Back in the 1970s, Sweden hoped it could do business with North Korea. It was wrong.
Sweden had good intentions and, perhaps, a lucrative business opportunity when it signed some big trade contracts with North Korea. Before long, Sweden shipped tons of home-made industrial equipment, such as heavy mining machinery to the now reclusive North. It also sent 1,000 Volvo 144s sedans. The Volvo 144, launched for the 1967 model year, was literally a four-door box, but damn, it was safe for the time. Its boxy shape would continue to inspire future Volvos well into the 1990s, so for many of us the 144 is the Volvo of our childhoods.
Back to the whole North Korea thing: According to an interesting story on NPR, North Korea, which wasn’t quite as bat shit crazy then, was anxious to develop its industrial economy and Sweden was literally the only western country willing to help. So it shipped $70 million worth of products, including the Volvos, to North Korea with an agreement to be paid back at a future date. Not surprisingly, North Korea, to this day, has never repaid Sweden for the equipment or the Volvos, some of which are still on the road. The debt has since increased to $322 million. Twice a year Sweden sends a reminder to North Korean leadership, but to no avail. At this point there’s no chance in hell North Korea will ever repay Sweden.
Even if it did have the money it would probably spend it on its missile program or, god forbid, feed its starving population of almost 26 million. For the record, it also still owes New York City over $156,000 in unpaid parking tickets. But as far as Sweden is concerned, North Korea stole 1,000 Volvo 144s. A few western tourists claimed to have seen some of the cars on the road as late as 2013, and yes, they were still running. North Korea certainly has an eye for which type of cars are worth stealing.