Petrol and Oil Company Road maps from Belgium

Oil company road maps from Belgium

Belgium flag

Belgium has always had an above average number of filling stations and independent brands serving them. This has been reflected in the maps which come from a surprisingly large number of brands, and which (for major companies at least) are not too difficult to find. Most oil company maps include both Belgium and Luxembourg, and surprisingly many (compared to other countries) are undated, requiring a detailed study of the development of the motorway system.

1920 & 30s - The first maps

Despite major destruction in the First World War, Belgium soon re-built a large oil refining industry based round Antwerp. Three-quarters of the industry was controlled by American concerns (including Standard, Sinclair and Texaco) with the much of the rest divided between Shell and the German Olex, although a couple of French players were present too. In response, the Belgian firm Petrofina was formed in 1920 and before long started selling petrol in Belgium in a short-lived joint venture with another US company, Pure Oil. Over the next 20 years the industry developed rapidly; by 1939 there were nine refineries and numerous petrol distributors, although few branded road maps are known from this era.
ca1930 Texaco map of Belgium Pre-war maps are rare, with this early 1930s Texaco issue (left) one of the most commonly seen. It exists in at least two variants, suggesting the basic design was used for several years.
The first known maps promoting Shell came from Editions I.C.A.P. Bruxelles for the Office Belgo-Luxembourgoise de Tourisme. An open Morris car is seen receiving a map in front of a service point for the Royal Belgium Auto Club selling Shell petrol and oils. The later 1930s Shell map (far right) is similar to a French issue, sharing cartography by Foldex.
ca1934 ICAP map of Begium with Shell advertising ca1938 Shell map of Belgium

Although Standard maps are also known, no examples have been found from BP (which bought out Olex), Purfina or Sinclair.

1940s-50s - A growing sector

Antwerp was swiftly rebuilt as a major refining centre, and both major-branded and independent service stations spread rapidly along Belgium's dense road network.

ca1954 BP map of Belgium mid 1950s RBP map of Belgium ca1957 Shell map of Antwerp 1958 Esso map of Belgium 1958 Mobil map of Parking sites for Brussels Expo
All the main companies issued maps in the 1950s. BP generally issued large format maps by Cartographie Mercedes as in the early 1950s map shown left. At this stage the map was pasted into light card covers, but these were later dispensed with. Independents such as RBP, which operated a refinery and had a small chain of candy-striped filling stations, also issued maps. This mid-50s issue is also inside light card covers. Shell issued small city plans as well normal road maps. The Antwerp issue shown here probably dates from around 1957 and does not credit a cartographer. Esso concentrated on country maps produced in the USA by General Drafting Co. the 1958 issue shown has a photograph of Dinant on its cover. Finally, in 1958 Brussels hosted the World Expo. Several companies issued maps of the site or showing ways to reach Brussels. Mobil chose to focus on parking areas, which was probably at least as useful for visiting motorists. There is a page on this site devoted to maps from the 1958 Brussels Expo.
1955 VAB map of Europe In August 1955, VAB (Vlaamse Automobilisten-bond - the Flemish Automobile Association) issued a map of Western Europe (left) as a supplement to their monthly magazine, 'De Toerist'. As a road map, it is of little use, as it only shows Europe in a pictorial way (a bit like Esso did). The map gives tourist information on most European countries and carries adverts from several companies. In the early to mid fifties, a number of VAB maps were issued with Purfina as the main advertiser, but always in Dutch. Uniquely this Europe map also appears in a French version sponsored by Purfina, apparently for use in the French-speaking parts of Belgium where the VAB version would not otherwise be distributed.
1955 VAB map of Europe - Purfina edition


ca1960 Fina map of Belgium ca1960 Trading map of Belgium ca1963 Caltex map of Belgium ca1964 Mobil map of Belgium 1969 Esso map of Belgium
Maps of all the major brands can be found from the 1960s. The first two shown, from Fina and Trading, both date from around 1960. The Fina map was produced by de Rouck at 1:350,000 and - unusually for Belgian maps - printed on one side of the paper only, which made it quick thick as it folded to a small cover size (195 x 75mm). Trading overcame the linguistic problem of how to position the French and Dutch by the simple expedient of just using the international car registration codes "B" and "L". However, as the reverse was NL (Netherlands) the option of reversible covers - as used on the Fina and Mobil maps - was not possible. Trading used the Dutch cartographer of Bootsma for this issue. Caltex's map dates from 1963 and was also by de Rouck at 1:350,000. Mobil's map from Cartographie Mercedes at 1:400,000 unusually had different pictures for its two covers: the French side shows a night scene of the Grand Place in Brussels, which does not show up too well in black and white! Finally the Esso issue dates from 1969 and was prepared by L. Hannesse, using designs originally based on those from General Drafting Co. This example was overprinted with a British price (2/6d), but in Belgium it would have cost around F15.


