1929 Minerva Type AK Faux Cabriolet

1929 Minerva Type AK Faux Cabriolet

‘For many years past the name of Minerva has been internationally recognised in the automobile world as typifying not merely a high measure of excellence in the goods manufactured, but as a criterion of leadership in the evolution of the higher grade of chassis… The interior is commodious, distinguished and ‘comfy’… quiet and dignified, a car of genteel luxury unsullied by any Sir George Midas ostentation…’ - Minerva catalogue, 1930.

Minerva - the ‘Goddess of Automobiles’ - was the finest make produced by Belgium’s once vibrant motor industry. Founded in Antwerp in 1899 by Dutchman, Sylvain de Jong, Minerva began life as a bicycle maker, swiftly diversifying into the manufacture and supply of proprietary motorcycle engines before building its first powered automobile around the turn of the 19th Century. De Jong set up Minerva Motors SA in 1902 and thereafter his company progressed from being a manufacturer of engaging ‘driver’s cars’ to one that looked more towards the chauffeur-driven carriage trade.

Built along Panhard lines, the early Minervas were powered by a variety of engines of sidevalve configuration and proved hugely successful, particularly in the UK where they were vigorously promoted by the firm’s London agent, David Citroën (cousin of carmaker, André) who had joined de Jong on the board of a re-capitalised Minerva company in 1903. The adoption in 1908 of Charles Yale Knight’s double sleeve valve engine - a design noted for its silence - enabled Minerva to establish itself in the forefront of luxury carmakers alongside marques of the calibre of Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini and Cadillac. Indeed, The Honourable C S Rolls was one of the firm’s first overseas dealers. By 1910 all Minervas featured the Knight engine, the larger models, such as the MM, being much favoured by European royalty, the Kings of Belgium, Norway and Sweden among them. Minerva’s was soon the biggest car plant in Belgium, employing 1,600 workers.

In their day Minervas enjoyed an outstanding reputation in competitions of all kinds. They fielded a winning team in the 1912 Grand Prix de Belgique regularity trial, took the Swedish Winter Cup in 1911, 1913 and 1914, and even finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th in the 1914 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.

Swiftly back on its feet following the German occupation, Minerva returned to making large, luxurious motor cars and in the 1920s enjoyed considerable success in the United States where it found favour with film stars, politicians and industrialists alike. Smaller models were introduced but larger cars continued to be a speciality; a brace of straight-eights was announced for 1930 but hard times lay ahead for the world’s luxury car manufacturers. Minerva’s fortunes declined steadily and in October 1935 it merged with Belgian’s only other surviving motor car manufacturer, Imperia. Minervas continued to be made for another year or two, and after WW2 the company produced Land Rovers under licence for the Belgian Army.

The magnificent motor car offered here is an example of the 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.

Chassis number ‘58393’ carries handsome ‘faux cabriolet’ coachwork, the dummy pram irons and contrasting roof colour convincingly creating the impression that it is a convertible. This unique body is by Henri Labourdette of Paris, one of the oldest of French coachbuilders with a reputation for quality second to none.

The car was first owned by Edward G Brunn, Jr of Park Avenue, New York and subsequently by a banker in Tangier, Morocco, there being photographs on file (apparently dating from the late 1950s/early 1960s) clearly showing number-plates with Arabic script. Subsequently resident in France with a Hassan Abraho who may have been the same banker and then passing as far as we are informed to respected collector Serge Pozzoli, the Minerva was acquired by the Blackhawk Classic Auto Collection of San Ramon, California and in 1986 was restored for the Collection by the renowned specialist Carrosserie Lecoq of Paris .

Owned during the 1990s by one Charles Lemaître and exhibited at the Pebble Beach concours d’élegance in 1998 (photographs on file), ‘58393’ was imported in 2002 by the last (Belgian) owner Franz Defeyter a reknowned Minerva collector and expert and completely restored over the course of the next ten years before his passing.

Descriptions & pictures by bonhams

Production Start 1929
Country of origin Belgium