We would like to thank DRIVE Magazine for its interview with the founder and president of the Hellenic Motor Musem, Mr. Theodoros Charagionis.
You can find the full transcript here [In Greek only]
Interview-Theodore Charagionis: “the joy of sharing is greater than the joy just to possess” Theodore Charagionis is a passionate collector, a “philosopher” of motoring, a well-constructed personality that managed to erect in the heart of Athens, Hellenic Motor Museum.
A nobleman of old times, one of those people with great financial standing that delivers back into society the dividend shares corresponding, with personal cost and without any expectations from the state.
Theodore Charagionis is a passionate collector, a “philosopher” of motoring, a well-constructed personality that managed to erect in the heart of Athens, Hellenic Motor Museum, housing a rare collection that shows the whole course of motoring and certifies his own perception about sharing and the capabilities of Greek society. As he typically says, “Yes we managed to persuade you that Greece is better than the image you have”.
What prompted you to proceed on such a large investment, as the Hellenic Motor Museum
Until 1977 my love for cars was expressed through races. With my first child’s birth, I stopped racing and begun restoring old family cars, my father’s old Jaguar and my first car, a Triumph 2000 gift for entering Polytechnic University on the first effort, both abandoned in a company garage. Until 1990 I managed to collect from the difficult domestic market approximately 25 cars. Back then, I thought 25 cars were too many for a hobby, I was afraid I was going to end up a slave of my own collection; to serve instead of enjoying. So, I decided to put a full stop. The exact time I’ve made my decision, the information that the entire collection of a very important Greek collector (Auto Memos) was for sale, reached me, and so from 25 cars I climbed to 50. The deal started and lasted almost two years, meanwhile I was thinking that I had to redefine my target and the decision for a Motor Museum started to seem appealing, since then, I’m indeed serving this collection.
There are collectors who prefer to enjoy either themselves with their collection or at least a small circle of friends. This “openness” that you showed resulted from some inner need? From a different inner philosophy?
The driving force is collector’s pure passion for the procedure of collecting, let’s say it’s “illness”; but the one who keeps things just for self-pleasure, may not have understood that the joy of sharing is by far greater than the pleasure of plain possession. When I see, for example, school children to leave enthusiastic after their visit, documenting their experiences on the guestbook, is touching. Also, identifying pure surprise from tourists visiting us and not expecting such a Museum in Greece, leaving with the best impressions. A recognition for the country, for me it simply means that “Yes, we managed to persuade you that Greece is better than the image you have”. The truth is that with the first thoughts for a Museum, none of them had been envisioned. It gives nothing but pleasure to experience it, and I say this because of my lot and hard work to support and grow this collection. It’s just a matter of time when I set a goal…
The fact that you decided to design and build such a modern housing for the collection in a specific area, in the heart of Athens, I imagine it was not random.
The Museum had to be successful. Το do this I had to locate land offering suitable surface to support exhibition of a satisfactory number of cars. Also, I wanted it to be in the heart of the city, to be easily accessible by tourists, I have seen many remarkable Motor Museums vegetating because they are situated outside city centers. My first option was Plaka, however we faced huge problems, especially with the ancient ruins. So, I abandoned that idea and orientated to this area, which also complies with my initial idea, near Victoria Metro station, easily accessible by all public transportation means and next to the National Archaeological Museum. So, this complex was built and I must admit that it helped to upgrade, the entire area.
You enrich and renew Museum’s collection of the Museum on specific plan?
Yes, of course. I began collecting cars that were my childhood dreams. Since I decided to make a Museum and having the knowledge that there wasn’t something analogous in Greece, I began to collect cars thus wide spreading awareness of the history of motoring to the public, for example from the archaic horseless carriages up to some of the most iconic supercars. Personally, I’m not touched by carriages, due to their lack of speed thrill but for their time, they were significant technological advance and while my goal was really to let people know about cars, they had to exist in the collection. At the same time, we gathered “Greek” cars as well, by term “Greek” we mean cars manufactured in Greece, or designed by Greeks. They form a permanent very successful and popular collection we call “Made by Hellas”. Few people know that many global successes of automotive industry belong or are inspired by Greeks, as Sir Alec Isigonis for example, who designed the Mini. This man is the “father” of modern urban car. The first Golf is essentially a reworking of Austin Morris 1,100 designed by Isigonis. As for the Mini, I don’t think there is a bigger milestone in post-war car industry. Among the exhibits, Mr. Volanis’s creations, the first monovolume car, the prototypes designed by the great architect Dimitris Korres and many more, because they are surprising as ideas, showing that Greeks are of amazing capabilities, but unfortunately cannot find appropriate ground to become practice.
Why do you think that Greece did not ever had a sustainable automotive industry?
You say that, in comparison with the rest of industry that is booming in the country? From the ’80s and on, the deindustrialization of Greece was rapid in all areas. The Greek State ceased to be attractive, thus preventing not only domestic investors, but driving and foreign companies which had factories in Greece, to leave. The Pirelli case is such a cautionary example. So, the question is not why we don’t produce automobile, but why we don’t have industry in general and this is not because wages in Greece were high. It is not necessary for a country to have cheap labor to have industry. In a competitiveness scale of 100, Germany, where generally the wages are above average, scores 125 while USA scores 100. Indonesia on the other hand, where average salary is appx one sixth of the respective American industrial worker’s, scores 85 in competitiveness scale. This is because workers in America and Germany are organized better, they are more qualified and supported by a coherent network; in Germany export seminars concerning all industries and crafts are taking place continuously, they are learning the extroversion and how to support “made in Germany”. If you do the comparisons with Greece you will see that we are lacking in infrastructure and education while relevant mobilization prior the 2004 Summer Olympics, was rather a firework.
Since we are talking about State, how supportive were the institutions to this effort?
This is an easy answer: not at all. We didn’t have any support from the State structures in any phase, either the implementation or operation of the Museum. To tell you a simple example. From 2011 when the Museum begun its operation, we’re constantly asking for a controlled parking zone outside, to facilitate buses carrying Museum visitors i.e. schools, clubs, tourists…Simple things. You can’t imagine how many obstacles we’ve faced and how many excuses we’ve heard. It’s been almost seven years since then, and of course we haven’t gotten approval yet.
Closing, I would like to ask something rather common, from all this excellent collection, which cars are your favorite?
Perhaps the most beloved is a Lotus Elite of 1961 with which I have been racing Le Mans five times, four times in Le Mans Classic and once in the support race that takes place prior the 24-hour race. I also love the Ferrari Dino 246 GTS. I believe that is one of the most beautiful designs ever made, it looks like a woman lying on the beach. You know shapes of nature are more beautiful than shapes designed by humans when they ignore the shapes of nature… I also love a bordeaux Alfa Romeo 2500 6C. It has run only 13,000 miles, in excellent condition, it is preserved, not restored. Possibility for preservation is of great importance for a collector.