Royal Enfield and Minerva
1901 - 1909
The first motorized Royal Enfield motorized bicycles were fitted with the clip-on engines of Minerva. Like the Motor-Bicycle of 1901 with a 1.5hp engine and the 1904 MotorCycle with a 2hp water cooled engine.
Minerva was in the beginning of the 20th centrury a Belgian cycle, motorcycle and motorcar factory, which had kings and filmstars among its customers. De company was founded in 1897 by Sylvain de Jong (1868-1928), born in Amsterdam (Netherlands) who moved to Antwerp (Belgium) where he started making bicycles with the name "Mercury Cycle Co" with his two brothers Henri and Jacques and three Antwerp bicycle sellers. The same year Sylvain started his own company (S. de Jong & Co), and used the brand Minerva, name of the Roman goddess wisdom and art. The company was located in the Karel Oomsstraat at Antwerp, and produced in no time around 200 bicycles per week.
1900 Minerva started making motorcycles, simply by fitting a Swiss ¾ hp 172cc Zürcher & Lühti clip-on engine to the front frame tube of a Minerva bicycle. At first the Minerva engineers didn’t succeed in getting this concept running. Jan Olieslagers, an young mechanic, mamaged to get this first motorbicycle running and ready for the road. Olieslagers (the Antwerp Devil) became famous by his motorcycle world speed record in 1901 at 80 km/h.
The company bought the licence to build the single cylinders from Zürcher & Lühti. The cylinder capacity went up to 211cc and a performance of 1½ hp.
As early as 1901 the sales started to pick up and not only in Belgium, but all over the world. In Londen David Citroen, another Dutchman (also a cousin of André Citroën founder of Citroën motor cars) started a workshop (Holborn Viaduct, London E.C.) where he assembled Minerva-motorbicycles and became an enthousiastic importer of Minerva in the UK. In 1902 there were engine types of 211cc, 232cc, 269cc en 331cc for sale. They were successfull at trials and races.
In 1902 the company name changed to "Minerva Motors Ltd." and David Citroen became a member of the board.
In 1903 Minerva supplied engines to large foreign motorcycle manufacturers like Adler, Opel, Humber and Royal Enfield. In some cases these engines were sold with the name “Romania”. They were not mounted on the front frame tube, but stood straight in the lower frame. The change in name was probably due to get around patents of the Werner brothers who patented this type of engine fitting.
In 1904 the cylinder capacity was again enlarged (433 cc) and the performance was now 3½ hp. The clip-on engine was produced for the last time and Minerva started manufacturing cars in a new factory in Berchem. The manufacturing of cars stood not in the way of developing a whole new motorcycle engine and in 1905 Minerva came on the market with a 4½ hp strong 577cc V-twin. In 1908 the first Minerva's with their characteristic cylinder formed tank came on the market as well as a 855cc V-twin giving 8hp. The motorcycle manufacturing ended probably in that year, but motocycles were still sold in 1909 and 1910 probably from old stock. Minerva was world leader with their clip-on engines which were used by more than a 100 different makes and also were copied a lot.
Starting in 1904 Minerva manufactured motorcars and was very succesfull all over the world. Minerva motorcars were very luxurious, campareble with Rolls Royce. After the crash in the 30's luxurious motorcars were less in demand and in 1934 Minerva went down thanks to the economic recession. The company merged with another Belgian car brand, Imperia. The company continued to exist.
After the Second World War, the New Company Minerva N.V. built Land Rover's off-road terrain vehicles for the Belgian army under license. In addition, it built dozens of civil Land Rovers in licenses intended primarily for the export market. (Belgian Congo, Portugal, Brazil, Australia). This production stopped in 1956.