Gustave O. Heine was San Francisco’s premier piano dealer when, at age 35, he indulged his strong interest in then-novel automobiles by opening one of the Bay City’s first car dealerships. He then became a small-scale manufacturer of powerful cars adapted to San Francisco's steep hills, offering a handful of self-named Heine-Velox automobiles between 1904 and 1908. He is best known in automotive history for the five 12-cylinder Heine-Velox automobiles he constructed in 1921, of which 4 survive.
Gustave Otto Ernst Ludolph Heine was born on January 7, 1868 in Dorf Vier und Vierkrug, Domanialamt Boizenburg, in the German grand duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to Ferdinand Phillip (b. Oct. 8, 1826-d. Nov.15, 1877) and Bertha Sophia Melzer (von Stein – b. 1829-d. Feb. 27, 1923) Heine, two Büdners (owners of a small rural estate) of Jewish descent. His parents were married in Hamburg on December 15, 1851 and spent their early years in the village of Grossendorf, in the grand duchy of Schleswig-Holstein, later moving to Mecklenburg-Schwerin where Gustave was born. According to the 1867 Mecklenburg-Schwerin Census his siblings included William Ludolph (b. 1852); Ernst (b. 1854); Adele (b. 1857); Rosalie Wilhelmine Bertha (m. High - b. Aug. 28, 1859 – d. Apr. 14, 1942) and Frederick Ferdinand (b. 1864) Heine. Gustave and his younger brother, Alfred Ernst (b. 1872), were not included as the census was conducted before their birth.
At the age of 17 the family’s eldest son, William Ludolph Heine, emigrated to the United States, arriving at the Port of New Orleans on December 17, 1869 after which he traveled to California establishing his residence in Fresno County.
Ferdinand emigrated to the United States ahead of his family, making arrangements for their passage on board the SS Teutonia, the flagship of the Hamburg-American Line (aka HAPAG or Hamburg Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft), which left Hamburg on August 2, 1873 en route to the Port of New York. Accompanied by his mother Bertha, two sisters; Adele and Rosalie, and two brothers; Frederick and Alfred, Gustave arrived at the Port of New York on August 21, 1873. From there they embarked upon the two-week journey to the port of San Francisco, by way of Havana. Upon their arrival they joined Ferdinand and the family’s eldest son, William Ludolph, in the Capay Valley, where Ferdinand had purchased a small farm outside of West Cottonwood, Yolo County, California.
On November 15, 1877 Ferdinand, the family patriarch, passed away unexpectedly, leaving his sons to take care of the farmwork. Soon after Gustave completed his first year of high school, his mother sold the farm and relocated to San Francisco, establishing a permanent residence at 112 Vicksburg St. where Gustave took a position as an apprentice with a small Bay City piano maker.
The family’s 1884 arrival in San Francisco is confirmed by their listing in the 1885 San Francisco City Directory which lists Gustave’s occupation as ‘cabinet maker’:
The 1886 San Francisco Directory list his occupation as ‘piano maker’;
The 1887 San Francisco Directory list his occupation as ‘piano polisher’:
In 1888, just two years after the debut of Carl Benz' first car, Heine claims to have designed (but not constructed) a horseless carriage with a friction transmission, although I could locate no evidence to support his claim. At that time he was working as a 'piano tuner', the1888 San Francisco Directory reporting:
The 1889-1890 San Francisco Directories list his occupation as ‘piano tuner’, his employer as ‘A.L. Bancroft & Co.’:
The 1891-92 San Francisco Directories list his occupation as ‘piano tuner’. Also included was his future business partner, R. Fletcher Tilton:
The 1893 San Francisco Directory lists their partnership, Tilton, Heine & Co., and a business location, 40 O’Farrell St., which was located one block west of Market St:
The 1894 San Francisco Directory lists a new partnership, Bruenn & Heine, at the same address, his new partner being Adolph Bruenn, the former proprietor of a small music shop on Twelfth St.:
The partnership with Bruenn was shortlived, the 1895 San Francisco Directory indicating Bruenn had left the firm and established a competing one four blocks to the north at 228 Post St.:
Heine’s directory listings remained the same until 1899 when a new address, 136 Ellis St., appears as his business address:
During 1902 Hein expanded, establishing retail sales outlets in Bakersfield and Oakland, the 1902 Bakersfield California directory providing Heine’s address as follows:
In 1902 Heine met his future wife, Sarah, the June 27, 1902 issue of the Oakland Tribune explaining the circumstances that brought them together:
