RENDEZVOUS WITH A GODDESS
IT should have been Bath, where you can see in the museum the head of the Goddess Minerva, claimed to be the most beautiful, best preserved and most thought-provoking antiquity in the country. But, in fact, we rendezvous-ed at Blackbushe, where the untidy common has been handed back to the public after serving as an Airport, although Wing Comdr. Bennett, who makes Fairthorpe cars, is hoping to get part of it for a flying club.
It was here, on a bitter Sunday afternoon, that I met her—a lofty, dignified, stately carriage from an age long departed, the head of the Roman Goddess Minerva (chromium on brass) riding prominently above the dark blue bonnet, signifying the aCTIlp of perfection in the arts and sciences.
The car is, indeed, a Minerva: a 1930 type-AK 32134-h.p. Victor Broome full landaulette. Of this big vintage car in particular it is true that ” they don’t make ‘ern like it today.” It is also very soon apparent, as you examine this Minerva from Antwerp, that she is a car generously endowed with many highlyindividual features.
Open the shapely bonnet behind the scintillating chromium radiator and you are confronted with a 6-cylinder 95 •:x: 140-mm. (s,956 c.c.) double-sleeve-valve engine with the cylinders in one enormous block. Whereas a Daimler Silent Knight rather immodestly exposes its separate cylinder heads, those of a Minerva are hidden beneath a water jacket and are thus surrounded by coolant—the very devil if they leak! This detachable jacket, itself carefully sealed, could be mistaken for a valve cover, except that. the leads to the Bosch plugs pass down through it in unmistakable sleeve-valve fashion.
On the off-Side a double-choke Zenith carburetter feeds, via an external 2-branch water-warmed inlet pipe, to the half-buried induction manifolds. On the near-side is the ribbed exhaust manifold, its off-take at the front in the form of a flexible pipe passing through the off-side engine bearer, presumably to impart warmth to the crankcase. Ahead of the silencer is a cut-out, controlled from a little footboard lever. An amusing attempt at interior heating comprises an underscuttle box fed with hot air from the exhaust manifold through very Small-bore tubing; more practical is a bleed from the rear breather that takes oil-mist to the piston of the brake servo. There
are four such breathers, through any one of which the 3-gallon sump can be replenished and through one of which the invertedtooth timing-chain can he inspected. Under the exhaust manifold is the Scintilla magneto driven from the dynamo. Also under the bonnet. are a multiplicity of plaques, displaying data in three languages, one of which specifies Minerva sleeve-valve oil. The present owner compromises with a good modern oil liberally laced with Redex. A multi-plunger oil pump supplies the main bearings and the sleeve operating mechanism but the big-ends are trough lubricated. A convenient tap provides for oil draining or checking the sump level without grovelling under the car. The cooling system holds some 6.1-gallons of water circulated by pump and cooled by a tube-radiator with cowled belt-driven fan. This impressive power unit has a chassis to match—a massive
channel-section frame of steel, with a 1-in, thick aluminium footboard, the instrument panel being mounted on a cast-alloy girder frame cross-strutted with a s4 in. dia, steel bar. Rigidity of construction certainly applies to this Belgian motor car, the wheelbase of which is as long as that of a Rolls-Royce Phantom II (12 ft. 6 in.). Suspension is by undamped cantilever rear springs and i-ellipties at the front, with Houdaille hydraulic shockabsorbers. The separate 4-speed gearbox has a filler cap measuring 7 in. in dia., removal of which leaves the gears in full view! The drive goes via a propeller shaft enclosed in a torque tube which is supported at the front by a massive forked bracket pivoted to a cross-member. The Gleason-bevel back axle has stabiliser rods.
Centre-lock wire wheels, covered by discs, are shod with 7.00 21 Dunlop Fort tyres, steering is by worm and full-wheel, permitting adjustment for wear, and there are 48 Tecalemit lubrication points to grease. From front tubular bumper to tail this Minerva measures all of 18 feet.
