Greece a hub of history and culture and, once, a small car industry

The most popular debate between petrolheads around the world is which country makes the best cars. Inevitably, terms like German quality, Italian design and Japanese technology will crop up. Possibly a nostalgic reference to Britain will be made, and some thought might even be given to France or the US. But what about Greece? Well, if you were to ask anyone who is remotely interested in cars about Greek automobiles, they would probably stare at you with the pitiful blank expression usually reserved for imbeciles. Greece is famous for its history and culture, renowned holiday destinations and, lately, as a money pit. One thing that it is not known for is its cars. But there are, or were, Greek cars. The earliest examples of vehicle manufacturing in Greece date as far back as the 1920s, when Nikos Theologou, who had worked as a mechanic in the US, designed and constructed buses, trucks and even a car. Since then there have been several attempts by various Greek companies to enter the car-manufacturing industry. Namco, Mevea, Biamax, Sfakianakis, Saracakis, Hellenic Vehicle Industry (ELBO), Neorion, Scavas, Attica, DIM and Motoemil are just a few of the companies that at one point or another were involved in vehicle manufacturing in Greece either in cooperation with foreign companies or on their own. Most concentrated on trucks and buses, some however designed and even produced cars. In the 1960s and 70s, there was a large number of three-wheeled vehicles produced by various Greek companies. Most were light trucks but there were also a few passenger cars. Some attempts had been made to produce four-wheeled cars but these were more expensive both to manufacture and to buy, and faced stiff competition from abroad. Three-wheeled designs however were simple machines, easy to produce, cheep to buy and, taxed as motorbikes; they where also cheap to maintain, making them ideal for the Greek market at the time. The most successful of these cars were the 1963 Attica 200 designed by Georgios Dimitriadis and the 1974 Reliant Robin. Most popular of all, however, were the three-wheeler light trucks, which became a familiar sight across the country and were even exported in significant numbers, mainly to Asia. In the early 1980s, models like the Namco Pony, the Mevea Fox and the MAVA-Renault Farma were light multipurpose vehicles that, thanks to favorable tax legislation, saw some success in Greece. But when in the mid-1980s these tax laws were changed, their popularity plummeted and this point is generally regarded as the end of the Greek car industry. There are several reasons why car manufacturing never took hold in Greece. The most cited – and not just for the car industry – is Greek bureaucracy, with long complicated procedures both for production permits as well as model certification. It is no coincidence that most Greek companies focused on vehicles like trucks, tractors and buses whose certification process was far simpler. Other reasons, again not limited to the car industry, include the lack of competitiveness and high manufacturing costs. The small size of the Greek market was also a key factor, since building a substantial national customer base and sustaining local competition would have been difficult, if not impossible. Most Greek vehicle manufacturers went out of business in the 1980s; those that survived diversified into other fields. Today the closest one can get to traveling in a Greek vehicle is either by joining the army (most military vehicles are manufactured by ELBO) or using public transport (most public buses and trolleys have been manufactured by Greek companies). Rather an inglorious end to an industry that, though lacking the laurels of Porsche or Ferrari or even Skoda, did leave behind a few colorful stories.