Some of the most wonderful cars ever created
Minerva was a Belgian company started by a Dutchman called Sylvain de Jong in 1897. The first product they manufactured was an engine which can be clipped onto a bicycle; these were exported throughout Europe and British territories abroad. Eventually the engine got more and more powerful until they were actually too powerful for the bicycle themselves and production gradually moved towards motorcycles, including engines for vehicles such as the first ever Triumph motorcycle.
At one time Minerva was one of the world's biggest producers of motorbikes and motorbike engines.
By 1902 car and cycle car (small three wheelers, really a cross between a proper car and a motorbike) manufacture began, and even Charles Rolls (later a founder of Rolls-Royce) was suitably impressed with Minerva quality that he set up as a dealer to sell their vehicles in the UK.
By the early 1920s they had established such a reputation for top quality products that they were reckoned to be on a par with Rolls-Royce, whilst being highly competitive on price. Customers included Henry Ford, and the kings of Belgium, Sweden, and Norway as well as innumerable film stars and top industrialists.
Partly this reputation was down to a sleeve valve system for the engine. Instead of having standard valves which opened at appropriate times during the engine cycle this system, patented by a gentleman called Charles Knight, utilised a sliding sleeve between the piston and the cylinder wall and this was designed to slide and uncover the inlet and outlet ports at the correct moments. This was a far quieter system than the conventional valves of the day although it was much more expensive to manufacture.
The AK Series, which featured the ultimate development of this engine, came out in 1927. It was a behemoth with a six litre straight six cylinder engine producing a very creditable, for the day, power output of 34 brake horsepower. This could propel the car up to a top speed of 80 mph. There was a choice of bodywork from open top tourer to Landaulette but most models featured wire wheels, and long sweeping running boards. The distinctive Minerva statuette stood on the radiator cap in a similar way that Rolls-Royce cars sported their Spirit of Ecstasy.
Despite being one of the most expensive cars in the world Minerva AK series cars were exported in large numbers, mainly to America.
Minerva continue to specialise in large luxurious cars right up until the 1930s financial crisis when cash flow pressures brought about a merger with another Belgian car manufacturer called Imperia, and luxury car manufacturer came to an end.