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Heine Motor Car Co., 1903-1908; Heine-Velox Engineering Co., 1920-1928; San Francisco, California
Associated Firms
Economy Steel Mfg. Co., San Francisco

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’:

“Gustave O. Heine, cabinet maker, r. 112 Vicksburg”

The 1886 San Francisco Directory list his occupation as ‘piano maker’;

“Gustave O. Heine, piano maker, r. 112 Vicksburg”

The 1887 San Francisco Directory list his occupation as ‘piano polisher’:

“Gustave O. Heine, piano polisher, r. 112 Vicksburg”

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:

“Gustave O. Heine, piano tuner, r. 112 Vicksburg”

The 1889-1890 San Francisco Directories list his occupation as ‘piano tuner’, his employer as ‘A.L. Bancroft & Co.’:

“Gustave O. Heine, piano tuner, A.L. Bancroft & Co., r. 112 Vicksburg”

The 1891-92 San Francisco Directories list his occupation as ‘piano tuner’. Also included was his future business partner, R. Fletcher Tilton:

“Gustave O. Heine, piano tuner, r. 112 Vicksburg

“R. Fletcher Tilton, pianos, 208 ½ Ellis”

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:

“Tilton, Heine & Co. (R. Fletcher Tilton & Gustave O. Heine) pianos and musical instruments, 40 O’Farrell”

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.:

“Bruenn & Heine (August Bruenn & Gustave O. Heine) pianos, 40 O’Farrell”

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.:

“Adolph Bruenn, piano manufacturer, 228 Post, res. Oakland.

“G.O. Heine & Co. (Gustave O. Heine) pianos and musical instruments, 40 O’Farrell, factory 18th & Folsom.”

Heine’s directory listings remained the same until 1899 when a new address, 136 Ellis St., appears as his business address:

“G.O. Heine & Co. (Gustave O. Heine) agents, Heine Piano Manufacturing Co., Y.M.C.A. Building., 136 Ellis

“Heine Piano Manufacturing Co. (Gustave O. Heine) agents, importers and manufacturers pianos, agents for the Heine, Chickering Bros. and Shaw pianos, and dealers in musical instruments, Y.M.C.A. Building., 136 Ellis.”

During 1902 Hein expanded, establishing retail sales outlets in Bakersfield and Oakland, the 1902 Bakersfield California directory providing Heine’s address as follows:

“Heine Piano Co., 2029 Chester Av, Bakersfield, A.R. Walters, agt.”

In 1902 Heine met his future wife, Sarah, the June 27, 1902 issue of the Oakland Tribune explaining the circumstances that brought them together:


“The demurrer of Eugene A. Mantell to the cross-complaint of his wife, Sarah A. Mantell, who he alleges deserted him while he was in Alaska, and obtained possession of a lot in Golden Gate valued at $1,000. was overruled by Judge Ogden and the case must now proceed to trial.

“Judge Ogden also sustained the demurrer to the amended complaint, which charged Gustave O. Heine with not only aiding in the conspiracy to get possession of the property, but also of alienating Mantell's (his -wife's) affections while he was in the frozen north in quest of gold.

“The husband states that he gave his wife power of attorney before he left for Alaska in 1898 and that during his absence his wife transferred her affection to Gustave O. Heine and entered into a conspiracy with Heine and two other parties to gain possession of a piece of property in Golden Gate. In the complaint it is alleged that the wife, first transferred the property to Heine, who immediately afterward retransferred it to Mrs. Mantell.

“In her cross-complaint the wife denies having deserted her husband and says that she has always owned the property in Golden Gate.

“Judge Ogden has decided that Heine and the other parties alleged by the husband, to be in the conspiracy are not parties to the suit, and now the legal battle will be fought out by the husband and the wife.”

In 1903 Heine moved into new quarters located at 235-237 Geary St, his listings in the 1904-1906 San Francisco Directories follow:

“Heine Hall, 235-237 Geary.

“Heine Motor Co., G.O. Heine, pres. 235-237 Geary.

“Heine Piano Co., G.O. Heine, pres. mfrs Heine pianos and importers pianos and organs, agts Gabler, Krell, Steiger, Singer, etc. 235-237 Geary.”

