Greek phi­los­o­phy

This shop in Athens has been car­ing for BSAS for 100 years. Dim­itris V Papout­sas, grand­son of its founder, talks us though three gen­er­a­tions of true ded­i­ca­tion

Classic Bike (UK) - - News - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY PSAROS V

P apout­sas’ mo­tor­cy­cle store at Kypseli, Athens is as much of a Bri­tish bike mu­seum as it is a work­ing re­pair shop – and with good rea­son. The Papout­sas’ name in Greece has been in­volved with mo­tor­cy­cles since 1917. One hun­dred years ago Dim­itris F Papout­sas started his own busi­ness as a BSA dealer, ini­tially sell­ing bi­cy­cles and later mov­ing on to pow­ered cy­cles. His en­ter­prise quickly be­came the most suc­cess­ful mo­tor­cy­cle shop in Greece, sell­ing big bikes – not just to cus­tomers, but also sup­ply­ing fleets of two-wheel­ers to the Greek Army, Air Force and Po­lice.

Papout­sas got his first mil­i­tary con­tract in the 1920s, when the Greek Army ap­proached BSA to ask if they could test their 1924 550cc Light along­side other ma­chines from ri­val man­u­fac­tur­ers. The tri­als that fol­lowed in­volved raw re­cruits spend­ing hours on end for eight days ex­e­cut­ing right turns only on the mil­i­tary air­port run­way at Ta­toi – fol­lowed by a fur­ther eight days tak­ing only left turns.

No main­te­nance was car­ried on the bikes un­til after the test was com­pleted, at which point mil­i­tary me­chan­ics car­ried out a thor­ough in­spec­tion of the mo­tor­cy­cles, to de­ter­mine which was the most durable ma­chine. BSA won the ‘com­pe­ti­tion’ and the Greek au­thor­i­ties asked Papout­sas to stock first the spare parts and then the mo­tor­cy­cles them­selves. With the deal se­cured, he went on to sell batches of bikes A7 and A10 mod­els to the na­tional bus com­pany and 441cc Vic­tor Spe­cials to the Hel­lenic Hunt­ing Club who used them to pa­trol the forests to catch il­le­gal hunters and to spot any signs of fires break­ing out.

Papout­sas was so pas­sion­ate about BSA and his grow­ing busi­ness that in 1928, he wanted to name his new-born daugh­ter ‘Bsa-thaki’ (which trans­lates as ‘lit­tle BSA’) be­cause he felt that the firm’s record sales were down to the baby bring­ing them good luck in busi­ness. His wife had a very dif­fer­ent opin­ion on the mat­ter, though, and she was named Sophia in­stead.

To pro­mote the busi­ness at a time when Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cles dom­i­nated the Greek two-wheel mar­ket, Papout­sas had been tak­ing part in mo­tor­cy­cle races since 1926, know­ing that com­pe­ti­tion vic­to­ries would in­crease sales and im­prove the brand’s im­age.

As a dealer and ex­pe­ri­enced me­chanic, he had a work­shop equipped with the best tools and most skilled staff around. The best mo­tor­cy­cle me­chan­ics of the era started their ca­reers in Papout­sas’ work­shop, which from the 1920s to the ’60s was known lo­cally as ‘The Tem­ple of the Mo­tor­cy­cle’. With a huge stock of spares and a shop full of new mo­tor­cy­cles, the busi­ness con­tin­ued to de­velop from suc­cess to suc­cess – and as his chil­dren reached adult­hood, they all be­came part of the shop.

Dur­ing World War II, first the Ital­ians and then the Ger­mans req­ui­si­tioned the work­shop and mo­tor­cy­cles, but the fam­ily con­tin­ued to work there. The Greek Army req­ui­si­tioned two new BSA V-twins in 1940 and a black­mar­ket dealer ex­changed some olives for a brand new BSA Blue Star. The shop never saw the bikes again.

