Like many automobile companies the Societe Nouvelle Minerva S.A. began by producing bicycles before moving on to cars, a Panhard-like prototype appearing in 1902. The Minerva company quickly grew and was Belgium's largest manufacturer by 1911, employing 1600 people.
Due to restrictions after the Second World War, Minerva could not produce a new car and so began assembling Standard's `Vanguard' under licence.
Aware of the Belgian Army's search for a new lightweight
four wheel drive vehicle, the head of Minerva, Monsieur Van Roggen,
approached the Rover company in the Spring of 1951.
On the 21st June the Rover company learned that a
total of 2500 vehicles would be required and that
Rover were competing with Willys for the contract.
In October 1951 the deal was agreed, documentation
being finalised on the 7th May 1952.
Thus Minerva began assembling four wheel drive
with certain distinctive features, most notably the
unique front wings.
Bill Sides' Minervas:
The first old [Minerva] to catch my eye was a scruffy little 1925 type XX with a sugar bag hessian body crudely made up by a couple of kids, but it ran so nicely it sucked me in. Years later, I found the remains of my first Minerva for 300 at a swap meet, the front half basically minus steering and almost everything else but the sleeve valve motor was there although stripped of accessories. I bought it only to play with the sleeve motor.
That first Minerva is the red car (right), it is a 1914 model JJ 14hp of 2121cc and is the only known example in the world. It is a fabulous car, nice to drive and puts pricey RR Silver Ghosts to shame with its ease of starting, speed and quietness yet mine is stuffed basically, has totally original engine internals even the rings, runs with deep rust pitted bores but 35,000 miles later it runs perfectly, compressions are even and it shows no sign of its state inside. In modern traffic it is good and safe so it is easy to see why the 14hp was popular for taxis. They are at their best being driven hard, they don't then smoke. With direct top gear, worm drive, sleeve valve engine and big wheels only the wind past your ears tells you your speed, there is no noise or vibration, it is almost unnerving.
My next car was the EE 18hp 1913 limousine (above).
Like the JJ, it was built from
a bare chassis and stripped of brass;
the motor was seized and full of water being years in a
paddock with no spark plugs etc. and its axles under a trailer.
Its motor is also basically original although I had to replace two cylinder
heads that were corroded through, as was the sump from sitting on the ground.
Pistons, bearings and sleeves and transmission are 100% original. It is 4
cylinder 3,300cc and rather powerful and fast. I have seen off a modified
light bodied Prince Henry Vauxhall with it despite its body size and barn
like aerodynamics. It is not as nice to drive or as quiet as the 14hp being
heavier and enclosed but still is a magnificent open road car that only the
bigger six cylinder veteran Daimlers will beat.
My next car is the 1904 5hp model A (right),
basically the first car Minerva
designed, anything prior were La Minerves from France. It is 636cc and truly
delightful and smooth to drive but slowish at 25 mph cruise. Its poppet
valves have been ground 3 times during its 8,000 miles so far so it is not
hard to understand why Minerva liked sleeve valves! It has never let me down
but brakes are not that flash. Body is wholly original but for paint and
leather. The motor/ gearbox unit is a combined unit and was missing. The one
now fitted is correct for the car and has a serial 161 as compared to the
car 185 and I suspect it may be the 11th Minerva car engine built. Again
piston and bearings remain original to this engine but I had to cast and
machine a new crankcase because of severe gear selector mount damage mainly
and cracking around the main bearing bosses. It took part in the 1986 London
to Brighton but did not like British fuel much, it had no power, but we got
to Brighton in good time. It is the original Mini being of that name, tiny,
east-west engine layout, vertical water cooled and front mounted with the
gearbox inside the engine and using its oil for lubrication. BMC, Minerva
got there 55 years earlier!
The motorcycle is called "The Relay" and was assembled in Albury New South Wales. It is a 1903 pattern but has a 1904 pattern carburettor and muffler. It has a clip on 2 3/4hp Minerva motor of 306cc. Again the motor is original internally and goes remarkably well and is both willing yet docile. The frame is by BSA and so high you have to mount/dismount all the time despite it having the smaller 26" wheel option!
My most recent acquisition is a 1913 model DD 14hp that I brought in from New Zealand a few weeks back as a straight swap for a 1912 BB motor I had. which cost me 100 some years ago. --> It will be a quite easy restoration although it was very incomplete. I had virtually all the missing parts in hand and have high hopes for it as it is much the same as the delightful JJ. Its motor, while stuck, does not appear to have had water in the cylinders unlike all my other motors and appears to have done far less work. I may body it as a commercial as many in Melbourne were used by department stores.
I heard rumours of Minerva/ Landrovers coming here [au] but have never sighted one. Minerva cars, like the early 80" Landrovers were very popular in Australia because of their inherent ruggedness but both declined because they did not keep up with the times. [...]
[I] even bush bash [the Minervas]
quite often. My cars are not concours but work
horses. All have travelled bush tracks and muddy paddocks.
I have bogged the red car, but not badly, skinny
tyres do have their advantages at times as do large diameter wheels and good
ground clearance. First gear must be almost the same as low in a Rover, I
certainly never use it normally. The 14hp engine with
75mm x 120mm in the
JJ is smooth and torquey, not unlike the original Landrover motor and at 26bhp
it too is no powerhouse but honest. Internal parts are beautifully made
and bearings etc massive so it is no wonder that they last so well
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