Due to early industrialisation, and location at the very heart of the European Union, it provides easy access to all major European sales markets. The country also boasts an excellent infrastructure and logistics network and a well developed network of suppliers and service providers.
Belgium set out on the adventerous path of automobile production at a very early stage. In 1894, Vincke, the first car to be sold in Belgium was designed in a workshop in Malines, where railway carriages were upholstered.
1900-1914 The Golden Age
Several companies brought out cars and motorcycles of excellent quality at competitive prices. These cars made a hit abroad and three-fourths of the cars designed and manufactured in Belgium therefore were channelised towards export.
The major makes, of which models can be admired in the museum are Minerva, the most well-known Belgian make founded by Sylvain de Jong, F.N., which also specialised in motorcycles, Imperia and Miesse.
The HEMI name comes from the dome-shaped ceiling atop each cylinder inside some engines, since it was introduced by obscure Belgian car maker Pipe in 1905.
The shock of the Great War
In 1914, Belgium ranked first on the international automobile construction scene. But the War gets the better of this rapid development. Curiously, the determining factor was not the looting of factories but the end of "free trade" and the emergence of protectionist tendencies adopted by various countries after the War.
F.N., Excelsior and Imperia started making more elaborate cars which met with success on the market. Pipe decided to specialise exclusively in lorries.
The thirties: the decline
In most countries, the beginning of the thirties was marked by significant technological advancements. Free wheels, front-wheel drives and steel bodies appeared. But the Belgian industry, hard hit by the economic crisis, found itself short of resources needed to compete with these advancements.
The period from 1930 to 1940 witnessed a gradual transition of an entirely domestic industry into an assembly sector where foreign cars were built. Efforts on the research and development side were absent and production activity alone remained.
Not being able to renew its models, Imperia acquired a licence for an excellent ultra-modern German car with front-wheel drive, the Adler. Its name could therefore figure on beautiful cars until 1940.
F.N. gave up automobile construction in 1935 but continued to successfully produce excellent motorcycles and utility vehicles. In the field of utility vehicles, Belgium had a bit of a margin and continued to make excellent lorries and buses such as Brossel, Miesse and F.N. and Minerva jeeps for some years, up until the post-war period.
Memories of the Belgian automobile
After World War II, the few remaining Belgian car makers could not face the competition from abroad. The Belgian automobile construction left behind but memories of its glorious days.
Astra (1930 automobile)
Compagnie Nationale Excelsior