Tak­ing a tour of a modernist tem­ple to petrol­head pas­sion in the Greek cap­i­tal


The Greek cap­i­tal is renowned for var­i­ous tourist spots that are sev­eral mil­len­nia old, yet the com­par­a­tively re­cent an­tiq­ui­ties at the Hel­lenic Mo­tor Mu­seum con­sis­tently place the at­trac­tion on Tripad­vi­sor’s list of the top 10 mu­se­ums in Athens. Opened in 2011, it was founded by real-es­tate devel­oper – and com­pet­i­tive racer – Theodore Chara­gio­nis and his wife Joanna. “This mu­seum rep­re­sents my fa­ther’s pas­sion,” says their daugh­ter Irene. “It’s the re­sult of 40 years of col­lect­ing clas­sic cars, and he is now shar­ing them with the pub­lic.”

Housed in a mod­ern, helix-shaped build­ing close to the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum, the dis­plays am­ble over three storeys with some 110 cars on show from a col­lec­tion that numbers three times that. The ve­hi­cles are gath­ered by era – vet­eran, vin­tage, post-vin­tage, clas­sic, post­clas­sic and mod­ern – and range from a 1906 Ford Model N to a 1980s Fer­rari 308GTSI, and all of the cars are in run­ning or­der.

Plaques (in both Greek and English) out­line each ex­hibit’s en­gine type, out­put, top speed and pro­duc­tion num­ber. Most also list how the cars were ac­quired, with auc­tion ac­qui­si­tions in the UK a re­cur­ring theme.

High­lights of the vin­tage sec­tion in­clude a 1921 Alvis 12/60 Beetle­back Road­ster, com­plete with its fa­mous hare ra­di­a­tor mas­cot; Chara­gio­nis won a 400km reg­u­lar­ity rally in this car just a week af­ter its pur­chase in 1990. An­other stand­out car here is a 1926 Avions Voisin C4 Road­ster, its winged ra­di­a­tor badge and stream­lined alu­minium body a nod to the aero­nau­ti­cal roots of com­pany founder and avi­a­tion pi­o­neer Gabriel Voisin, and an el­e­gant yet rapid 1930 Bu­gatti Type 44 drop­head coupé. There’s also a 1927 Lin­coln Sport Road­ster Model L151 that was dis­cov­ered in the mid-’70s, half buried in the mud of the Ilisos River, re­sult­ing in a thor­ough restora­tion to its cur­rent sparkling con­di­tion.

Post-vin­tage cars in­clude a 1934 Bu­gatti T57 Ven­toux, one of 630 pro­duced, and a 1937 Chrysler that still wears po­lice liv­ery from its ap­pear­ance in the Cap­tain Amer­ica movie. Both pale along­side a mag­nif­i­cent 1939 Rolls-royce Wraith Sports Sedan. Once owned by ac­tor Sir Lau­rence Olivier, the Rolls-royce holds a spe­cial con­nec­tion for the mu­seum’s founder be­cause it is the sort of car that he dreamed of one day own­ing when he was a child.

In the clas­sic area, two barn-find 1950 Bris­tol 401s sit side-by-side to tell a tale of ‘be­fore and af­ter’. One is pre­sented in rough, as-found con­di­tion, while the other – which was dis­cov­ered in an even worse state – has been pristinely re­stored. Nearby, there’s a rare Bri­tish beauty in the shape of a flam­boy­ant 1955 Daim­ler Con­quest Road­ster, whose body is skinned in alu­minium ex­cept for the steel bon­net – but any ‘light­weight’ sug­ges­tions are quashed by its mas­sive chromed front grille.

A pair of Lagondas in­cludes a 1951 2.6 Litre saloon and a 1955 drop­head coupé. An ode to Bri­tish rock ’n’ roll comes from a hot pink 1959 Chrysler Im­pe­rial Crown Con­vert­ible that was once owned by Led Zep­pelin front­man Robert Plant – at close to 5000lb (more than 2250kg) it’s heavy metal in­deed! An ivory-coloured 1960 Auto Union 1000 Sp is be­decked with fins and head­lamps that unashamedly mimic the first­gen­er­a­tion Ford Thun­der­bird. The four in­ter­lock­ing rings of the badges on the boot and

“This mu­seum rep­re­sents my fa­ther’s pas­sion – 40 years of col­lect­ing clas­sic cars – and he’s now shar­ing them with the pub­lic”

hub­caps are a pre­cur­sor to the mar­que’s even­tual re-emer­gence as Audi. This par­tic­u­lar car was pur­chased on ebay in poor con­di­tion and re­stored in Greece. An­other Euro­pean take on the Amer­i­can tail fin comes from a 1960 Daim­ler SP250 ‘Dart’, rep­re­sent­ing the Bri­tish maker’s at­tempts to crack the US sports car mar­ket.

A rare 1962 Fa­cel Vega Fa­cel­lia F2B, a 1966 Maserati Mis­tral and a 1969 Jensen In­ter­cep­tor FF highlight the swing­ing ’60s, with the lat­ter one of only 110 ex­am­ples of this four-wheeldrive pi­o­neer pro­duced. The fol­low­ing decade is em­bod­ied by fine Ital­ian metal, in­clud­ing a 1972 Alfa Romeo Montreal, a ’74 Iso Ri­volta Lele and a ’74 Fer­rari 365GT4 Ber­linetta Boxer.

The ‘Made by Hel­las’ area is de­voted to cars with Greek con­nec­tions, the most pop­u­lar of which is the out­put of Sir Alec Is­sigo­nis. The Bri­tish de­signer of Greek de­scent was in­stru­men­tal in the cre­ation of the orig­i­nal Mini and the Mor­ris Mi­nor. Then there’s En­field Au­to­mo­tive, which was funded by Greek ship­ping mag­nate Gian­nis Goulan­dris and de­vel­oped the 1974 E8000 ECC (Elec­tric City Car) as an ur­ban al­ter­na­tive-fuel ve­hi­cle. There’s also a 1977 MEBEA Robin, a three-wheeler pro­duced in Greece un­der li­cence from the Re­liant Mo­tor Co, and a pair of dra­matic lo­cally styled con­cept cars. The wild 1983 He­lios and 1984 Apol­lon are the work of An­to­nis Vola­nis, de­signer of the Ma­tra Ran­cho and Re­nault Es­pace.

The ‘Trans­parency’ dis­play is a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hibit. Five ve­hi­cles – in­clud­ing a 1964 Lan­cia Flavia Vig­nale Con­vert­ible and a 1974 Lo­tus Europa Twin Cam Spe­cial – are de­con­structed, in some cases with their bod­ies par­tially lifted off the chas­sis, so that you can see what’s go­ing on un­der­neath. “Vis­i­tors seem to be drawn to th­ese ex­posed cars to see what makes them go,” ex­plains mu­seum guide Mil­tos Petro­nis.

The Hel­lenic Mo­tor Mu­seum plans to re­place most of the cur­rent ve­hi­cles with rac­ing cars in 2019 or 2020, so be sure to catch this in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of road cars while you can.

Clock­wise, from above: 1906 Ford Model N is the old­est car in the col­lec­tion; ‘Trans­parency’ dis­play re­veals a Flavia Vig­nale’s in­ner work­ings; build­ing houses 110 cars – note Vola­nis duo un­der Bris­tols

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