1933 Minerva Type AL Is One Of Only 11 In The World
Images: Makarand Baokar/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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Sign in or become a deRivaz & Ives member to join the conversation.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.