The most famous Belgian cars were without doubt the
Minervas. These cars could compete with Rolls-Royce, Isotta-Fraschini,
Hispano-Suiza and other illustrious makes. Stars, Kings and Maharajahs were
clients. Most of these cars were equipped with the silent sleeve valve
In the late 1920's the Belgian market was inundated with
cheap American cars assembled in Belgium. Minerva tried to counter with the
construction of a modest car, but in vain. In September 1934, the works were
declared bankrupt. From then on and untill the war, only trucks were made by the new Belgian owner: Imperia.
After the war the construction of a light truck and the
assembly of the Minerva - Land Rover, under licence, tried to restart an industrial programme. A little later, in 1958, after an attempt with the
production of scooters under licence of MV (Meccanica Verghera), the name
Minerva disappeared into history.
But it all started with the "safety bicycle" in October
1897 - 1899
Mr Sylvain de Jong, born in Amsterdam on 5 January 1868,
moved at the age of 13 with his parents and two brothers to Brussels. After
working for some years as a journalist, he went to the U.K. to study the
safety bicycle production. In 1895, S. de Jong, his brothers and other investors
started a factory in Antwerp, to produce and repair bicycles. For these bicycles, they selected the name "Mercury".
Only two years later, after a dispute with the other
investors, S. de Jong created on 15 October 1897; "S. de Jong & Cie". This
time he selected the name "Minerva" for the new plant in Antwerp. Minerva the
Roman goddess, daughter of Jupiter, sprang from the head of her father, fully
grown and in full armour. She was the patron of warriors, goddess of knowledge
and wisdom and goddess of artisans and industry.
Sylvain de Jong anticipated on a slackening bicycle
market and announced in February 1899, the production of light cars
(voiturettes) and motorcycles.
In 1900, S. de Jong & Co. bought an engine from the
Neuchâtel - Swiss based Zürcher & Lüthi. Zürcher & Lüthi did not only
build the engines, they also patented the bicycle set-up. The engines were
"clamped to the framing" (clip-on). A leather "band" over a grooved rim, bolted
to the back wheel, guaranteed motion. The engines had an atmospheric inlet valve
and a mechanical exhaust valve. A surface carburettor delivered the correct
mixture from the "spirits reservoir" and a 4 volt accumulator with trembler coil
produced the spark.
Jan Olieslagers, a young mechanic at the Minerva works,
had the honour of starting the first Z & L engine mounted on a Minerva
bicycle frame. Later Jan Olieslagers became the factory pilot and would be known
as the "devil from Antwerp". With the other Minerva pilots, Flamand and Kuhling,
he would win many races in Belgium and abroad.
S. de Jong & Co. bought the licence and started the
production of all parts needed to turn a Minerva bicyclette into a Minerva motocyclette. Due
to the reliability of the clip-on engine, success was immediate.
The first Minervas were supplied with a:
-172 cc (56 x
70) ¾ hp.
3/4 hp (56 x 70) 172 cc.
By December 1900, bicycle manufacturer Burrow-Strutt had
equipped two of their bicycles with the engine. Also in the U.K., Bayliss Thomas
(Excelsior) claimed the honour of being the first to exhibit a complete machine.
Humber, Royal Enfield, Quadrant,
Triumph, BSA and others in the U.K.
Gobron, Cottereau, Peugeot, ... in
Adler, Opel, and Seidel-Naumann in Germany.
Eysink, Simplex and
Gazelle in the Netherlands.
Numerous combinations of local bicycle frames
and Minerva engine kits in Australia and other territories and countries under
The kit could be mounted on all bicycles frames, having a height
of 58 to 65 cm, without having to adapt the frame or any other part of the
By the end of 1901 the engine had a larger bore, was
equipped with larger valves, had a heavier flywheel and a higher compression
ratio. The 211 cc engine developed now 1 ½ hp. The engine was running at 1500
rpm for a speed of about 30 km/h. The maximum speed was about 50 km/h. The
petrol consumption was in the order of 3 litres per 100 km and you had to change
oil every 25 to 30 km when new and every 50 km when "every part is well worked
in". The 4 volt accumulator had to be recharged preferably before the voltage
attained 3,75 volts. This had to be done at 3 to 4 amperes during 6 hours.
The 1901 production consisted of:
-172 cc (56 x 70)
-211 cc (62 x 70) 1 ½ hp.
The production program for 1902 comprised:
- 211 cc
(62 x 70) 1 ½ hp.
- 232 cc (65 x 70) 1 ¾ hp.
- 269 cc (70 x 70) 2
- 331 cc (75 x 75) 2 ½ hp.
All engines were "clamped to the framing" (clip-on) and
equipped with the surface carburettor (see Mechanics). Only the 1 ½ hp could
be equipped with a spray carburettor. The Phénix carburettor was optional and
of the "Panhard et Levassor" type.
1902, 1 ½ hp equipped with Phénix
At the end of 1902, Minerva presented in London the new
program for 1903. A new engine of 239 cc (66 x 70) produced 2 hp thanks to the
two mechanically operated valves. Minerva was one of the first to build engines
with both valves mechanically operated. Due to the better filling of the gasses
and hence the lower engine temperatures, the cooling ribs at the base of the
cylinder were deleted.
A second new feature for all Minerva models, was the
spray carburettor. The motorcycles could be ordered with the Phénix carburettor
or the usual surface carburettor.
The production program for 1903 comprised:
- 239 cc
(66 x 70) 2 hp clip-on with both valves mechanically operated .
