Gustav Otto Ludolf Heine was born near Boizenburg, Germany, in 1868, and emigrated to the United States in 1873 with his parents and seven siblings, settling in the Capay Valley. At the age of 16, he moved to San Francisco and went to work for Bruenn Piano Company. Heine became a piano tuner, but did not get along well with the owner of the firm. After much conflict, and a scar from dueling Bruenn with tuning hammers, Heine emerged owner of Bruenn Piano Company, changing the name of the firm to Heine Piano Company.
In 1903, Heine became interested in automobiles and had one of the first Ford dealerships in the west coast. The next year, he met Colonel E. J. Hall (of the Hall-Scott Motor Company), who designed engines for Heine with hill climbing units. Starting in 1905, Hall worked for Heine as works driver, repairman, chauffeur, salesman, and general partner for two and a half years. Heine built three tourers before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Following the earthquake, he offered federal troops use of his tourer for transporting supplies, the wounded, and the dead.
Heine left after the earthquake for Milwaukee, where he developed a new Heine-Velox, which he planned to have built in San Francisco. Later in 1906, the 45 H.P. was produced. Backed by a $5,000 guarantee, the car was advertised as having fewer parts in relation to its size and weight than any other car. Heine's planned production of 50 cars per year never came to fruition. His piano business was doing well, and Heine halted automobile production in 1908 to pursue other interests.
In 1921, after Heine had purchased Economy Steel Manufacturing Company, he had a new car designed and built with resources from the acquired company. The 1921 Heine-Velox, advertised as a custom-built luxury car, it was first shown at a San Francisco auto show. The car had hydraulic brakes on all wheels, and a V-12 engine commissioned from Weidely. It was massive, with a 148-inch (3,800 mm) wheelbase. The price tag of $17,000-25,000 made it the most expensive American car of the era; a Rolls-Royce sold for less than $10,000, American's highest-price model was US$5250, the Lozier Big Six limousines and landaulettes US$6,500 (tourers and roadsters were US$5,000), and the Lozier Light Six Metropolitan tourer and runabout bottomed at US$3,250. By contrast, the high-volume Oldsmobile Runabout was US$650 and Western's Gale Model A was US$500.
The Heine-Velox V12 had a low-slung appearance because the body was mounted to the frame from the sides, instead of the top, which also provided more structural rigidity and a low center of gravity. The two headlights, mounted high on the fenders (giving a kind of bug-eyed look), contained both high and low beams, operated by a switch. Rather than roll up or down, Heine windows pivoted and could be locked in position. Luggage could be stored in lockable boxes on the running boards, as well as in places on all sides of the car. An easy to spot interior innovation was the tilting of the dashboard to 45 degrees, which was supposed to be more comfortable for the driver and would hide the steering column, as well as positioning of the handbrake and gear selector which did not require leaning. Heine demonstrated his car to Chevrolet and demanded to see the head engineer. He was pointed in his direction, leaving the car unattended, and the car was stolen. The following year Chevrolet released a car with pivoting windows. Heine's car had many other innovations, including an oil level automatically maintained by gravity, and a cold-weather start system operated from the dash. The Blackhawk Collection claims the cars were as powerful as the Duesenbergs of the day.
In 1923, the company was dissolved after the Economy Steel Manufacturing Company closed. Gustav moved to southern California, where he enjoyed playing and composing for the piano, and purchasing cars for his own amusement, until his death in 1959. He spent his final years at his place in Sunol, California. His last three cars were lent to a local dealer for display, but he was never paid for them, and they disappeared.
Known cars built:
- 1906: three 45 horsepower, and cars offered in the San Francisco Automobile show 1907 and 1908
- 1921 and 1923: a victoria, three sedans, and an unfinished limousine, all V12s. As far as is known, the Victoria, formerly in Harrah's collection, is now in a private collection on the East coast. The three sedans were, and probably still are in the former
The Cars of the Stars collection contained the last sedan built, which was given to Heine's sister's family. It eventually became a chicken coop, and then was abandoned. For years it was inaccessible, until recently,[when?] when it was restored and placed in the Imperial Collection in Las Vegas.
- Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925. New York: Bonanza Books, 1950.
- Tikker, Kevin, "Gustav Heine and his Cars," Automotive History Review, Fall 1982 - the authoritative account based on over 50 interviews with persons affiliated with the marque.
- Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1950), p.91.
- Clymer, p.111.
- Clymer, p.32.
- Clymer, p.51.
- Clymer, p.198.