April 18, 2009

Minerva AL

A little history

Though Belgium is now limited to hosting assembly plants set up by foreign companies, it once had a rich automotive history of its own. A Belgium manufacturer even shone at the peak of automobile luxury for more than three decades: Minerva.

Young Dutchman Sylvain De Jong settled in Antwerp in 1883. He started building bicycles there and, as many others like him around the turn of the century, graduated first to motorcycles by adding an engine to his bicycles, then to automobiles by adding two wheels to them. Minerva thus built its first cars in 1904 and soon, luxury automobiles became its specialty. Many compared Minerva to Rolls-Royce, but who inspired who? For a time, Charles Rolls sold the Belgian products on English soil…

In 1923 Minerva ventured into more popular markets, but remained better known for its expensive limousines and coupes de ville, purchased by industrialists and movie stars, along with the Belgian King himself…

All was fine for Minerva as long as the economy was growing, but things started to get much harder after 1929. At first, the effects of the crisis weren’t clearly felt in Europe, allowing Minerva to introduce some of its best automobiles ever in 1930: the 4.0-litre AP and the 6.6-litre AL, both fitted with straight eight engines. Shortly thereafter Minerva was hit by recession; after trying to restructure, the company was merged in 1934 with Imperia, but the union was short-lived as the two separated again in 1939. It was World War Two which gave the final blow to the Belgian automobile industry. As for itself Minerva survived for some time after the conflict by producing Land Rovers under licence, until it finally went bankrupt in 1958.

About the model

Model: Minerva AL
Year: 1930
Maker: Ixo
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Altaya as no.27 of its Voitures Classiques press series
Acquired: brand new, in April 2007, in Souillac, France

Altaya should be thanked for picking an original car for its Voitures Classiques series. Its usual partner Ixo provided the models, which appear rather nice, but unfortunately nothing more. Minervas from the time were large automobiles, while the model looks rather small when compared to other cars from the series – this is perhaps correct, but as I don’t have any figure regarding the Minerva AL measurements, and as Ixo is known for its contempt for precise scale, I can’t help doubting about this die-cast. Well, still a model I enjoy having on my shelf anyway, but I won’t give it more than 12/20.





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