In 1903 Heine became San Francisco’s first Ford dealer, the March 17, 1904 issue of Motor Age mentioning his contract expired that October:

“G. O. Heine, president of the Heine Piano Co., of San Francisco, Cal., claims he holds a contract with the Ford Motor Car Co. for the sale of the Ford car on the Pacific coast, which does not expire until next October. Joseph Holley, president of the Holle Automobile & Mfg. Co., says he secured the agency while in Chicago at the automobile show last month. Both men say they have a car load of 1904 machines on the way from the factory, and each is about to open extensive quarters in the downtown district for the sale of the machine.”

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:

“Detroiters Go to Coast

“G.O. Heine of the Heine Piano Co. of San Francisco, Cal., has secured the local agency for the Sintz car made by the Sintz Automobile Co. of Detroit, Mich., also of the Queen made by H. H. Bloomstrom & Co. of the same city. Mr. Heine expects to start an automobile factory in Cincinnati, O., in the near future. The plans and models of the cars will be made by Victor Emerson, whom it is claimed, built one of the fastest boat engines in the world.”

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:

“Reading Pa., - G.O. Heine, acting for the Heine Motor Car Company of San Francisco, has brought suit against the Acme Motor Car Company to recover damages for the alleged non fulfillment of the contract entered into by the defendant and the plaintiff.”

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:

“Charges Employer With Assault

“Arthur du Chatellier, 111 Grant avenue, obtained a warrant from Police Judge Mogan yesterday for the arrest of Gustave Heine of the Heine Piano Company, 237 Geary street, on a charge of battery. He said he had been employed as a salesman for the company for two weeks. He had tried to sell a piano to a woman at Ocean View, but had failed. Yesterday morning Heine, whom he did not know, spoke to hime loudly about not selling the piano. The complainant says he told Heine not to make such a nocise, whereupon the blow was dealt in the face. Heine surrendered himself and was released on $50 cash bail. He want a warrant for Du Chatellier's arrest, alleging that he was the first to striek, but it was refused.”

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:

“The Heine-Velox Car.

“An interesting example of car building is found in the four-cylinder car built by the Heine Motor Car Co., of San Francisco, and just rechristened the Velox. The conditions to be met with in and around San Francisco call for a large reserve of power, many of the grades encountered being sharp pitches of more than 20 per cent. and in some cases reaching 30 per cent. To negotiate these gradients without undue difficulty a car must be powered high and at the same time be able to generate a considerable pull with the engine running at less than maximum speed.

“The Velox is already in active service in and around ’Frisco, three demonstrating cars being in daily service, with a number under construction in the factory of the company. Some of the most interesting details of construction cannot yet be published, being the subject of patent applications now pending in foreign countries, but it can be stated that much of the success of the engine, aside from careful and workman-like shop methods, lies in the construction of the carbureter. This importation organ is so designed that it will furnish a constant mixture at all speeds and the auxiliary air valve usually met with in carbureters of the automatic type has been displaced by 1 pneumatic device which obviates the familiar flutter of the aspirating valve usually fitted. The carbureter is claimed to be non-flooding and always ready to supply a rich enough mixture for starting without preliminary tickling.

“An interesting feature in connection with the carbureter is the casting of the inlet pipes leading from the carbureter to the valves in the heads of the cylinder, integral with the cylinders and their jackets. These pipes or ducts lead right and left from the carbureter on top of the crankcase, as shown in the engraving of the inlet side of the engine, and then rise perpendicularly through the space between the cylinder walls and water jackets, where the gas mixture is heated before entering the explosion chamber.

“The four 4 3-4 by 5-inch cylinders are cast in pairs and carefully made so that close grained metal only enters into their composition. Valves of generous dimensions are fitted at the top of cylinders, exhausts and inlets being placed side by side longitudinally and operated by vertical push rods and rocker-arms, all actuated by a single camshaft on the exhaust side of the engine. The valves are so designed that they may be removed expeditiously. In cooling, the pump has been suppressed in favor of a carefully planned thermosyphonic circulation which after an exhaustive test has been found to work satisfactorily.

“The piping around the engine is to be commended for its simplicity and the open appearance of the power plant should be conducive to cleanliness and ease of adjustment or repair.

“All parts of the car, except the pressed steel frame, will be made in the factory of the company or in San Francisco under the maker’s direct supervision. The car illustrated is rated at 35-40 horsepower and weighs less than 2,000 pounds. Of this type about fifty will be built this season. A higher powered car. 50-60 horsepower, will also be turned out in limited number.”

