Minerva was to Belgium what Rolls-Royce was to Britain or the Duesenberg to America. It was the nation’s finest motor marque. Known for its exquisite designs, lavish coachwork and plush interiors, the brand quickly won the patronage of royalty and nobility around the world. The highly desirable AL continues to embody the exuberance associated with the Art Deco period. Of the 33 produced, only nine are known to survive – and this particular car, chassis no. 80164, is one of two that exist with variable convertibility.
The AL was introduced at the 1929 Paris Salon as the largest and most expensive Minerva chassis. Powered by an eight-cylinder 6.6-litre engine, it featured gold-plated instrumentation, bezels, switches and trim. Minerva – the Roman goddess of wisdom – adorns all models in the form of a hood ornament. Visually evocative and unabashedly sumptuous, this example is one of the finest specimens of Belgian automotive excellence.
His Highness The Raja of Mahmudabad, Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan, United Provinces, India bought this magnificent machine during his 1933 grand tour of Europe. The Belgian beauty featured in the Raja’s coronation ceremony in 1936, which was attended by a crown representative of His Majesty King Edward VIII. Its use on state occasions saw the assignation of the registration ‘Mahmudabad 1’.
The Raja was a distinguished scholar, and known for his literary pursuits and philanthropic interests. He was progressive and liberal, and also a great patron of arts and music. Emigrating to Pakistan and then the UK, he became the first director of London’s Islamic Cultural Centre, and he met and hosted world leaders and ambassadors during their visits to the UK. In colonial India, the culturally rich Mahmudabad Estate was part of Oudh princely state in the Awadh region, now in Uttar Pradesh, India. In an interview with motoring historian Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan, the present Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad, HH Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan, recalled the Minerva’s sheer size and likened its smooth drive to that of a ship
When this ultimate ‘barn find’ was first rediscovered at the palace in 1995, the Minerva appeared largely unmolested if unused for an extensive period of time. Water had leaked on to its rear end through a cracked garage ceiling, but the car was at least intact, with an untouched engine compartment and all mechanical components in place. Because the tyres were rotten and the wheel rims had sunk into the ground, it had to be craned out of the partially dismantled garage, and temporarily fitted with tractor tyres to roll it on to a truck for transportation to Delhi.
It initially underwent a complete mechanical rebuild by noted English restorer Julian Williamson, and later had a comprehensive ground-up renovation executed by HH Manvendra Singh Barwani and Kunwar Tripureshwar Pratap Singh of Classic Cars, Indore. On its debut, it won Best of Show at the 2015 Cartier Travel with Style Concours in New Delhi, and Best of Show at the 2016 21 Gun Salute, and also appeared at the 2017 Cartier Travel with Style. It is now on permanent display at the Titus Museum in New Delhi, accompanied by an extensive set of ‘before and after’ photos demonstrating its dramatic transformation and revival at the hands of passionate Indian restoration specialists.