Post-war, the shop con­tin­ued with all the younger mem­bers of the fam­ily in­volved. The daugh­ters deal­ing

‘IN 1951, HONDA ASKED PAPOUT­SAS TO TAKE ON A DEAL­ER­SHIP, BUT HE RE­MAINED LOYAL TO BSA’

with ad­min – in­clud­ing li­ai­son with the BSA fac­tory back in the UK – while the sons did their bit as me­chan­ics and sales­men.

The deal­er­ship was fit­ted out to the stan­dard de­manded by the BSA man­age­ment in Eng­land, with the cor­rect pro­mo­tional lit­er­a­ture dis­played through­out the shop. The fam­ily still has all the cor­re­spon­dence from the BSA fac­tory, along with all the pe­riod brochures and so on, which is kept at the deal­er­ship.

The old work­shop had three cal­i­bra­tion ma­chines (one from Italy, two from Swe­den), a 120-ton press, three smaller presses, three Bri­tish-made lathes, a cylin­der rec­ti­fier, a sur­face rec­ti­fier and a big metal cut­ter. It even had a chroming plant in the base­ment. Acid baths were used, with com­po­nents cop­per-plated first be­fore the chromium was ap­plied – very dif­fer­ent to the flash chrome process of to­day.

A Bri­tish-made 1200-amp elec­tric gen­er­a­tor was used and there were spe­cial baths for clean­ing parts and brushes for alu­minium parts. The shop also of­fered wheel build­ing and they even did their own paint­work, with my fa­ther Vasilis a dab-hand with the pin­strip­ing with a horse­hair brush. The aim was to be able to of­fer ev­ery kind of ser­vice to keep a mo­tor­cy­cle road­wor­thy and in great con­di­tion. In 1951, Honda asked Papout­sas to take on a deal­er­ship, but he re­fused, pre­fer­ring to re­main loyal to the BSA brand. Six months later Pi­ag­gio of­fered the same, but got the same re­buff.

The fam­ily was to­tally com­mit­ted to mo­tor­cy­cling, although Papout­sas did have a favourite hobby – duck hunt­ing. In the harsh win­ter of 1952, armed with his BSA guns (En­fields would not have suited him) he went out with his mates on a hunt­ing party to Stym­falia lake, west of Athens, where he met Pres­i­dent of the USA Harry S Tru­man, who was there with his en­tourage.

Papout­sas rode there on his V-twin J34-11, with ropes wrapped around the tyres so the BSA could be rid­den on ice – but as the weather wors­ened, the roads were closed so all of the hunters had to spend the night in the tav­ern on the lake­side. The Greek mo­tor­cy­cle dealer and Mr Tru­man ex­changed ad­dresses and con­tin­ued to send let­ters to each other for sev­eral months af­ter­wards.

In 1954, Nikos, the el­dest son of Dim­itris F Papout­sas, started rac­ing BSA A7s and A10s in off-road and en­durance races, such as 130 miles from Athens to Pa­tra in three hours and 16 min­utes. He al­ways rode fac­tory mo­tor­cy­cles – and with great suc­cess. Frantzeskos, the mid­dle son, also took place in races, usu­ally with a Ban­tam. Of the three sons, only the youngest, Vasilis F Papout­sas, is still alive – a liv­ing source of great rac­ing sto­ries and a great knowl­edge of Bri­tish bikes which he freely dis­penses to the shop’s cus­tomers.

Vasilis started his ca­reer in the work­shop in 1943 at nine years old, be­gin­ning as an as­sis­tant, clean­ing tools, and sanding mud­guards and frames to pre­pare them for paint. Later he be­came a qual­i­fied me­chanic. When he was re­ally young, Vasilis used to make re­place­ment parts on a lathe. It’s some­thing of a tra­di­tion now for cus­tomers to have his spe­cial parts on their bikes.

