The Minerva was a prominent Belgian luxury automobile manufactured from 1902 until 1938.
In 1883, a young Dutchman, Sylvain de Jong settled in Antwerp, Belgium. He started a bicycle factory and by the end of the century was producing motorcycles, as well as exporting engines to the UK to power the very first Triumph, among others. Motorcycle production would continue until 1909 or 1914, and during this period Minerva became one of the world's premier names in motorcycles and motorcycle engines.
In 1902 he 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.
A certain Charles S Rolls 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 GBP105 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 and Henry Ford.
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. 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 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 Land Rovers 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.
There are still several Minerva models all over the world in drivable condition.