2 additional cars followed in the spring of 1906 (one may have had an announced 50/60 hp engine), but unfortunately the Great San Francisco Earthquake 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 J. Hall, its builder.

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:

“G.O. Heine, maker of the Heine Velox car, having just returned from Milwaukee, where he contracted for the building of a large number of his own cars, which will be sold here by the Heine Motor Car Company on Golden Gate Avenue.”

The piano company's listing in the 1907 San Francisco-Oakland Directory follows:

“Heine Piano Co., 1466 Bush, S.F. tel Franklin 2420 and 1341 Golden Gate av, tel Park 306 and 20th bet Broadway and Telegraph av, Oakland, tel Oak 3696.”

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:

“G.O. Heine, designer of the Heine Velox car, it is reported, has returned to San Francisco from Milwaukee, where he made a contract with a manufacturing company to furnish him with cars for the ensuing season, to be sold on the Pacific coast by the Heine Motor Car Company, located on Golden Gate avenue.”

The February 1, 1907 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle announced the formation of the first officel Heine-Velox distributor:

“The Mauvis Motor Car Company has filed articles of incorporation yesterday. The directors named in the document are Roy Mauvis, W.B. Lomax and Abe P. Leach. The company is the agent here for the Heine-Velox motor car.”

The massive 7-passenger Heine Velox 5.8 litre (354, 45 hp touring car debuted at the stand of Roy Mauvais Motor Company, 489 Golden Gate Ave.,  at the inaugural 1907 San Francisco Auto Show, which was held February 18-25, 1907 in the recently constructed Coliseum 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:

“The Mauvis Motor Car Company was another company to receive cars. It has on exhibition a carload of the California production of the Heine-Velox. These cars are likely to be a big factor in the local automobile market, for those which have been in service have given good results. The workout of the new cars will be watched with a great deal of interest.”

In the Call's February 12, 1907 issue l'Hommedieu once again mentioned the Heine-Velox:

“The Mauvis Motor Car Company has its new Heine-Velox cars on the floor of the salesroom. This California production has made a favorable impression with all who have investigated it. It is of pleasing lines and the motor has power and strength, with a lightness that distinguishes it form all others.”

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:

“Great Interest in Auto Racing; Many Contests Are Promised

“Case of the Heine-Velox

“An instance of this kind is the case of the Heine-Velox. The engine of this car was designed by Heine, the manufacturer, and 'Al' Hall, a San Franciscan, who has a quite reputation as a clever engine builder and mechanic, although more, generally known as a driver and demonstrator. The confidence of the designers of the Heine-Velox engine in its capabilities is so great that they are willing to back it with thousands of dollars against any motor in the world with cylinders of a similar size. They were especially anxious to secure a race with a Fiat, because of the high standing of that Italian car, and their belief that the American product was fully the equal of the imported machine. Their efforts to arrange a contest with the Fiat were unsuccessful, however, and now they are after other game. Their offer of $5,000 has not yet elicited any response, but probably it is merely a matter of time before it will be taken up and a contest arranged.”

In the San Francisco Call's March 10, 1907 issue l'Hommedieu mentioned that Mauvis Motor Car had withdrawn the $5,000 offer:

“The Mauvis Motor Car Company has withdrawn the $5,000 that it put into the hands of Fernando Nelson, with a challenge issued to George Roos or the agents of the Fiat car. The money was left up for some time and not covered.”

l'Hommedieu later mentioned Elbert J. Hall's association with the Heine-Velox in the San Francsico Call's April 6th 1907 issue:

“W. E. Saunders. better known as 'Bert,' and E. J. Hall, better known as 'Al,' who piloted Fernando Nelson's Columbia on the record run to Los Angeles, have secured the agency for the Sunset car. and also will be identified with the Heine-Velox car handled by the Mauvis Motor Car Company.”

Although  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:

“Heine Motor Car Co., San Francisco, Cal.— Advance notice of the 1908 Heine-Velox, calling attention to the line of cars which this company will market during 1908.“

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:

“A 45 h.p. touring car and one runabout of the highest class; great bargains; party going away; also one Jewell auto, $150; one Queen, $320; special discount for cash; expert factory repair shop; our work guaranteed best in town. Heine Velox Agency, 638-644 Van Ness Ave.”