Vasilis vis­ited the BSA fac­tory in the mid-1970s – dur­ing this he spot­ted a pro­to­type Fury be­ing tested, and was very sad that the bike never came to Greece. But he was de­lighted to re­ceive a di­ploma as a BSA fac­to­ry­trained tech­ni­cian. One of his favourite mo­tor­cy­cles of all time is the BSA J34-11 V-twin, but although he has owned one, he sold it back in the ’50s or ’60s.

Papout­sas’ shop con­tin­ued to grow in size and im­por­tance through the ’60s and ’70s, sup­ply­ing stock new A65 Thun­der­bolts to the Hel­lenic Po­lice and mod­els with lower com­pres­sion to the Hel­lenic Air Force. It meant that many young men who had ex­pe­ri­enced them while in the forces dis­cov­ered the feel­ing of free­dom and de­vel­oped a pas­sion for mo­tor­cy­cling – and for BSA.

But times changed. The mo­tor­cy­cles that re­quired rou­tine, ev­ery­day main­te­nance be­came ‘clas­sics’ and the age­ing and abused bikes needed more than just oil and a chain to keep them go­ing. BSA’S star fell and Papout­sas’ deal­er­ship de­vel­oped into a hi-tech work­shop, cal­i­brat­ing mod­ern mo­tor­cy­cle frames and sus­pen­sion.

To­day my fa­ther, Vasilis D Papout­sas, now 84 years old and my­self (Dim­itris V Papout­sas, 53 years old) own the com­pany, known as Papout­sas Frames (pa­pout­sas­frames.com). With the same spirit as our fore­bears, we con­tinue to of­fer mo­tor­cy­clists a place of wor­ship. There may be a hi-tech mod­ern work­shop, but tra­di­tional skills and tools sur­vive – as do the clas­sic bikes, with a col­lec­tion of at least 30 mo­tor­cy­cles, in­clud­ing two Tri­umph Tri­dents as­sem­bled new from NOS parts. There’s also a brand new, never started, Royal Navy BSA M20 and the last Tri­umph Bon­neville 750 ever sold in Greece – orig­i­nal and un­re­stored.

In Papout­sas to­day, tech­nol­ogy meets yes­ter­day’s ‘mechanol­ogy’. Ev­ery day a clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle, mostly Bri­tish, is be­ing pre­pared in the work­shop to be rid­den on to­day’s roads – girder-forked, rigid-framed Brits rub han­dle­bars with mod­ern bikes with up­side-down forks and multi-ad­justable shocks.

Any type of Bri­tish bike is wel­come in the shop. The pho­tos on the right and on the fol­low­ing page show a Brough Su­pe­rior in for a ser­vice and for the valves to be ad­justed. Other re­cent jobs in­clude turn­ing a Nor­ton Com­mando into a tra­di­tional-style café racer us­ing orig­i­nal Dun­stall equip­ment.

The stores are full of BSA NOS parts, dat­ing right from pre-1920 bikes to M20s and Spit­fires. There are boxes full of parts from Lu­cas, Wi­pac, He­po­lite, Renolds, Amal and other man­u­fac­tur­ers – they are not for sale, they’re ready to be used on the next project, maybe a Sun­beam scooter or a BSA B33.

A lot of old cus­tomers keep vis­it­ing the shop for a ser­vice on their Bri­tish bikes – or they just drop in to

‘THE STORES ARE FULL OF BSA NOS PARTS, DAT­ING FROM PRE-1920 BIKES’

say hello. Lots of them have sold their old mo­tor­cy­cles back to the shop, after 50-60 years of own­er­ship. For ex­am­ple, my own M33 was orig­i­nally sold to some­one on Lim­nos is­land in 1958 and we bought it back from the first owner two years ago. Now it’s wait­ing for a com­plete restora­tion.

A while ago, the Greek au­thor­i­ties also sold off their A65 twins at auc­tion – an op­por­tu­nity for the shop that was not to be missed. Need­less to say, now have over 20 ready for restora­tion – many of them orig­i­nally sold by this very same deal­er­ship!

