, which make sense given the landscape and climate of Iceland. 

I knew there must be some car-related event going on and I needed to find out what. We went back to our guesthouse and I asked our host why all the classics were in town. She began apologizing, saying that it was the annual car festival, when the car guys come from all over the country to race and show off their cars. She apologized more, but I told her I was also a car enthusiast and that I was legitimately excited for the event. A bit blindsided by this, she told me where all the action was happening and we hopped in our rental and headed up to the track area.

As we got closer, the intoxicating smell of burning rubber hit me as plumes of tire smoke rose rapidly into the air. It was Friday night and we could see the burnout competition in the distance. Unfortunately, as I got up to the track and parked the car, I realized the action was all over. Everyone was filing out of the track, getting in their cars and heading back into town. I got out and took a few pictures of the cars that remained and then realized I should probably get in the queue to get out of the parking lot  and onto the road back into town or I’d be stuck in traffic for quite some time.

And that’s when the stupidity started. First it was a fourth generation Camaro. Excited after seeing the burnout competition, the driver decided to do a massive burnout on the street that was crowded with cars trying to leave. Of course that prompted more burnouts by other spectators who were now in their cars. It quickly escalated into a competition of who could be more immature behind the wheel. I was driving a rental car and really didn’t want someone to lose control and hit me, so I tried to get out of the madness as efficiently as possible. As I drove back into town, the brake stands and burnouts continued. Young drivers cut off other drivers then brake checked them for fun. As I made a left-hand turn back onto the town’s main street, the same fourth-gen Camaro flew by me and drifted the corner then took off.

As a car enthusiast, I was embarrassed. Whenever you get a bunch of car guys together on the streets cruising around, there is bound to be one idiot who tries too hard to show off. No matter what event you are at, there always seems to be one. You know the guy. The one that attracts the attention of the police or loses control and damages something, ruining the fun for everyone. At this event, there were a lot of those guys, not just the usual one or two. I’m not going to say it was everyone, but there were more than a few bad apples.

Once I got into town, there was a coupe full of young guys in the lane to my right, about half a car length ahead of me. A late-90s Chrysler sedan, also full of young guys, flew up from behind me, abruptly swung into the right lane, then squeezed through the small space between me and the coupe. Once in front of me, he hit the brakes and the passengers, liquor bottles in hand, started yelling at the coupe that was now beside them. It’s one thing to drive like an idiot, but in my opinion, it’s entirely different when alcohol is involved. (There was some justice though. The next day as we left town we actually saw the Chrysler pulled over by the police with a large assortment of liquor bottles being pulled out of the car).

It was probably 11 p.m. by the time we got back to our guesthouse in the heart of Akureyri, and for the people who had come into town, the fun was just beginning. Our guesthouse backed on to a large parking lot and pretty soon it was looking more like a scene from Fast and the Furious rather than a sleepy Icelandic town. All night long, drivers burned their tires off, drifted around the city streets, drank and fought. Police rounded up as many as they could, but they definitely outnumbered.

For us it was a sleepless night until the action finally cooled off around 5 a.m. But that wasn’t what annoyed me most. It was that these people were giving car enthusiasts a bad name.

Although I wanted to check out the racing action on Saturday, I was so put off by all of it, that we didn’t bother and we actually left town a night early to get away from the noise and foolishness. I understood why our host was so apologetic when I brought up the event in the first place.

I know not everyone who attended the event acted like this. But it wasn’t just one or two people who were ruining the reputation of the event for the rest.

With Akureyri in my rear view mirror, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to fully experience the town that I was really looking forward to seeing. I felt bad for the guesthouse we were staying in as they had lost our night’s stay. I felt worse when our host told us that she loses business every year because of the event. Car events shouldn’t scare people out of a town. They should bring tourist dollars in and help the local economy out. And most importantly, car events like Bíladagar shouldn’t upset, annoy or scare the residents of the towns of host them.

5 thoughts on “Skipping town to avoid Bíladagar, Akureyri’s Car Fest”

  1. Aa an active member of the car community in Iceland I would like to apologize for those bad apples you came across in Akureyri. I would also like to make some comments on a few things you mention in your blog. The guesthouses, hotels and self catering flats are always fully booked months prior to this weekend so I hardly think they are losing buisness because of “Bíladagar” weekend. Akueyri city is making alot of money having this weekend held there. Unfortunately due to noice people living there, especially families with small children, decide to leave town during this weekend and I don’t blame them. This is the only weekend in our short 4 month summer we get to meet all the other carlovers and sometimes that is overwhelming and we try to make the most of it. If you are reading this comment you have now seen the other side of the story. All stories have two sides and both should be seen.

    – Kristján

  2. Kristján,

    Thanks for your comment. I definitely appreciate having a local perspective to hear the other side of the story. I’m glad to hear that the city is benefitting from the event. As there were so many people in town, I’d assume that’s correct. I guess its a weekend where car guys flock in and everyone else takes off.

    I can appreciate that everyone is excited for the event, as in Canada we also have very short summers and many of our events have had the same problems in the past. However, with self policing, they’ve gotten a lot better. If people pulled the kind of stunts I saw in Akureyri, they would be publicly shamed and not invited back to attend in the future.

    I hope that bad apples are dealt with and the event can continue to flourish, but in a safer, more respectable manner.


  3. Im so sorry you saw that side of what otherwise is a very beautiful town. The car festival can be pretty nice if you know where to go, and manage to avoid the drunken teenage assholes that keep trying to ruin it for everyone else by being immature. Hope you enjoyed the guest house tho. Gula villan?

  4. I understand why you feel like that. Im taking apart in working the events that are this weekend, book your hotel outside of town next time, in last comment he said so you can avoid the drunk morons. There are alot of assholes driving around and dont respect other people out in the traffic.

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