There were 1,469 collector cars that crossed the blocks at the Barrett-Jackson auction last week. There were many rare and interesting cars of all types and makes offered for sale, some of them exotically strange and wonderfully weird. This 1921 Heine-Velox was perhaps the most unusual and interesting car at the auction. Its massive size and unorthodox appearance attracted attention, not because it is beautiful (its beauty is debatable), but because even the most seasoned car enthusiast wanted to know: What is that thing?
Gustav Otto Ludolf Heine came from Germany in 1873 with his family as a young boy, settling in Yolo Valley in Northern California. He got a job in San Francisco at the Bruenn Piano Company when he was sixteen sweeping floors. A few years later he would become a full partner and go on to obtain full ownership of the company. He became interested in automobiles, and partnered with E.J. Hall in 1904 to form the Heine-Velox Motor Company. The company only produced about three cars until the 1906 earthquake and fire wiped-out his piano showroom and factory. Heine planned to manufacture cars in Milwaukee on a larger scale after the earthquake, but just a handful were produced. His piano business was very successful and his self proclaimed “hobby” of building cars was put on hold until 1920 when he re-formed his car company back in San Francisco. This time Heine endeavored to build the most powerful and advanced car possible.
The first car was offered for sale in 1921. The July 6, 1921 issue of Motor World featured a picture of the car with this 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.” At the time the average American home sold for $2,500 to $3,000, or a new Ford could be purchased for less than $400.
The car was indeed powerful and advanced. Features included a Weidely designed 389 cubic inch, overhead valve V-12 engine, four-wheel hydraulic brakes, and vacuum operated high and low beam electric headlamps. The windows pivoted and could be locked to a desired position rather than rolled up and down, and the dashboard was set at a 45 degree angle, helping to conceal the steering column and aid the driver’s view of the gauges. A one-piece windshield was also very advanced for its time. A device Heine-Velox referred to as the “Horn Enunciator” was mounted on the rear of the car that would alert other drivers following it with lights and horns when the big car accelerated, slowed, started to turn or back up. It had a low-slung appearance due to the body being mounted to the frame from the sides, instead of the top, adding more structural rigidity and a low center of gravity.
The extreme cost of this car one of the reasons why only five were completed before production ceased in 1923 and the company dissolved. After many years operating his successful piano business, Gustavo Heine retired to his three-story mansion on Kilkare Road in Sunol, CA, were he lived until 1959 when he died of a self-inflected gunshot wound at age 91.
Of the five cars produced, there are only two running Heine –Volex cars today, this limousine and a restored convertible Victoria owned by the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Alaska. The limousine featured here was shown at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance by the Blackhawk Museum, and has been displayed at the Imperial Place collection in Las Vegas and the Shanghai Auto Museum. It sold at the 2016 Barrett-Jackson collector auction in Scottsdale, AZ for $99,000. A third un-restored sedan has been seen at Daniel R. Short’s Fantom Works restoration shop in Norfolk, Virginia. The two other sedans are unaccounted for.