City based vintage and classic car restorer Sanjay Ghosh shares the experience of his most challenging restoration job – Hemant Kumar Ruia’s 1919 Minerva Type NN
In 1883, a young Dutchman, Sylvain de Jong from Antwerp, Belgium, started a bicycle factory and by the end of the century was producing motorcycles. In 1902, he added cars to the portfolio with a 6 hp 4-cylinder model.
In 1903, he founded Societe Anonyme Minerva Motors in Berchem (Antwerp). Mass production started in 1904 with a range of two, three and four cylinder models with chain drive and metal clad wooden chassis and the Minervette cyclecar. The 8-litre Kaiserpreis won the Belgian Circuit des Ardennes race in 1907.
A certain Charles S Rolls was a Minerva dealer in England selling the 2.9 litre 14hp. The most important market for the manufacturer remained England, where at £105 the small 636 cc single cylinder Minervette was the cheapest car on the market, followed by Netherlands and France.
In 1908, Minerva got a worldwide Knight Engine license. The Knight motor developed by Charles Yale Knight in the United States used double sleeve valves which ran almost silently. All future Minervas would use these engines. Sporting successes continued with the new engines including the Austrian Alpine Trials and Swedish Winter Trials. Customers included the kings of Belgium, Sweden and Norway and the legendary Henry Ford.
This 1919 Minerva Type NN originally belonged to the Rahas of Dhanbad. Some 40 years ago, the car was bought by Prem Agarwalla of Dhansar. And finally, Hemant Kumar Ruia purchased it from Agarwalla about two years ago.
When I first laid my eyes on the car, it was a complete wreck. What was partially left was the chassis, fenders, radiator, dashboard and panel, steering wheel and column. Mechanically, the engine, suspension, gearbox, differential was intact but in terrible shape due to nearly five decades of neglect, unauthorised tampering and bad storage.
Honestly, I had never seen a Minerva in my life and never worked on one either. So this particular restoration job was beyond any reasonable doubt, the most challenging project of my professional life. It was like a dream which had to be transformed into reality. Since information and literature on this model was scarce, it made the task even more daunting.
Hunting for spares proved extremely difficult due to the rarity of the model in this part of the world. Several parts had to be fabricated. Innovation was the key, as many antique household brass door handles had to be modified and fitted into the car and sherwani fabric had to be used to make the seat covers. Tyres and rims had to be brought from UK. It required a year and half of regular hard work to get the car to its present condition. But at the end, it all seemed worth it.
In 2013, the car won the Concours d’ Elegance at the Vintage and Classic Car Rally in Calcutta and Mumbai. And if that wasn’t enough, it also got selected for the prestigious Cartier Concours d’ Elegance 2013.
Sanjay Ghosh was awarded the Best Restorer at the Bombay Vintage and Classic Car Rally for restoring the 1919 Minerva Type NN.