1933 Minerva Type AL Is One Of Only 11 In The World

Images: Makarand Baokar/Courtesy Diljeet Titus

It was June 2003 when prominent lawyer and Delhi-based collector, Diljeet Titus acquired this Minerva Type AL. This Vanden Plas-bodied Belgian car is perhaps the most exclusive and the most prestigious of all of Titus’ extensive, yet highly selective car collection. With just 11 of the Minerva ALs surviving (seven in the US, two in Australia, and the tenth with the King of Belgium) across the globe, Titus is rightfully proud of his. It won the Best of Show at the 2015 edition of the Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance.

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
This Minerva Type AL from 1933 is a seven-passenger car with a body style known as Landaulet de Ville

The most famous carmaker out of Belgium, Minerva used to make cars as luxurious and impressive as Rolls-Royce in the 1920s and early 1930s. Perhaps not all that surprising given that a certain Charles S Rolls embarked upon his automotive business by being a Minerva dealer in the United Kingdom before he found himself investing in a car manufacturing venture with a certain Henry Royce!

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
The imposing front end of a car 

Minerva’s genesis though was much humbler. The founder, Sylvain de Jong (1868-1928), was born in Amsterdam (in The Netherlands) but settled in Antwerp (Belgium) where, in 1895, he and his two brothers, Henri and Jacques began manufacturing bicycles under the brand name of Mercury.

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
This image explains visually the landaulet body style, which has the rear section folding, the driver's portion exposed, with the section in-between a hardtop

In 1897, De Jong created his own company, S. de Jong & Co, and changed the name of the brand to Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom (and which gave the brand the eventual slogan: The Goddess of Automobiles).

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
The Minerva before it was restored more correctly by Diljeet Titus

Soon it diversified into motorcycles, and then in 1902, into cars. Post-WWI Minerva launched a range of luxury models and the range expanded to include in 1930, two straight-eight engine models, the 4.0-litres AP, and the 6.6-litres AL, all using the Knight sleeve-valve technology.

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
The chauffeur's section is in leather and is no less luxurious

The flagship AL was extremely well made, but the timing and the pricing ensured that very few got ordered: a maximum of 50 may have been made, though the number sold, it seems, totals up to just 33.

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
But it is the rear passenger area which needs to be seen

As much as Minerva was the favoured marque for the King of Belgium, Indian royalty too was aware of the marque as over the years not an insignificant number of them were imported.

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
Diljeet Titus drives his Minerva towards the ramp just before the prize giving during the 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d'Elegance

It must have been the reputation of top-level quality that may have prompted the Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad (a zamindari estate in Uttar Pradesh) to acquire the AL featured here. (For the record, it seems that two other Minerva Type ALs came to India, one of which was ordered by the Maharaja of Kolhapur, but both these cars were spirited out of the country.)

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
Sir Michael Kadoorie (on the right) awarding the Best of Class to Diljeet Titus and his family: from left to right, daughter Diya, wife Anurita and daughter Shekinah

Raja Amir Ahmed Khan of Mahmudabad had succeeded the estate when his father, Raja Sir Mohammad Ali Mohammad Khan passed away in 1931, inheriting a very wealthy zamindari. But with India’s independence and partition, the Raja Sahib immigrated to Pakistan, and then disillusioned, moved to Iraq, finally settling in London, where he died in 1973.

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
Prince Michael of Kent giving away the Best of Show trophy to Diljeet Titus, who is accompanied by his daughter Shekinah, with Stanislas de Quercize, the President & CEO of Cartier International looking on

The car stayed on in India, and as it was part of evacuee property, could not be sold. The issue was resolved only in the mid-1990s when collector Ranjit Malik managed to acquire the car.

1933 Minerva Type AL Landaulet de Ville Diljeet Titus 2015 Cartier Travel & Style Concours d’Elegance winner Belgium car brands cars made in Belgium
Proud owner Diljeet Titus posing with his Minerva at the end of the Cartier concours event

After about ten years with Malik, he sold the car to Diljeet Titus, who has since had the car restored twice to his very exacting standards.


Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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