- 331 cc (75
x 75) 2 ½ hp clip-on still with the atmospheric inlet valve.
- 232 cc (65 x
70) 1 ¾ hp single in frame with the brand name "Romania".
Both the 2 hp and the 2 ½ hp models were still bolted to
the front down pipe of the frame (clip-on). The inclined position of the engine
on the front down pipe combined with the increasing power was the cause of many
The engine of the Romania was mounted
vertically in the frame, most probably in an attempt to overcome the above
problem and in imitation of another successful machine: the Werner motocyclette.
The Werner brothers were two Russian emigrées settled in Paris and patented
already in 1901 for what was to prove the logical engine position: built into
the bottom bracket location of a pedal bicycle frame. Like the Romania set-up,
other constructors worked their way around the patent with some different
the Romania motor 1 3/4 hp
still automatic inlet valve
By 1904 all models had both valves mechanically operated,
were equipped with Longuemare patented carburettors and had the frame
strengthened with an extra pipe under the smaller "spirits reservoir". The
surface carburettor was still available for all models.
The English catalogue for 1904 showed the Minervas with
three engine types:
- 254 cc (68 x 70) 2 hp
- 345 cc (76 x 76) 2 ¾ hp
- 433 cc (82 x 82) 3 ½ hp
These "could be had in six standard varieties". Each
engine could be delivered "clamped to the frame" (clip-on) or "in the vertical
position" (single in frame).
The 1904, 2 ¾ hp.
A V-twin was developed for racing. The bike produced 7
hp. Jan Olieslagers participated, with this motorcycle, in the first world
championship for motocyclettes, organized in Paris - Parc des Princes. He rode
the 49 kg bike at a maximum speed of just over 100 km/h and ended first in the
qualifying series. In the finals, a broken crankshaft ended the race for
Minerva. See the "Racing" page.
Courtesy Pierre Marvier.
Minerva introduced the V-twin for sale to the public.
Also, from this year on, all motorcycles were available with a number of options
and only as single in frame. The clip-on had been deleted from the production
A two speed gear (no clutch) mounted on
the crankshaft, for the 2 ¾ hp models only. This resulted in two external
pulleys of same diameter but with different rotating speeds. The leather belt
could, by means of a lever, slide from one pulley to the other (see Mechanics).
Magneto instead of the trembler ignition.
The magneto was driven by a rod and mounted to the front of the engine (see
Spring front forks (see Mechanics).
The catalogue for 1905 showed:
- 247 cc single (67 x
70) 2 hp.
- 345 cc single (76 x 76) 2 ¾ hp.
- 433 cc single (82 x 82) 3
- 577 cc V-twin (70 x 75) 4 ½ hp.
The production program for 1906 comprised:
- 262 cc
single (69 x 70) 2 hp.
- 345 cc single (76 x 76) 2 ¾ hp.
- 433 cc single
(82 x 82) 3 ½ hp.
- 577 cc V-twin (70 x 75) 4 ½ hp.
From the 3 options presented in 1905, the two speed gear
disappeared from the catalogue.
Compare the 1905 - 2 hp with the 1906 - 2 hp. The
catalogues show different bores for the same model. As from 1907, the bores for
the 2 hp model will remain consistent.
- 254 cc single (68 x 70) 2 hp.
- 345 cc single (76 x
76) 2 ¾ hp.
- 433 cc single (82 x 82) 3 ½ hp.
- 577 cc V-twin (70 x 75)
4 ½ hp.
The English catalogue for 1908, showed four models:
345 cc single (76 x 76) 2 ¾ hp.
- 433 cc single (82 x 82) 3 ½ hp.
cc V-twin (70 x 75) 4 ½ hp.
- 855 cc V-twin (80 x 85) 7-8 hp.
Minerva had abandoned the square shaped petrol reservoirs
for the cylindrical (torpedo ended) tanks and changed the Minerva-Longuemare
carburettors for the G. & A. carburettor with automatic air
In addition to above models, the Dutch catalogues show
still the 2 hp models.
1909, single in frame with the new introduced Bosch Ignition for the U.K. or the usual Eisemann for The Netherlands.
The Dutch catalogue for that year still
-254 cc single (68 x 70) 2 hp.
-345 cc single (76 x 76) 2 ¾
-433 cc single (82 x 82) 3 ½ hp.
-577 cc V-twin (70 x 75) 4 ½
-855 cc V-twin (80 x 85) 7-8 hp.
The English catalogue showed the same, except for the 2
hp. In the Netherlands, one could still choose between the magneto or battery
and coil ignition.
1909, V-twin with the new introduced Bosch Ignition for the U.K. or the usual Eisemann for The Netherlands.
Since 1904 the production of cars took gradually more
of the factory potential. Therefore, during the years 1904 till 1907, the
production of motorcycles decreased to a mere 1500 per year and in 1908 (1909 ?)
the production of motorcycles was stopped. A total of about 35.000 Minerva
Motorcycles left the factory. Ads indicate that at least till 1910, Minerva
Motorcycles were sold.
Under licence of the Italian MV, Minerva produced a
scooter. During two or three years these scooters had some success, but not the
capacity to restart a serious industrial program. The production of the scooter
was stopped and shortly after (1958), all activities ceased.
150 cc, two stroke engine - 9.5
Courtesy Roger Depuydt.
MINERVA MOTORCYCLE PRODUCTION THROUGH THE YEARS
(clicking above link will open the production table)