Progress continues on the preservation of the VMHC’s 1918 Kline automobile, which was owned by Black Richmond businessman A.D. Price, according to the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC). One of only two extant examples known to exist from the Richmond, VA manufacturer, the museum’s Kline is being returned to its original splendor by White Post Restorations, Inc., a nationally recognized restoration firm located near Winchester, VA.
Founded in 1909 in York, Pennsylvania, the Kline Motor Car Corporation moved to Richmond in 1911 and produced about 6,000 cars before closing in 1924. Kline Kars were renowned for their outstanding performance and quality workmanship including handcrafted parts. Ironically, the care put into making Kline Kars led to the company’s demise. While in the 1910’s many prominent Richmonders and government officials drove around in Kline Kars, the company ultimately could not compete with Henry Ford’s assembly line production. In 1918, a Kline Kar cost about $1,500, compared to the $600 Model-T Ford. Known as the “Southern Beauty Six,” the VMHC’s Kline Kar has a 6-cylinder, 38-horsepower engine and can seat seven passengers, one on a jump seat.
“We are lucky to have one of the two remaining Kline Kars in our collection, but perhaps more fortunate to be able to use this artifact as a means of elevating the story of prominent Black businessman and philanthropist, A.D. Price. The work being done to restore this artifact is just one of the ways that our institution remains committed to preserving, representing, and sharing the stories of all Virginians,” said VMHC Vice President for Collections & Exhibitions Adam Scher. Price is representative of the many past successful Black-owned businesspeople across the state, having been a leader in the Jackson Ward community dubbed “America’s Black Wall Street”. Born into slavery in Hanover County, Price started out as a blacksmith and wheelwright before establishing the A. D. Price Funeral Home in Richmond in 1881. He became the first Black funeral director in Virginia to receive an embalming license from the state. Located on East Leigh Street, Price’s establishment was the leading Black-owned funeral home in the city. After adding undertaking and transportation services, Price grew his business into one of the most successful Black-owned funeral homes in the country, selling funeral supplies wholesale to communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
As a successful businessman, Price served on many boards including Maggie Walker’s St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, among others. The A. D. Price Funeral Home was a hub of Black civic life. During segregation, it provided services and meeting rooms to the Black community when most white establishments would not. The Kline Kar was part of Price’s large fleet of vehicles, some of which could be rented out for courting, moving, and other purposes.
White Post Restorations has put in nearly 1,000 hours conserving and fabricating body parts and preparing the car for painting. A new interior, complete with period-correct flooring and upholstery, will be crafted soon. The VMHC has devoted more than $100,000 toward this painstaking restoration and plans to unveil the finished product in the museum’s new Great Hall as part of its grand re-opening to the public the weekend of May 14 and 15, 2022.
In addition to the Kline Kar, the VMHC also holds in its collection one of A.D. Price’s hearses. The horse- drawn hearse from the late 19th century consists of an enclosed wooden frame cab painted black with large glass windows. “A. D. PRICE FUNERAL ESTABLISHMENT” appears in gold lettering on the side of the driver’s cab, which features red velvet curtains and a bench seat. Decorative gold fringe trims the underside around the entire body. The hearse has been and will remain on view in The Story of Virginia exhibition.
For more information about the re-opening, visit VirginiaHistory.org.
Image top left: Kline Kar Touring – Series 6-38 featured on page 15 of the 15th edition of the official handbook of automobiles published Jan. 1918. Image courtesy of Virginia Museum of History & Culture. Image top right: Restoration work in progress on the Virginia Museum of History & Culture’s Kline Kar. Image courtesy of White Post Restorations.
The Kline Kar was manufactured by the Kline Motor Car Corporation, Richmond, Virginia and is a partial gift of Debbie and Tim Crowder, purchased through the Paul Mellon Acquisitions Fund. Additional preservation made possible in part by Kaye and J.J. Smith.