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
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