Minerva AL Convertible Sedan by Rollston

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AL Convertible Sedan by Rollston





In 1902 De Jong added cars to his production as well with a 6 hp four-cylinder model. In 1903 he founded Société Anonyme Minerva Motors in Berchem (Antwerp). Volume car production began in 1904 with a range of two-, three- and four-cylinder models with chain drive and metal clad wooden chassis and the Minervette cyclecar. The 8-litre Kaiserpreis won the Belgian Circuit des Ardennes race in 1907.

Charles S Rolls (of future Rolls-Royce fame) was a Minerva dealer in England selling the 2.9-litre 14 hp (10 kW). The most important market for the manufacturer remained England, where at £105 the small 636 cc single-cylinder Minervette was the cheapest car on the market, followed by the Netherlands and France.

In 1908, Minerva obtained a worldwide Knight Engine license. The Knight motor, developed by Charles Yale Knight in the United States, used double sleeve valves and ran almost silently. All future Minervas would use these engines. Sporting successes continued with the new engines including the Austrian Alpine Trials and Swedish Winter Trials. Customers for the Minerva would include kings of Belgium, Sweden and Norway, Henry Ford and the Impressionist Artist Anna Boch

During World War I Sylvain de Jong and his engineers were based in Amsterdam where they maintained development of their automobiles. Minerva cars were used for hit and run attacks against the Germans initially with rifle fire and light machine guns from simply protected open topped vehicles. These vehicles became increasingly sophisticated until trench warfare robbed them of the mobility needed for their hit and run tactics.

In 1920, they returned to Belgium to restart the production of luxury cars with the 20CV 3.6-litre four-cylinder and 30CV 5.3-litre six-cylinder models. The manufacturer's star rose not only in Europe, but in the United States as well where American film stars, politicians and industrialists appreciated the cars. The Minerva had the same quality as the Rolls-Royce, but was slightly less expensive. In 1923, smaller models were introduced; the 2-litre four-cylinder 15CV and 3.4-litre six-cylinder 20CV with standard four-wheel brakes. In 1927, the 30CV was replaced with the 6-litre AK, and also a new 2-litre six, the 12-14, was introduced.

Minerva Type AK, manufactured from 1927 to 1937, which was powered by a Knight-type six-cylinder engine of 6.0 litres producing 150bhp. Long- and short-chassis versions were made, the latter being capable of 90mph, while Dewandre vacuum servo brakes made sure that this heavy car stopped as well as it went.

Large cars continued to be a specialty of Minerva's, and in 1930 the then almost-compulsory-for-the-time straight eight was introduced in two sizes; the 6.6-litre AL and the 4-litre AP.

The 153.5-inch wheelbase AL featured the most developed version of the Belgian automaker’s sleeve-valve engine. This innovative design replaced conventional poppet valves with mechanically actuated steel sleeves, which moved up and down within the bore and within which the piston reciprocated. When the ports in the two sleeves aligned with the exhaust port, the exhaust cycle was underway. Intake worked according to the same principle. The action of the sleeves moving up and down was caused by a fairly conventional crankshaft, which acted on roller bearings that were affixed to arms that were attached at the bottom of each sleeve.

The design was complicated but peerlessly silky smooth, and the AL, which displaced 6,625 cubic centimeters over eight cylinders, was also powerful; this was everything that one wanted in a luxury car. It was also immensely expensive, accounting for production of only 50 chassis, of which fewer than a dozen survivors have been traced.

The body for the car, which was built by New York City’s Rollston Company, was in many ways a traditional convertible sedan that had elegant but dignified interior appointments and a fully insulated soft-top, which made the car a formal sedan when it was raised and transformed it into an airy convertible when it was lowered. What distinguished this car were its doors, which were angled backwards at a dashing rake and mounted on hinges carefully engineered to suit. This “slant door” design had been tried before by Hibbard & Darrin, of Paris, and Brewster, of Long Island, both on Rolls-Royce chassis. It was, in all likelihood, the Brewster “Windblown” Coupe shown in New York in 1930 that inspired the Bagley Minerva’s design.

Rollston’s genius, however, was in improving upon the lines by matching the windshield, pillars, and even the shapes of the windows to the rake of the door lines. As with all great design, colors were used to guide the eye home, with a flow of darker paint along the beltline to accentuate how the design seems to be pushed rearward by the force of its own drama. It is a cliché to say that a design makes a car “look fast when it is standing still,” but in this case, the idea was not to make the car look fast; the idea was to accentuate the power suggested by its vast presence. Perfection is in the details, and even the Minerva mascot atop the radiator, a head that is mounted far back on an elegant neck, recalls the angles that define this car.

The last Minerva was the 2-litre M4 of 1934 but it did not sell well.

With the financial crisis in the 1930s, the company was restructured as Société Nouvelle Minerva but in 1934 merged with the other major Belgian constructor Imperia. Imperia continued to make Minervas for a year and the AP until 1938 and from 1937 badged some of their cars and trucks for export to England and France as Minerva-Imperias. Just before the outbreak of the war, a group of businessmen from Verviers bought out Minerva.

After World War II the company produced a version of the Land Rover under license for the Belgian army up to 1953. There were plans to re-enter the car market but these did not get beyond the prototype stage. The company struggled for survival and made the Continental-engined Land Rover-like C20 until 1956.

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