In 1903 Heine moved into new quarters located at 235-237 Geary St, his listings in the 1904-1906 San Francisco Directories follow:
In 1903 Heine became San Francisco’s first Ford dealer, the March 17, 1904 issue of Motor Age mentioning his contract expired that October:
A few months later Heine announced he had become the west coast distributor of both the Queen and Sintz automobiles, the June 23, 1904 issue of Motor Age reporting:
At the time automobile sales were directly associated with competition, and at a local hillclimb in 1904, engineer Elbert J. Hall (co-founder of the Hall-Scott Motor Car Co.), replaced Heine Motor Car Co.'s pilot, winning the race. Soon afterwards Hall became a consultant to Heine, who was interested in producing his own automobile. A decisions was made to badge engineer a car produced by a third party and contracts were drawn up between Heine and the Acme Motor Car Co. of Reading, Pennsylvania. The deal went sour and theAugust 9, 1905 issue of the Horseless Age reports Heine was sued for damages:
Heine may not have been the easist person to work for, as evidenced by charges filed by a piano salesman who accusing Heine of assault, the January 30, 1906 editon of the San Francisco Call reporting:
Two days later Heine's first automobile, the Heine Velox Model 35/40, built in association with Elbert J. Hall, debuted in the pages of the February 1, 1906 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries:
2 additional cars followed in the spring of
1906 (one may have
had an announced 50/60 hp engine), but unfortunately the Great San
of April 18, 1906 interceded destroying Heine
Hall and with it, the Heine Motor Co. Heine
provided the US Army with one of his cars for earthquake relief. A
second survived the quake, albeit in the hands of a thief, who
subsequently abandoned it after running out of oil and water. Heine
dismantled the engine, and discovered that
the wear to the crankshaft was almost non-existent, a tribute to Elbert
The Piano Co. temporarily transferred its operations to their Oakland branch and Gustave moved his home from 65 Alma Ave., San Francisco to the safety of the suburb of Sunol, California. After the quake most Heine-branded pianos were manufactured by the Krell Piano Company of Cincinnati, Ohio and in later years, by its successor, the Krell-French Piano Co. of New Castle, Indiana.
Within a few short months, the Piano Company had re-established its San Francisco headquarters into leased quarters located at 1466 Bush St and 1341 Golden Gate Av. It's Oakland branch store relocated 469-471 Twentieth Street in November of 1906 and Gustave moved his home from 65 Alma Ave., San Francisco to the safety of the suburb of Sunol, California in 1908.
The News of the Auto World column in the December 23, 1906 Oakland Tribune inferred an all-new Heine Velox was coming:
The piano company's listing in the 1907 San Francisco-Oakland Directory follows:
Late in 1906 Heine announced he would be manufacturing another Elbert J. Hall-designed touring car and the ‘Minor Mention’ column of the January 9, 1907 edition of the Horseless Age mentions that he had recently returned from a trip to Milwaukee:
The February 1, 1907 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle announced the formation of the first officel Heine-Velox distributor:
The massive 7-passenger Heine Velox 5.8
litre (354 cu.in.), 45 hp touring car
debuted at the stand of Roy Mauvais Motor Company, 489 Golden Gate
Ave., at the inaugural 1907
Francisco Auto Show, which was held February 18-25, 1907 in the
in Golden Gate Park.
R.R. l'Hommedieu of the San Francisco Call mentioned that Mauvais had recieved 'a carload' of the cars in the February 9th, 1907 edition of the paper:
In the Call's February 12, 1907 issue l'Hommedieu once again mentioned the Heine-Velox:
The car attracted much attention and Elbert J. Hall, its designer, made an offer of $5,000 to the owner of any car ‘with cylinders of a similar size’ who could beat it in a race. W.H.B. Fowler wrote about the challenge in his automotive column in the March 10, 1907 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:
In the San Francisco Call's March 10, 1907 issue l'Hommedieu mentioned that Mauvis Motor Car had withdrawn the $5,000 offer:
l'Hommedieu later mentioned Elbert J. Hall's association with the Heine-Velox in the San Francsico Call's April 6th 1907 issue:
the San Francisco papers infer there was more than one 1907 Heine-Velox
automobile, hard evidence is lacking and only the two photograph's
survive and legend has it that car was
purchased by the 'manager of an Alameda County sawmill'.