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:

‘It is only after careful consideration of all the cars on the market today that the Heine-Velox Engineering Company selected this car as one of its models for distribution. The company has practically the entire West, and the export business of the Pacific Coast, and stands quite ready, if necessary, to take the majority of the output from the factory…

“The company has recently added to its staff of State distributors Captain W.W. Smith, recently resigned from the Regular Army to return to a more lucrative profession in the automobile business. The above picture shows him at the wheel of the five-passenger touring car in the beauty spot of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park.”

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:

“Heine Piano Co. Inc. – ‘House Of Grands,’ representatives for ‘Hazelton’, ‘Francis Bacon,’ and fifteen other standard makes, 408 Stockton at Sutter, tel Sutter 3254.”

In 1920 Heine once again entered the autombile manufacturing business, the first confirmation being included in the June 1920 SAE Journal:

“Eric S. Locke has severed his connection with R. F. Chevalies, consulting engineer, and is now associated with the Heine-Velox Engineering Co., San Francisco.”

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 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:

“In 1921 hydraulic brakes were not new, but only a few cars had them on all four wheels. The 1921 Heine-Velox was one of those cars. Four-wheel hydraulic brakes dramatically reduced stopping distances. At 20 miles an hour, two wheel brakes need 37 feet to stop while four wheel brakes needed only 8.5 feet. The Heine-Velox Company was the first customer of the Lockheed Hydraulic Brake Company, but only a few of the cars were ever built.”

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:

“Car Ventilating System

“The Heine-Velox Engineering Co, 949 Market St., San Francisco, has recently developed a new type of ventilating system for motor vehicles. The accompanying diagram shows how the device is installed and how the air current which enters the car through the ventilator is kept free from dust, rain and other objectionable matter.

“As indicated, the ventilator is readily adjustable from a wide open position to complete closure and the particular arrangement is said to prevent warm air from the hood from entering the car and to admit only fresh air from well above the hood.

“Sketch showing operating principle of Heine-Velox car ventilating system.”

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:

“Economy Steel Mfg. Co., steel auto trailers, steel dump bodies, light structural steel; 932 Folsom.”

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':

“Heine Velox Motorcars in Beauty have been pronounced the CLASSIC CREATION of the century. The object of constructing this car was to manufacture an automobile superior to anything that had ever been built, about twenty years of thought and experimental work was carried on before the first model was completed.”

The 'Classic Creation of the Century' was introduced tot he trade via the January 27, 1921 issue of The Automobile / Automotive Industries:

New High-Priced Twelve

“A new high-priced car, the Heine-Velox, is announced from the Pacific Coast, the manufacturer being the rieine-Velox Engineering Co. One of the chief aims in the design of this car was to combine a low center of gravity with a fair road clearance, to insure easy riding qualities, freedom from skidding tendencies and long tire life. The car has a 148-in. wheelbase and can turn in a 53-ft. circle. The floor of the car is only between 22 and 23 in. from the ground where the car is loaded, and the drive from transmission to rear axle is then straight.

“The engine has 12 cylinders, and is built partly by the Heine-Velox Engineering Co. from parts supplied by the Weidely Motors Co. It is said to be the same type as used on the H.A.L. car. One of the power plant features is an oil cooler, a desirable asset for a car used in mountainous districts. The weight of the sport model illustrated is 4500 lb. The oil level gage is in plain view of the driver. The windshield is of the clear vision type, without supports to obstruct the driver's view. The body is hung from the sides of the frame, instead of being suspended above it, and the floor is entirely inside the frame, making the top of the frame channels level with the top of the floor. The radiator front is in line with the rear side of the front axle. Four hydraulic brakes are fitted.

“The instrument board and the brake and gear levers are placed in an unusual position, so that the driver can reach any part without inconvenience from his seat. The following instruments are used: oil pressure and oil level gages, Radi-meter, speedometer, clock, gasograph, ammeter, voltmeter, battery gage and altimeter.

“This car will be furnished as a sport model, limousine sedan and racing runabout. The standard models sell at up to $17,000, and special models at up to $25,000. All bodies will be custom built in the Heine-Velox plant.”

The July 6, 1921 issue of Motor World included a picture of the car with the following caption:

“This is an exceptionally large and well appointed model with 148 in. wheelbase, made by the Heine-Velox Engineering Co., San Francisco, Cal. The car has been built in limited quantities for a long time, but the earthquake a number of years ago wiped out the factory and all work was discontinued until last January. It is expected that factory facilities will be increased. The bodies are custom built and prices range up to $25,000.”