It might have been thought that the designer would have been worried about the possibilities Of stopping this 24-ton motor car. But this he contrived to do very effectively. The enormous steellined aluminium rear brake drums are actually of greater diameter (over 22 in.) than the well-base rims. The footbrake operates on all wheels, through Perrot mechanism at the front, assisted by a Dewandre vacuum-servo, and the handbrake applies separate rear shoes. Over 14 feet of 21 in. > 4 in. lining is needed to reline all the shoes and these brakes STOP the car, Mr Marples. Even now the unique and endearing features of this particular
White Elephant ” have not been exhausted. Lighting, for instance, is by headlamps and pass-lights built in one unit by Willocq-Bottins of Brussels, who seem to have thus sewn up the dazzle problem 32 years ago! The petrol gauge in the 22-gallon Autovac-feed reservoir is a proper mystery—its needle floats in alcohol and is too°/„ accurate but the gauge lifts from its mounting to disclose no wiring or mechanical connections between it and the float. Could the solution be magnetism ?
The entire space under the leather-upholstered front seat is taken up with a tool-box, 4 ft. long, that slides out on rollers and can be locked with a carriage key. The need for such a spacious container does not imply unreliability but serves to emphasise the generosity of the manufacturer, who supplied with each car no fewer than 140 spare parts, including spare jets, gaskets, con.-rod bolts, sleeve-rod studs, etc., apart from a very comprehensive tool-kit, even to hub-extractor, paraffin syringe, etc. Yet the spare wheel was always supplied without a spare tyre!
Climbing up into the driving compartment I was confronted by the highest steering wheel I have ever held. It is 194 in. in diameter and I was obliged to look through the four spokes to obtain a view of the road. The head of Minerva—helmeted because of her furtherance of war and consequent hazards !—rides majestically on the distant filler-cap. Unobtrusive ignition and mixture controls occupy the wheel centre—the latter not used, rumour has it, since a chauffeur left it too long at ” weak ” and ruined the sleeves!
To start, you turn the key on the Scintilla electrical panel and— another unique feature—the pinion of the starter motor moves magnetically to-axially into mesh with the flywheel, for silence and preservation of the starter-ring dentures. The multi-plate clutch, which lives within the huge flywheel, is extremely light; the gears are engaged by a long r.h. lever in a visible gate, with the hand lever beside it. First gear is relinquished for 2nd as soon as the car moves. Upward changes call for double-declutching; downward ones for considerable skill. The steering is light and feeding the gigantic wheel through the fingers is aided by useful castor return action. I have said that the brakes are powerful; separate Klaxon and Bosch horns supplement them, with facia-sill push -bu tt ons. I did not care to trundle along above an easy 40, but am told
that a cruising 50 and occasional 6o is within the compass of this big Minerva. So silent is the engine you never think about it. To kill it there is a cut-out button; to coax it to start a Ki-gas injecting into the base of the internal inlet manifolds.
Instrumentation on the polished facia includes a J. E. Malivent of Paris ” indicateur -d’Huile,” 95-m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer, Jaeger clock, ” Gaz ” slow-running lever, and a petrol tap, flanked each side by lockable glove boxes. Upholstery in the back parlour behind the glass division is cloth, with walnut panelling offset with inlaid bird’s-eye maple. Top quality, mlady, and if you want the chauffeur kindly press one of those buttons and speak to him through the microphone—which has its own 6-volt dry battery. You can’t now, but formerly the head folded open from halfway along the back window of the 6-light body. Why not now ?— because it began to leak and has been permanently sealed.
Not everyone’s idea of a car, perhaps, but Mr. E. A. Price, the present and third owner (he found her in Guildford, but her first owner was a Brighton lady of title) considers Minerva motoring worth the to m.p.g. it costs him.
Certainly he has a rare car, for apart from another type-AK Weymann fabric saloon this is probably the only 32/34 Minerva to be regularly exercised. Nor should we forget that the late Mr. G. L. Baker got over too m.p.h. at Brooklands from an openbodied version—I must remember one day to ask his son how this was done!—W. B.