The Kline Kar

Time Period
1877 to 1924
1925 to Today
Topics
Business & Industry
Transportation
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James A. Kline in his late 30s driving one of his 1912 Kline Kars, a topless roadster without doors. (VMHC 2006.124.22) 

James Allen Kline was born near Siddonsburg, Pennsylvania, on May 20, 1874. At the age of 18, Kline began an apprenticeship with the Cocklin Brothers optical business in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, during which he became interested in bicycles and performed well in several amateur events. In 1899, he became a local distributor for the Locomobile, a steam car manufacturer, and built his own steam car in a second-floor machine shop. In 1905, Kline became general manager of York Automobile Company in York, Pennsylvania, for which he would design and build a new car and exhibit it successfully at the 1905 York Fair. 

On the heels of the failure of the Richmond Iron Works to expand production of the Virginian automobile in 1910, a Richmond boosters club made up of prominent local businessmen sought out other automobile companies that might be interested in relocating to the South.

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A black and white photo of a long low building with a large columned two-story entrance
The Kline Motor Car Corporation (VMHC 2001.230.600)

Kline accepted their offer and created the Kline Motor Car Company, which would go on to produce about 2,500-2,800 vehicles. In 1911, the company decided to build a large factory with a Greek revival façade, a grand facility designed by famed Richmond architect Albert F. Huntt, on what is now Arthur Ashe Boulevard. The factory was in operation until 1918 when it was purchased by the American Locomotive Company for war production. The Kline Company continued to produce a limited number of cars at a Cary Street location until 1923.

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A black and white photo of A.D. Price
Alfred Douglas "A.D." Price , about 1900. (Image courtesy of Estelle D. Price and Mary Stuart Price Wilson)

On May 5, 1919, local businessman and philanthropist Alfred D. Price, Sr., visited the Kline Kar Company and purchased automobile number 3293. Born into slavery in Hanover County, Price started out as a blacksmith and wheelwright before founding A.D. Price Funeral Home in Richmond in 1881. Price became the first Black funeral director in Virginia to receive an embalming license from the state and his funeral home was the leading Black-owned funeral home in the city. A pillar of the community, the A.D. Price Funeral Home was a hub of Black civic life in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood.

One of only two remaining examples known to exist from the Richmond manufacturer, Kline Motor Car Corporation, and one of the last cars produced at the Arthur Ashe Boulevard factory, the 1918 Kline Model 6-38 touring car is now in the permanent collection of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture and on display in its Commonwealth Hall. This car was not a regular part of Mr. Price’s funeral car fleet, but instead was more of a personal vehicle. Being a self-made man much like James Kline, it's likely Mr. Price took pride in owning a Richmond-made product. The car was passed down to Price’s son when A. D. Price, Sr., died in 1921. When the Kline’s engine failed in 1923, with only 15,000 miles on the odometer, it was placed into storage at Price’s funeral home on Leigh Street.

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A Kline Kar broken down into parts to be worked on
The Kline Kar while undergoing restoration in October 2021.

In 1962, the Kline Kar again was in the news when it was partially damaged in a fire at the garage. It was then moved outside and remained there until 1974, when it was relocated to a dirt floor garage, which is where I first saw it.

In 1987, the Virginia Museum of Transportation, to whom the car had been donated, decided it could not restore the car and I purchased it from them. My work on the Kline involved a complete disassembly of the vehicle down to the chassis. Meticulously documenting and photographing each piece as it was removed, I was able to recreate the wooden sub frame and repair damaged metal parts. I rebuilt all the mechanical components, including the engine, transmission, and differential, and fabricated the wooden wheel assemblies by hand. During my restoration process, I also compiled an extensive archive of Kline Motor Car Company memorabilia. When the mechanical and structural work was finished, I knew professionals needed to finish restoring the car. Fortunately for me, the car, and the community, the Virginia Historical Society took on the project. After 18-months of painstaking work, the Kline Kar project was recently completed by White Post Restorations, a nationally recognized restoration firm located near Winchester, Virginia, where fenders were fabricated, and a new top and interior were installed. This extensive restoration was made possible with support from Mr. & Mrs. Gerald F. Smith, Jr.

People often ask me, “How did you find the car?” I really believe that in some instances, things like the Kline Kar find us. I knew when I looked in the garage through the broken board that, to quote Mr. Coggins in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, "That was once a great car," and I knew that it could be again.

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A green open-topped Kline Kar sits on a wooden display block in a large airy hall
The restored seven-passenger 1918 Kline Model 6-38 touring car, on display in the VMHC's Commonwealth Hall (VMHC 2007.118).

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This article was predominantly written by Tim Crowder, a 1981 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Fine Arts and a lifelong student of Virginia history with a passion for the restoration of vintage automobiles and antique machinery. Crowder also included insights from oral history and company records provided by Ruth Kline, the daughter of James Kline. 

Periodically the VMHC will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the VMHC, its members, or its staff.