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:

“SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 13. — G. O. Heine, president of the Heine Piano Co., has sold the Heine Building at 408 Stockton Street, erected especially for this house. This is an eight story and basement structure at the south portal of the Stockton Street tunnel and has been occupied for several years by this music concern, with a few rooms leased for studio purposes. A two years' lease has been taken on the property and at the end of this time a move will be made to another location, according to present plans, which have not been perfected, however.

“The Heine Piano Co. is making arrangements to open a branch in the suburban city of Oakland and this will doubtless be established well in advance of the holiday season. Several years ago a branch was maintained there, but this was closed about the time the move was made to the new building in San Francisco. President G. O. Heine is now devoting more attention again to the piano business, having given up some of his automobile interests, to which he gave considerable time.”

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:

“In San Francisco a manufacturer is thinking of reducing the price of his products from $75,000 to $25,000 each, and produced them in quantity lots! The car is called the ‘Heine-Velox.’ It has a 12-cylinder motor, develops 150 horsepower and can go over 100 miles an hour.

“Besides the ordinary everyday improvements on average ‘high-priced’ cars, the Heine-Velox has a gasoline tank that holds 52 gallons, a reserve fuel tank, reserve water tank, a seven-gallon oil tank from which the crankcase can be filled while the car is running and many other conveniences.”

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:

“G.O. Heine Ends Life In Sunol Home

“Sunol, April 24 – Gustave Heine, 91, founder and owner of the Heine Piano Co., and early day auto manufacturer shot and killed himself yesterday in his three-story mansion on Kilkare Rd.

“His body was discovered by his valet, Swen Hals, 74, in a third-floor bedroom. The sheriff’s office termed the death suicide.

“Mr. Heine founded the piano store 75 years ago in San Francisco, and later opened a store in Oakland.

“His automobile venture took place early in the century, when he manufactured a car called the Heine-Velox. He was also instrumental in developing the vacuum-cup tire.

“A native of Germany, Mr. Heine was brought to San Francisco as an infant. He made Sunol his home in 1908. His wife died about 20 years ago, and Heine lived in the mansion with a secretary, a housekeeper, cook and valet.

“He is survived by his daughter, Mrs. Ruth Dahl of Honolulu. She is visiting the Bay Area and said her father had complained of ill health in recent weeks.

“Funeral services were held today in the Chapel of the Chimes, Oakland.”

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:

“Ruth Heine Dahl

“A memorial is scheduled next week for Ruth Heine Dahl, president of the Heine Piano Co., who died in Sumol on October 2 at age 91. Ruth Heine was born in Seattle in 1899. Her father, G.O. Heine, established the Heine Piano Co., which operated a string of West Coast agencies. She was educated at St Rose Academy in San Francisco and Stanford University. She married Thomas Dahl Jr. in 1923. For the next 38 years they resided in Hawaii. In 1959 they returned to San Francisco. She became president of the Heine Piano Co, and operated two local decorators shops.”

A total of five 1921 Heine-Velox 12-cylinders were 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.

Heine’s 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 Kruse.

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 brakes, and altering the spare tire and trunk carriers. In 1961 it was acquired by the Harrah Automobile Collection, and following the death of its founder, was sold at 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 Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska. Partially restored and painted an off-white during its tenure at Harrah’s, the Fountainhead Museum treated it to a complete restoration at Allan Schmidt’s Horseless Carriage Restoration shop in Escondido, California. The completed car debuted at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance wearing brown coachwork, black fenders and a tan Victoria top.

© 2013 Mark Theobald for with special thanks to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Appendix 1 G.O. Heine Patents:

US Pat. No. 1507176 - Baggage Receptacle - ‎Filed Dec 15, 1921 - ‎Issued Sep 2, 1924 assigned to‎ Gustave O. Heine.

US1567438 - Ventilator for movable conveyances - ‎Filed Nov. 27, 1923 - ‎Issued Dec 29, 1925 to Gustave O. Heine







Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

Kevin Tikker - Gustav Heine and his Cars, Automotive History Review, Fall 1982

Francis H. Bradford, Ric A. Dias - Hall-Scott: The Untold Story of a Great American Engine-Maker, pub. 2007

Craig Miner – So Many Worlds: Invention, Management, Philosophy, and Risk in the Life of Leroy Hill, pub. 1997
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