In the 1970s Belgium probably had more brands of petrol per square kilometre than any other country. There was little price competition other than from SECA, so stations took to issuing trading stamps such as Valois, Melior, Comidac and FORT, which are promoted on the Gulf map shown below. A few Total and Fina stations even gave away Green Shield Stamps to visiting British motorists, but the map of Belgium and Luxembourg offered by the Green Shield company was no more than a simple outline affair showing the towns with participating stations.

1970 Gulf Map of Belgium 1972 Chevron Map of Belgium 1973 Seca Map of Belgium 1974 Aral Map of Belgium 1976 BP Map of Belgium
Gulf's 1970 map was by Falkplan and marked towns with Gulf outlets at a scale of 1:320,000. The Chevron map is two years younger and did not mark its locations; de Rouck used the slightly larger scale of 1:300,000. The 1973 SECA map was by Girault Gilbert at the same scale and took the alternative approach of listing station addresses in a booklet stapled inside the cover. The following year's Aral map comes from a German set, but still marks all Aral's Belgian locations on the map. The same Busche map would probably have been sold in Belgium, although it is at the significantly less generous scale of 1:500,000. After the mid 1970s maps become less common, as cover prices rose, sales fell and more petrol companies moved to use standard commercial issues. BP kept its own design for a while - the 1976 example shown above is by Cartographie Mercedes (at 1:400,000).


Filling station numbers declined less rapidly in Belgium than in many other European countries, possibly because price competition from hypermarkets was blunted after the two largest chains (Delhaize and GB) sold their service station networks to Mobil and Shell respectively. However, as for other countries, branded petrol maps are uncommon from the decade.
1979 Nafta map of Belgium The map (left) from Russian-controlled Nafta actually dates from the late 1970s. Two Belgian independents also issued maps in the 1980s: Pollet's comes from 1981 and is similar in design to a map by BP, its main supplier, whereas the tiny OTA brand added its covers - in Dutch only - to a Claus-Geocart map in 1987.
1981 Pollet map of Belgium 1987 OTA map of Belgium


Where petrol companies issued maps in the 1990s, they were mainly to help motorists with payment cards locate the company's participating service stations. Numbers of sites operated by the largest names were falling, so a pocket map - often printed on quite cheap glossy paper - could be a useful gift to cardholders.

1991 Fina map of Belgium 1996 Shell map of Belgium ca1999 Seca map of Belgium 1999 credit card sized map of Belgium

All the maps are shown here at the same scale relative to the original maps!
ca1998 Burmah street atlas of Belgium

The Fina and Shell maps above are straightforward glossy paper issues, dating from 1991 and 1996. Both mark filling stations and were prepared by CARTO at 1:350,000. Seca's map was sold through its service stations and is on tougher paper. de Rouck prepared it for the company in the late 1990s. The tiny 1999 Q8 map unfolds from a credit card size to a give a very basic map of Belgium by Cartografie de Schutter locating Q8 service stations. (A larger image of this map is on the Q8 page.) At the opposite extreme were four highly detailed street atlases covering all Belgian towns produced by Geocart for Burmah in the late 1990s after it had bought BP's smaller outlets. These were Burmah's first ever maps of the country.


Belgium share of service stations, 2002
Source: Ministry of the Economy, SMEs and Energy

As in most other European countries, the consolidation of the 1990s quickened at the turn of the new century. Q8's market leadership (after it bought out the remaining BP assets and Aral) was short-lived as Total, Fina and Elf merged to form TotalFina, although in 2003 their name reverted to Total. Burmah's stations went to Octa+, and after 40 years the Seca name was finally replaced by Jet, although a few years later they were sold to Lukoil. Independent brands and free (unbranded) stations remained common compared to the rest of Europe, although new environmental legislation meant that over 10% of all sites closed in 2002 alone, leaving just 3,875 active petrol stations.

2000 Esso location map of Belgium

2000 AVIA location map of Belgium

2000 Octa+ location map of Belgium

2000 TotalFina map of Belgium 2000 Shell map of Belgium

All the maps above are on relatively poor quality glossy paper. The three small format maps are by Geocart-Claus at 1:525,000/600,000. TotalFina's was much the same as the Fina one produced a decade earlier, except that Total stations were now shown as well as Fina, Elrop and de Smet & van Diest locations, and the cartographer credited had become Carpress/Scargraphic. Shell had moved to Uitgerverij Lanoo whose map was at the slightly smaller scale of 1:400,000. Octa+, which also had some outlets under AVIA name, had recently acquired the Burmah chain, and in 2001 re-issued the Burmah street atlases under their new identity; it has continued to issue location maps from time to time.

There are many other Belgian map images on this site. Several can be found on the pages for Fina in Belgium, Esso Benelux, Gulf, Trading, and the pages for the Belgian independents of ARA and RBP and Octa+, OTA, Pollet and Power. Additional images can be seen on the BP, Caltex, Nafta, Seca and the Shell 1958-72 and 1996-2000 pages.

Text and layout © Ian Byrne, 2001-10  
Thanks to Michel Breugelmans for some of the images on the page.

All original copyrights in logos and map extracts and images are acknowledged and images are included on this site for identification purposes only.