According to the 1908 San Francisco Directory the Heine Piano Company opened a second San Francisco wareroom at 908 Van Ness Ave. and Heine re-established the Heine-Velox Agency, just down the street at 638 Van Ness Ave.
The “Trade Literature Received’ column in the February 1908 issue of MoToR acknowledged receipt of a flyer for the proposed 1908 Heine-Velox:
No more mention of a 1908 model appeared and a classified ad in the April 9, 1908 San Francisco Chronicle infers they were selling used cars and service, with no mention of the Heine-Velox autombile:
The listing for the Heine Velox Agency did not reappear in the 1909 San Francisco Directory and in 1910 the Heine Piano Company moved into new quarters located at 37 Stockton St., San Francisco, which was also referred to as the Heine Piano Co. Building. San Francisco streets were re-numbered in 1920, with 37 Stockton St. becoming 408 Stockton St. Although it wasn’t listed in the 1910 San Francisco Directory, the Heine Motor Car Co., was listed at 143 Main st., San Francisco in the State of California’s Register of Motor Vehicles which records they had been issued duplicate plates.
TheHeine Piano Co. was reorganized as a stock company on February 16, 1912 as recorded in documents filed with the California Secretary of State.
The May 9, 1920 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle indicated the Heine-Velox Engineering Co. was going to distribute the Vogue automobile, a product of the Vogue Motor Car Co. of Tiffin, Ohio:
The San Francisco Directory did not include a listing for the Heine Velox Engineering Co. in 1920, 1921, 1922 or 1923, however the Piano Co.'s listings were as follows:
In 1920 Heine once again entered the autombile manufacturing business, the first confirmation being included in the June 1920 SAE Journal:
In 1920 a consulting engineer and automobile parts jobber named F. Leroy Hill was hired by Heine to assist in the design of the proposed automobile, which once again was to be called a Heine-Velox. Hill (who later worked with Victor Lougheed, Elbert J. Hall, and helped establish Air Associates) was the local representative of the Weidely Engine Co., and he placed an order with the manufacturer for a dozen of the firm's 12-cylinder engines. Locke did most of the engineering, Hill obtained the parts required and machinist John Molinari made them fit. According to Hill, the prototype chassis was assembled on an empty floor of the Heine Piano Company's 408 Stockton St. warehouse, however others claim the cars were constructed at another Heine-owned firm located at 932 Folsom Street.
In addition to being the most expensive vehicle of its day, the 1921 Heine-Velox, which for all intents and purposes was an assembled car, included a number of novel features, previously unseen on production cars up until that time. Although the twelve-cylinder Weidely was not a common engine, it had been introduced in late 1916 on the 1917 Pathfinder automobile.
The heads of the 87-hp Weidely V-12 twelve were oriented at a 90-degree angle, with a bore and stroke of 2 7/8” x 5” giving it a total displacement of 389.6 cu.in. The crankshaft rode in three main bearings and the cylinder blocks were cast in threes, and crowned off with a pair of one-piece six-cylinder heads with two pushrod-operated overhead valves per cylinder. In the next few years it was utilized by a number of era’s mid-to-high priced cars such as the Austin, H.A.L., and Kissel. A dash-mounted thermostatic cut-out helped start the car when cold and an under-dash reserve oil tank supplied additional oil to the thirsty engine as desired.
The car’s dashboard was oriented at a 45 degree angle, a configuration common on busses but almost never on a passenger car.
The 1921 Heine-Velox was one of three production vehicles equipped with four-wheel hydraulic brakes – Kenworthy was the first to offer them and Duesenberg was the second. The Heine-Velox system could be locked in position as a theft deterrent and included an under dash 5-gallon reservoir. The system used on the Heine-Velox has been attributed to Lockheed based on a 1985 TRW calendar (month of August) that pictured the car with the following caption:
Circumstantial evidence is provided in F. Leroy Hill’s biography which mentions that he met Victor Lougheed, the brother of Malcolm Lougheed, when Victor made a sales call at the Heine Piano Company plant during the construction of the prototype. Malcolm developed his own hydraulic braking system in 1918 and it’s certainly possible that the Heine-Velox served as a test bed for the life-saving device, although I could not confirm it conclusively.
The 1921 Heine-Velox included numerous safety innovations, many of which would become standard on other marques for over a decade. The fender-top-mounted dual-beam headlamps were controlled by a dash-mounted vacuum switch, a reflector on the back of the buckets notifying the driver which beam was in operation. Riding inside the rear spare tires was the 'Horn Annunciator' - a combination light bar with included turn signal, stop light and backup light whose built-in horn alerted pedestrians the car was backing up.
