HELLENIC MOTOR MUSEUM
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