Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Fageol Automobile: Muse for the Heine-Velox?

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

When researching the Fageol Safety Coach we recovered several weeks ago, I learned some interesting things about the Fageol Motors Company. The Fageol brothers built a variety of vehicles besides the Safety Coach, including tractors, a six-wheeled bus, ore trains, and trucks. Their trucks were very popular in the industry, and when Theodore Peterman purchased the company in 1938, he renamed the trucks as Peterbilts. Ring a bell?

Most interesting of all, though, was discovering that there once was a Fageol automobile. A little history: after moving to San Francisco in 1904, William and Frank Fageol acquired a Rambler dealership in Oakland, California, which eventually became the largest Rambler sales outlet in the world. It’s quite possible that the Jeffery Quad trucks sent to Alaska came from their dealership. In 1916 the brothers broke ties with Rambler, formed the Fageol Motors Company in Oakland, and began producing trucks. They also decided to develop a luxury automobile called the Fageol 100.

At first glance, their Victoria model looks surprisingly like our 1921 Heine-Velox sporting Victoria car because of its massive size, Victoria top, and radiator shape. Like the Heine-Velox, the Fageol was a west coast production. The Fageol brothers’ factory was in Oakland, while Gustav Heine built his automobiles across the bay in San Francisco.

The Fageol 100 was powered by a Hall-Scott Six overhead-cam aviation engine that developed 125 hp. This 825 cid beast puts it in the same rank with the Pierce-Arrow 66 and Peerless 60-Six as having the largest production engines ever put into American automobiles. The Heine-Velox's overhead valve V-12 Weidely engine was smaller at 390 cid and produced 115 hp. Both engines were guaranteed to power their respective cars to 100 mph; hence, the source of the Fageol 100 name.

A closer look reveals some obvious differences between the Heine-Velox and Fageol, including the latter's “dragon’s teeth” louvers on top of the hood, sloped radiator, wire wheels, and side-mount spare tires. While luxury, speed and power were selling points for both brands, Fageol Motors boasted of their cars' elegant refinements. Each radiator badge, bonnet fastener, control knob, and door handle was made of carved ivory. The mahogany floorboards sported silk and mohair carpeting, and the toolbox was also made from mahogany. Heine, on the other hand, focused more attention on his cars' innovative features, including high-and-low beam headlamps, pivoting side windows, and a cold-weather starting system. The slanted windscreen on his cars was hailed as a new feature, but note that the Fageol had the same several years prior.

Both the Fageol and Heine-Velox laid claim to being the world’s most expensive car, the Fageol selling for $12,500 in 1916 and the Heine-Velox priced at $25,000 in 1921. In today’s dollars that’s about $272,766 and $332,196, respectively. Neither car made it into production, and Gustav Heine refused to sell any of the five cars he built. The Fageol Brothers intended to produce 25 automobiles but only built two (there is debate that a third Fageol was made, but family member William Fageol says it was never assembled). Reportedly, one Fageol was accidentally driven off a pier, while the other was shipped to a doctor in Cuba.

I can't help but wonder if Gustav Heine was inspired by the Fageol 100. He had built a few Heine-Velox cars beginning in 1904, but abandoned production after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his factory. Interestingly, these first Heine-Velox cars were the result of Heine's partnership with Elbert J. Hall, who went on to form the Hall-Scott Motor Car Company and later produce the engines for the Fageol 100 and Fageol Safety Coach.  

Heine returned to the automobile manufacturing business in 1920. Although he claims that his own factory built the coachwork for his 12-cylinder automobiles, some believe it was actually the work of Larkins and Company located just a mile away. This just happens to be the same outfit that constructed the coachwork for the Fageol automobile five years earlier. An interesting connection, but not proof that the similarities between the two brands was anything more than coincidence. What do you think?

Sources:
Calloway, Dick. “Fageol: A Higher Standard.” Wheels of Time (American Truck Historical Society), July/August 2013.
“Fageol Motors Co., Fageol Truck and Coach Co., Fageol Motors Co. of Ohio.“ Retrieved on 5 September 2014 from http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/f/fageol/fageol.htm
Greenfield, David. "The Fageol Car: A Pre-WW1 130 Horsepower Supercar." Retrieved on 5 September 2014 from http://theoldmotor.com/?p=61623
Sales literature from fageol.com
Theobald, Mark. "Heine-Velox." Retrieved on 22 September 2014 from http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/h/heine/heine.htm
Usher, Frederick A. "Fageol's Folly: An Automobile Superlative." Automobile Quarterly 22(1), 1984.


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