Heine was one of the first to offer a clear vision windscreen with a built-in ventilator incorporated at the top. In addition to providing ventilation with the windows closed, its location prevented warm air generated by the engine from entering the car. Heine was awarded US Pat. No. 1567438 in 1928 (Ventilator for movable conveyances - Filed Nov 27, 1923 - Issued Dec 29, 1925 to Gustave O. Heine), for the venilator, the October 20, 1928 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries reporting:
The Heine-Velox coachwork was unique for its day, being the first to offer a fully convertible sedan. The sedan roof were constructed in three sections; the forward section over the front seat could be removed to give the appearance and functionality of a town car; the central section over the jump seats could be omitted to give its passengers a skyward view, and a third section removable section was fitted over the rear seat as in a typical landaulet. Any or all of them could be removed at will, each section joined to the next by clips hidden underneath the roof.
Another unusual feature not adopted by the automobile industry
were the pivoting side windows found on the front doors of the Heine-Velox sedans
and limousine. Pivoted horizontally, the travel of the novel frames controlled
by a ratcheting bar, similar to the vent windows that were later found on the
front doors of cars constructed from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Heine devised a novel open baggage compartment in the space bordered by the front bumper, radiator and two frame ends, and was awarded US Pat. No. 1507176 for the deisn (Baggage Receptacle - Filed Dec 15, 1921 - Issued Sep 2, 1924 assigned to Gustave O. Heine.) Pictures of the 1921 Heine-Velox automobiles reveal the compartment, which consisted of a reward-sloping metal apron was included as standard equipment. The car did not have running boards in the traditional sense, the space being occupied by double step plates at the rear and steel tubing at the front upon which bilateral locking toolboxes were installed.
Although the Heine-Velox’s body wasn’t channeled in the traditional sense, its construction gave it the same low-slung look. The sides of the tonneau extended downward to cover the frame rails, reducing the height of the car which resulted in a lower center of gravity and greater stability.
The jury is out as to who actually constructed the coachwork of the Heine-Velox, the most likely builder being Larkins & Co., however, the January 27 issue of The Automobile states “All bodies will be custom built in the Heine-Velox plant.” Using that statement most modern sources attribute the coachwork to the Economy Steel Manufacturing Company, a small metal fabrication shop Heine had acquired in 1920, whose listings in the 1920-1922 San Francisco Directories follow:
932 Folsom St. was approximately one mile away from the piano works and it's likely the cars were assembled there. Factory photographs reveal two distinct types of fenders were used - flat on two, crowned on one - and a well-equipped metal fabricator could have easily supplied either type.
However, great skill was required to construct the Heine-Velox' distinctive removeable top, the kind of work that Larkins & Co., - which was located a little over 1 mile away at 1610-1614 Van Ness Ave. - specialized in. Larkins coachwork was top notch, and they had gained much notariety for the handsome coachwork they had constructed for the $15,000 1919 Fageol automobile, which up until the 1921 debut of the $25,000 Heine Velox, was the most expensive car ever produced.
A prospectus issued by Heine at the time described the 'Classic Creation of the Century':
The 'Classic Creation of the Century' was introduced tot he trade via the January 27, 1921 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries:
The July 6, 1921 issue of Motor World included a picture of the car with the following caption:
For reasons that remain unclear, Heine sold the 8-story Heine Building at the end of 1922, the November 18, 1922 issue of The Music Trades reporting:
Of the five cars believed to have been constructed, Heine drove one and a second was given to his brother Ferdinand. The fate of the sole limousine (essentially a sedan with a solid top and divider) remained with Heine and the two other cars were placed for sale at one of San Francisco's high-end automobile retailers, which might explain the following article which appeared in the September 17, 1924 Ironwood Daily Globe (Mich.) claiming that Heine was considering reducing the price of the Heine-Velox:
What happened to the two unaccounted for cars - believed to be sedans - remains unknown, although one of them mya have survived. No further word was heard from Heine regarding his automobile aspirations, and he concentrated on his piano business. He lost his wife, the former Sarah Stowell, (born December 16, 1876 in San Francisco) to ovarian cancer on February 25, 1939 at the age of 62. The Heine’s had two children (Ruth, Gustave O. Jr.), but only his daughter Ruth survived him. After a bought of ill health the 91-year-old automaker shot himself in his Sunol estate, the April 24, 1959 eidtion of the Oakland Tribune rerporting:
Upon Gustave’s April 23, 1959 passing, his daughter, Ruth Heine Dahl, assumed ownership and operation of the company. During the 1960s-70s Ruth’s husband Thomas Dahl (b. May 17, 1897-d. Jan. 1 1979) – longtime manager of Honolulu’s Thayer Piano Co. - managed the Piano Co. while she managed her decorators shop, Dahl’s Decorative Imports, at 353a Grand Ave. Her husband passed away in 1979 at which time management of the Heine Piano Company passed to longtime employee John Lyons. She passed away on October 2, 1990, her obituary in the October 20, 1990 San Francisco Chronicle follows:
total of five 1921 Heine-Velox
completed, 3 sedans, 1 limousine and 1 convertible Victoria. Of those,
three are currently accounted for, one is believed destroyed and the
final one disappeared in 1993.