Some mo­tor­cy­cles in the Papout­sas col­lec­tion have been bought from other auc­tions around the world, though. My grand­fa­ther never stopped col­lect­ing BSA parts and mem­o­ra­bilia from ev­ery pos­si­ble source. You could see he was pas­sion­ate about mo­tor­cy­cles, work­ing many hours, liv­ing his dream. He col­lected ev­ery­thing with love and kept all the parts he gath­ered to­gether to fin­ish all the projects he had in his mind.

In the up­per floor of the work­shop, it’s as if time has stood still in the 1950s. There’s the old shop’s black sign with gold let­ter­ing... my grand­fa­ther’s desk and glasses... the BSA sales­men’s pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial... it’s all there. It’s a place where clas­sic bik­ers meet and Vasilis tells them sto­ries over ouzo, an­swer­ing all the ques­tions about the ‘Megla’ (Made in Eng­land) mo­tor­cy­cles.

Ex­cept for the Tri­umph Tri­dents, all the mo­tor­cy­cles are ready to take part in the Hel­lenic Clas­sic Bike Club (HCBC) ral­lies, ex­hi­bi­tions and events. Greece’s big­gest clas­sic bike show takes place in Thes­sa­loniki – in 1961, the Papout­sas shop was there to re­veal new BSA mo­tor­cy­cles and bi­cy­cles to the pub­lic. These days, the bikes on show are per­fect restora­tions. Ev­ery year I take my BSA M20 to the HCBC clas­sic en­durance rally, cov­er­ing up to 800 miles in three days. I also com­pete in the Tourist Tro­phy re­vivals, an event in which my grand­fa­ther won a lot of tro­phies when it was a full-on rac­ing event. I’m just con­tin­u­ing the fam­ily tra­di­tion – back in 1929, my grand­fa­ther fin­ished sec­ond in the Psy­chiko Tourist Tro­phy rid­ing a BSA V1000 out­fit. In 2016 I rode a BSA A50 twin in the re­vival of the same event, now or­gan­ised by Mo­tor­cy­cle Repub­lik, the Hel­lenic Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum, .

There is 100 years of love and care for Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cles in our fam­ily. Through the busi­ness we are try­ing to carry it into the fourth gen­er­a­tion – we want to con­tinue to be a part of Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle his­tory.

‘ANY TYPE OF BRI­TISH BIKE IS WEL­COME IN THE SHOP’

ABOVE: Un­load­ing an NOS BSA Wing­wheel (in orig­i­nal pack­age) from the ’61 Mor­ris Mi­nor pick-up

BE­LOW: You can just see Sofia Papoutsa at the desk (to left of right pil­lar) in this ar­chive shot of the deal­er­ship

1: 1957, Niko­las D Papout­sas, with BSA M33 at Kaisiarani 7: Niko­las Papout­sas in BSA race gear

8: Niko­las (with start­ing flag) and brother Vasilis (in white shirt) 2: The work­shop back in the ’60s 3: The shop’s race bikes, ready to go

9: Niko­las (left), Stella and hus­band, Thes­sa­loniki show 4: Vasilis Papout­sas on a BSA M33, 1953 10: Niko­las Papout­sas (in hat)

5: Sup­ply­ing Greek Po­lice with new BSA A65s in 1965

11: ’55 A7 with Greek side­car dis­trib­uted by Papout­sas

6: Papout­sas dis­play­ing BSAS and Sun­beams at a show 12: Mid-’50s dis­play

Dim­itris V Papout­sas catches up on BSA News from sum­mer 1954

RIGHT: Orig­i­nal deal­er­ship sign over­looks some pre-1920s wheels RIGHT: Dim­itris V Papout­sas next to his grand­fa­ther’s desk and tro­phies

RIGHT: Old en­gines and spare parts, wait­ing to find their place once more

ABOVE: The freshly ser­viced Brough about to be taken for a test ride

BE­LOW: Mr Vasilis, Gian­nis To­ge­los (former of­fi­cial shop racer, 74) and Dim­itris

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