CREATING A MOTOR MUSEUM
Automobiles dominated my interests ever since I can remember myself. My father’s cars, were the first getaway to my passion for driving, not always with his approval. In 1977, when my first child was born, I decided that I had completed the first cycle of my participation in competitions, so I turned to the collection of old cars.
The main criteria for selecting car models were my childhood dreams. Indeed, the first cars of the collection, were a Maserati Mistral, a Rolls Royce Wraith, two Jaguars E-type, two Lancia Appia Zagato, two Austin Healey 3.000 and three Dinos (one of them a Ferrari); all of them were those that had left me speechless when I had first seen them, some only in pictures.
With the number of cars increasing gradually and with difficulty because of the “poor” then Greek market, in the early 90’s I had reached the 25 cars and started to think that I might be going over the top. I was thinking that they were too many, just for the entertainment, while with the limited free time that I had, I was in danger of becoming a slave to the collection, rather than actually enjoying it. The proposal of purchasing an entire collection which numbered 20 cars, gave a solution to this dilemma. That was the point when the idea of creating a motor museum was born, for three basic reasons:
The first reason was the need of redefining the objectives of Greek enterprises based on the exports and the fact that the sole getaway for an economy, based mainly on services, such as the Greek, was the tourism. It is my belief that the “thematic cultural” real estate, combined with commerce and leisure, can become an active cell for tourism as well as for commercial real estate.
The second reason was the experience that I obtained from international conferences, particularly my postgraduate studies, where I found out that while there is respect for the country’s history, the impression that modern Greece gives, does not reflect the skills and the quality of Greek people. Therefore, I believe that everyone has an obligation to the extent possible, to make a bigger or smaller step, in order to improve the image of modern Greece.
The third reason, concerns a purely social aspect. I believe that wealth is created, under healthy circumstances, as a result of deep knowledge and education, bright ideas, hard work, access to funds and willingness to undertake risks. If we were to say that the world’s best businessman, found himself stranded on a deserted island, the only thing he would achieve in comparison to an ignorant idle, is to somehow manage to live in better conditions. Therefore, the creation of wealth depends upon the existence of a society. Therefore, it is my belief that businessmen “owe” to the society rather more than just paying taxes.
After the first excitement that the birth of the idea brought, came the technocratic approach, which demonstrated that the majority of car museums, are non-profitable, with minor exceptions, those of the big corporate car industry museums, typically German. I also noticed the lack of motor museums located in the city centres, mainly due to the high land value, which leads to lack of traffic in those remoted from the city centre.
I considered that my Real Estate experience would help me identify a suitable site in the city center, surrounded by commercial and recreational uses, that would help make the “vision” a reality, thus bringing it into life and making it viable for a very long time. The specifications for such a project would be fitting at least 50 vehicles, being located in an area with preexisting cultural elements and easy access by means of public transport, offering the space to create parking space and the land not being expensive.
My first feeling was that searching for a site with such characteristics, was as if looking for something almost impossible, since all large plots in central Athens, are committed by public authorities. Therefore, I focused on gathering many small neighboring plots at the beginning of Plaka area, between the two most commercial streets of Andrianou and Pandrosou. Delays in licensing, led me to turn my search for site, to the area between the National Archaeological Museum and the Subway station “Victoria”. The process of land concentration began in 1999 and lasted a decade; it was completed, with the obtainment of parts of neighboring buildings, during the construction face.
With a present total built surface of 30,000 m2, 50% of which being parking spaces, supporting areas; the main aisle exceeds 5,000 square meters and apart from the exhibition space for 111 vehicles, it includes an auditorium with modern showroom at the foyer, simulators and special education program for children in road safety and for young people in racing driving, café and memorabilia store. Please note, that 72 exhibits of wheels are located all over the spiral ramp, from the ground floor to the fourth floor, showing thus the motor history, accessible without even paying for ticket.
As regards my personal occupation, which takes at least 80 hours a week, I had to solve a complex equation, trying to minimize all non-productive activities so as to fit into 24 hours my job as well as the consuming preoccupation with the preparation of the Museum. At this point, I must admit that I truly appreciate my wife, Joanna as well as my children for their tolerance for the little time devoted to them all those years. Without the support of Joanna, who passed away so early just three months after the opening of the Museum and who did not claim anything from the time, the space and the investment for the collection, the vision of the Museum, would not have come to life.
On the other hand, a car museum is something entirely different from a simple collection and requires extensive research of old records, historical, rare and modern books and searching all over the world or restoring authentic parts etc. Therefore, I would like to thank my collaborators, helped in this complex project, especially the last ten years before the opening.
Thirty four years after starting creating the collection and having succeeded the first goal, which was opening the Museum, I was gazing at the exhibits from the highest floor, just after Joanna “left”. I was thinking how fragile life is and in the end, what is important in life and what is not. Was this effort all those years worth it? The enthusiastic comments of the Press, social media and the visitors’ encouraging comments though, made all my doubts fade away. The second collection is already intensively being prepared, featuring exclusively racing cars, which will replace all the current exhibited cars.
Theodore N. Charagionis
Founder of Hellenic Motor Museum