Heine presented one sedan to his brother Ferdinand Frederick Heine, who shortly thereafter gave it to his sister Rosalie Heine High (b.Aug. 28, 1859 – d. Apr. 14, 1942) of Santa Rosa, California. After her passing in 1942 the car was relegated to her backyard where it remained exposed next to a chicken coop until 1973 when it was rescued by Santa Rosa resident, Harry F. Straug. Although it was stored outdoors, a large portion of the car remained, save for its removable top and radiator shell. In 1978 Straug sold the vehicle to an unnamed Colorado collector who offered it for sale in the July 2003 of Hemmings Motor News. It is believed that that car is currently located at Daniel R. Short's Fantom Works restoration shop in Norfolk, Virginia, who had a couple of pictures of the car, which is in extremely rough condition, displayed on his website. Based on the cars unusual curved fenders, the Fantomworks car is likely the same car seen in the period factory photographs with the empty headlamp buckets.
daughter Ruth acquired his personal sedan
and the uncompleted limousine from her father's estate in 1959, at
which time they were sold to Louis D'Julio (DeJulio?), of Fremont, California. In 1973 D'Julio sold both vehicles to
Jim Brucker Sr., who placed them on display at his Movieworld Stars of
the Cars Museum in Buena Park, California. When Brucker''s museum
closed in 1989 the bulk of his collection - including the 2
Heine-Velox's - were placed in storage by his sons Danny and Jim
Brucker Jr. To settle their parents estate the contents of the 80,000
sq. ft. warehouse were auctioned off on Sept 24-26, 1993 by
Dennis McCowan of Branford, Connecticut was high bidder on the limousine, and in 1996 he sold it to Maine classic car dealer Down East Moveable Art. A complete restoration of the car was undertaken with the assitance ofKiwi Engineering of Saybrook, Conn.; Final Finish of Branford, Conn., and Hudson Valley Auto Interiors, of Gardiner, NY. The completed limousine was subsequently purchased by Don Williams, owner of the Blackhawk Collection, Danville, Calif., who showed it at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Afterwards he exhibited it at the Imperial Palace Collection in Las Vegas and at the Blackhawk where it was advertised for sale at $300,000. Since 2008 it's been on display at the Shanghai Auto Museum, who is believed to have purchased it from Williams.
The whereabouts of the second sedan, believed sold at the 1993 Kruse Auction, is unknown. The third sedan did not survive, one source stating it was 'destroyed in a fire', another claims it was ‘hit by a train’.
The early ownership history of the sole Heine-Velox Convertible Victoria
is unknown, but in the early 1950s it was purchased from a Reno-based
mining engineer by Dr. William O'Brien. It had been modified by covering the windows
with wood panels, replacing the hydraulic brakes with mechanical
altering the spare tire and trunk carriers. In 1961 it was acquired by
Automobile Collection, and following the death of its founder, was sold
auction to classic car collector J. Parker Wickham, of Mattituck, New York. In 2007 he sold
the car to Tim Cerny, the benefactor of the Fountainhead Antique Auto
in Fairbanks, Alaska. Partially restored and painted an off-white during
its tenure at Harrah’s, the Fountainhead Museum treated it to a
restoration at Allan Schmidt’s Horseless Carriage Restoration shop in
California. The completed car debuted at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours
d'Elegance wearing brown coachwork, black fenders and a tan Victoria
© 2013 Mark
Theobald for Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to the Fountainhead Antique Auto
Appendix 1 G.O. Heine Patents: