Greece’s latest exportable good is crafted in a repurposed textile factory at an Athens suburb. You won’t find textiles being made here anymore. Here’s a hint: the place is called ”Italian Garage”, ”a Centro Di Eccellenza”
I think of it as a “jewel restoration” and i ‘ll explain myself fully. I had a sense that something magical is happening in town, so naturally, I went to investigate.
I’m standing next to a ghost of what used to be a car a long time ago, now forsaken by time itself. To the untrained eye, it would be little more than a pile of scrap.
As I examine it, rusty to the bone and left for dead, I fail to see how this skeleton can come back to life.
It was found buried in a farming field, somewhere in Missouri, US. The law of entropy and of inescapable wear and tear of everything material (including us humans) is on brilliant display. As Oprah would say, “watch this!”
Here’s where things get interesting. What I’m actually looking at is a rare Moretti. Someone, somehow, at some point in time, owned and enjoyed her, a scholar of true automobiles, in Sergio Leone’s America
Come to think of it, imagine how many passers-by laid eyes on her, lying there in the field, and wouldn’t look at her twice, let alone spend a dime for her.
“We have the right people in different corners of the world, who instantly let us know if there’s an interesting finding somewhere. As you can imagine, they won’t call us for a recent Corvette, but the Moretti Special is, well, special”.
The man standing in front of me is Mr Antonis Kouros, literally the heart and soul of this space that’s aptly named “Italian Garage”. It’s motto is ”classic cars are time machines that protect us from a fast-changing world”.
And I have to tell you I’m feeling really lucky to be here, in Nea Ionia, the working-class, largely deindustrialized aforementioned Athens suburb. With the magical, almost ritualistic work being done in here, I see the whole neighborhood under a totally different light
“This can’t be right”, I’m thinking out loud. “Can this thing ever be transformed into an actual car? What about the destroyed rear bench? And what about the steering wheel, with pieces of dry wood peeling off like the skin of a fruit? I don’t know where to begin”.
“Yes”, he says softly but sternly. Smiling, he takes me a bit further to show me – not tell me, how much of a car the Moretti will become again.
I’m looking at a 59’ Alfa Romeo Touring 2000. It is impossibly shiny in its impeccably applied Grigio Fumo paint. I don’t think it ever looked as impressive, let alone the fact that the very name of the color sounds more harmonious than Smoke Gray.
This Alfa was, too, once in shambles. But you wouldn’t believe it, looking at the end result.
And now, before my eyes, she sits there like a bride, as perfect as can be and ready to walk down the aisle. She is already booked. We barely have a day or two for the photoshoot.
Mr Kouros shuts the doors softly, never touching the metal by hand but with the use of a cloth (he explains that the hand leaves “grease” on the paintjob). He tells me about the italian design house that still has the original patterns for the hood and explains all the work that was put behind making this Alfa look like it just rolled off production.
“When we were looking at the color codes”, he says, “there were three different hues of Grigio Fumo. We did a lot of research before we could identify the right one”
It is blatantly obvious that Italian Garage has anything but a conventional approach and code of ethics. It is a telling fact that just two to three projects are completed each year
The Touring, just as the name says, is a true offspring of Carozzeria Touring, a house that bloomed as a custom manufacturer since 1928.
The term “Superleggera” (meaning superlight) was patented in 1936. The concept behind it – using very thin steel tubes upon which the aluminium parts were bolted – was revolutionary as far as metallic structures were concerned.
Touring laid the foundation for models such as the Lancia Flaminia Coupe, Aston Martin DB5, Maserati 3500 GT and other glorious moments in car history. Everyone here seems to know that, but I need to look it up online.
The beauty that sits in front of me has gone through all the stages of a faithful restoration that respects the original fully, handled as an art restorer would a holy icon, treating it with the utmost care.
This is a token of how to bring back to life a piece of art in Greece, amid a crisis. The level of skill in this case competes with the top restoration centers in Europe, attracting those in the know who are looking for something special. This is the definition of an exportable good, as I mentioned above.
I am trying to convey the feeling of a petrolhead who was slapped in the face by the result of artisanal work, deep understanding for the subject and an obsession with detail that borders on fetishism.
Around me, among others, there is a Riva boat, an Aprilia bike, a Rolls, a Simca, a Lancia Integrale in almost mint condition, a Porsche 912 Targa, scattered memorabilia that you can examine for hours on end, cylinder blocks lying left and right, and shelves crumbling under the weight of rare parts.
Just a little further, a suitcase catches my eye. Inside, electrical fuses – memories, really, from the movies, property of one of the co-owners of Italian Garage.
Further down the hall, a few steps lead to a lobby where you can sit for hours and relax to the tune of Chris Rea’s Josephine. By the way, Rea was a big-time petrolhead himself.
Above everything else though, what is really special about this place is the pure, unassuming temperament of Mr Kouros and his associates in Italian Garage – brimming with professionalism but with a smile and without a hint of comme il faut, they led us to the most special basement garage in town, where we saw even more jewels of unfathomable beauty, well-protected from prying eyes.
Mr Antonis Kouros, literally the heart and soul of this space that’s aptly named “Italian Garage”
These people never stop working, researching, losing track of time, aiming for the top, oozing with passion. There is no other way to do this.
Because this is the only way to be able to appreciate an old Alfa or a Maserati, something that was created to have a soul and built to last. Like that Moretti from Missouri.
They won’t deny their preference for italian machines, but they know to appreciate the right “heathen”. They take upon the task to source and restore on a Concourse level (the name of very strict international competitions judging the fidelity of the restoration, the aesthetics and the attention to detail in vintage cars) and also perform maintenance on special machines.
To be exact, they live and breathe for this. But there is also something else that comes up during our discussion.
They’ve paved their own way to big auction houses internationally, by means of meticulous research, a deep contact list of insiders and a unique way to organize projects strategically and focusing on human interaction. There is no rush, no need for compromise. Perfection is the sole goal.
And now that the Touring’s long journey has reached its end, a tiny transparent sticker with Italian Garage’s logo on it, found its place in one of the windshield’s corners. Those in the know, in Greece and abroad will recognize it instantly.
To sum up, then, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be from an emotional point of view to wave goodbye to your “child”, that you resurrected with your own hands and mind.
But I do know something else. That, indeed, something magical is happening in town.
Photos: Giorgos Koutos / 4Drivers
Translation: Dimitris Bounias
Το 4Drivers δεν ταυτίζεται κατ΄ανάγκην με τις απόψεις των αρθρογράφων που φιλοξενεί, ενώ, ταυτόχρονα, ενθαρρύνει την ελευθερία γνώμης των contributors προς μια ευρύτερη αντίληψη της αυτοκίνησης.