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Minerva Land-Rover Badge

Following the Second World War, Minerva could not design and produce a brand new car by itself and so, following their experience of building under licence, the Standard Motor Company were approached and their Vanguard model was soon being assembled in Belgium.

Aware of the Belgian army's search for a new lightweight 4×4 vehicle, Minerva approached the Rover company in the Spring of 1951. In June 1951 the Rover company learned that a total of 2500 vehicles would be required and that Rover were competing against jeep manufacturer Willys for the contract. In October 1951 the deal was agreed, with documentation being finalised on 7th May 1952.

Under this deal it was agreed that Rover would supply full technical assistance to Minerva who would be granted permission to manufacture Land-Rovers under licence. Rover would supply Completely Knocked Down kits (with CKD chassis numbers) consisting of the chassis, engine, axle, transmission and other parts to the Minerva company in Antwerp who would then build its own steel body to suit the Belgian army.

The Minerva sales literature stated that 63% of the parts used in the vehicles were of Belgian origin. The chassis were later built in Belgium as they are different in a number of ways to the Land-Rover chassis, being box welded and lacking the PTO hole provision in the rear crossmember.

The Minerva assembly line employed about 500 skilled workers who could produce 50 vehicles a day. These vehicles produced were left hand drive, 80 inch wheelbase models, with the 2 litre Rover IoE engine. The most obvious differences between the Minerva and the Land-Rover Series one being that the front wings that are squared off and sloping. The bodywork, including the doors, were all steel and a narrower front grille was used with the Minerva badge affixed. Two styles of badges were used, the earlier version stating 'Land-Rover - manufactured under licence by Minerva' and the later having the oval Land-Rover badge at the bottom of the Minerva name (top pic). Slatted oval panels on either side of the grille cover the apertures and the front bumper was fitted with a single "pigtail" towing eye on the drivers side. The side lights were located at the bottom of the wings and the headlights were larger than usual. Smaller brake lights were fitted to the rear panels.

Early Minerva Land-Rover Badge

Other differences include the exhaust being emitted from beneath the drivers door and the door handles. The 80 inch army Minerva door handles were like those of its British counterpart with the canvas flap - although the door locks are slightly different. However, the civilian Minervas had external door handles.

The military vehicles look quite different from the rear; a three quarter height fixed tailgate being fitted. The police and military versions had the spare wheel mounted on the right and a jerry can holder mounted on the left hand side (the Minerva petrol tanks are a little smaller than the Land-Rover equivalent).
No centre seat was provided, a toolbox being fitted in its place which was about the same size as a seat base cushion. (The space under the seat which Series Ones often use as a toolbox housed one of two 6-volt batteries, the second being under the bonnet).

It is thought that the Belgian army stockpiled the vehicles and thus effectively brand new vehicles were, until quite recently, still entering service. They simply had the mileage of occasional trips around the warehouse which prevented them from seizing up!

An armoured / assault vehicle version was also produced, with heavy plating, armoured glass screens and machine gun mounts at both the front and back. The spare wheel for these was mounted on the front, in front of the grille. Field ambulance versions were produced, being basically the same as the standard vehicle but with the tilt extended at the rear to cover the overhanging stretchers. It is thought that this tilt could in fact be the same as used by the ambulance version of the Jeep.

In October 1953 a civilian version of the Minerva Land-Rover was announced. This new vehicle was different in a number of ways from the previously produced military versions. The new vehicle was fitted with three seats, a drop down tailgate and provision in the rear cross member for a rear PTO to be fitted. A choice of colours was also offered.

The brochure for the civilian model describes a central PTO from the main gear box to drive belts and describes the vehicle being useful for any portable apparatus - including generators, welders and water pumps. Indeed, the scenes used for the Minerva literature are virtually identical to those that Land-Rover were using - with the obvious exception of slightly different vehicles. Like our own Series Ones, Minerva versions included station wagons, hard tops, truck cabs, and tilt versions; the tilt uniquely being fitted with side windows. These vehicles were apparently well received by construction companies and farmers but are now very rare.

In 1954, the new 86 inch version was introduced, (as in the UK replacing the 80 inch). This vehicle was produced for the next two years, until 1956 when all contracts between Minerva and the Rover Company were terminated. During this time, only 1,100 86 inch vehicles were produced, and these are now extremely rare.

It is likely that these 86 inch vehicles were primarily only available as civilian models. The 86 inch model had 3 seats and rear PTO hole. The rear agricultural plate was also fitted. These vehicles had tailgates and the external door handles as fitted to the 80 inch civilian vehicles.

The original Belgian army order was for 2,500 vehicles although a further 3,421 were subsequently ordered. As a result, despatches for 1952 and 1953 totalled 7,859 Completely Knocked Down vehicles. However, only 200 CKD 86 inch vehicles were despatched during 1954 and this may well have contributed to the dispute between the two companies and agreement that all contracts would be terminated after a further 900 vehicles had been despatched.

Thus, from May 1952 until the contract between the two companies was terminated at the end of June 1956, a total of 8,959 CKD vehicles were despatched from the Rover Company to SA Societe Nouvelle Minerva of Belgium.

In 1956 Minerva announced the C-20 and M-20 (Civilian and Military) Tout Terrain vehicles but very few of these are believed to have been produced and the company soon experienced financial difficulties.

The Minerva company finally went into liquidation in 1958.

If you can help out with more information about Minerva or the vehicles they made, please get in touch.

Pictures are especially welcome.

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