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The comeback of an icon

By Lina Giannarou

Is it true? Will the iconic Greek Pony, known as the poor man's Jeep, stage a comeback to the country's streets as has been rumored by fans of this diminutive vehicle? If tests being conducted at family-owned automaker NAMCO in Thessaloniki turn out positive, then it is very likely, as the company is said to be in the process of getting the model approved and certified by the authorities.

If all goes according to plan, once it receives the technical green light, the car will undergo the final phase of certification by the Transport Ministry so that production can get under way.

NAMCO sources who asked to remain unnamed confirmed that the project was “in the final stretch” recently, but did not elaborate further.

Either way, this is the first time in a long while that a Greek car has stood a chance of going back in to production. After the local car industry's glory days in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, stiff competition – among other factors – signaled the death knell for the country's car factories. And the reason why Greece may get its own car again is sheer obstinacy: NAMCO's owner, 80-year-old Petros Kontogouris, decided to relaunch it after hearing a German official saying that not all countries can produce cars.

This kind of determination is characteristic of the family's history: In the 1950s, the Kontogouris Brothers had tried to produce a truck they dubbed “Hellas” in Germany. In 1961, they opened FARCO in Thessaloniki, which produced multipurpose vehicles with BMW motors to dubious success. Then, in 1972, came NAMCO (National Motor Company of Greece), which struck a deal with Citroen to present a boxy Greek car modeled around the 2CV at the Thessaliniki International Fair. This was the Pony, hailed as a car “that is so ugly it's beautiful” by the German press.

The Pony became the most successful endeavor in the Greek auto industry, selling more than 30,000 cars and exported to 14 countries. Operating and maintenance costs that were way below most other vehicles, coupled with a low price tag, made the Pony extremely popular with state and military services, as well as other professional sectors. In its heyday the Thessaloniki plant produced eight to 10 cars daily, with 67 percent of the parts also being made in Greece.

Production came to a halt in 1983, mainly because of changes to tariffs that came with Greece's entry in the EEC. The new Pony being developed today is designed to resemble the old one in many respects: a classic style, simple lines and functions that combine those of a utility vehicle and a pickup.

According to NAMCO'S website, the new Pony is “a modern car with state-of-the-art mechanical parts, designed on the basis of the company's classic styling.” The site also shows different models ranging from small vans and convertibles to light ambulances. The aim is to reach daily production of 24 units to be priced at around 7,000 euros.

Auto nostalgists are looking forward to the Pony's comeback.

“The Pony... a great car, with three unique, even in today's terms, characteristics. It would not overheat, spin, veer off the road or roll,” one post on a blog dedicated to car aficionados says.

“I remember how much fun I had shaming a 320i or a Porsche by honking my horn at them on a slightly uphill stretch of road... You didn't have to do much. Just rev a bit provocatively just before the light turned green, let the rpms shoot up and at the big moment let out the clutch while holding onto the gearshift for dear life so it wouldn't kick out of first gear. After about 100 meters, you'd slam it into second without taking your foot off the gas and look back to see their faces.”

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday May 14, 2014 (18:40)  
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