Kelley Blue Book® Values

Kelley Blue Book
About Kelley Blue Book
by the Editors of MSN Autos
Ever wondered where the phrase "Blue Book® Value" comes from? The answer is Kelley Blue Book, the nation's best-known used-car pricing guide. For more than 84 years dealers, finance institutions, insurance companies and consumers have used the Blue Book to help them establish used-car market values.

Les Kelley, Founder of Kelley Blue Book

Les Kelley's original car company — 1918

Original Kelley Blue Book—1926

Kelley Site—1920s

Buster Kelley

Les Kelley Ford — 1950s

Bob Kelley

Kelley Blue Book editions — Today

Mike Kelley

Kelley Blue Book staff and offices — Irvine, California

The first Kelley Blue Book was published in 1926. In those days, the price of a new Packard sedan limousine was around $3,825 and that of a used 1921 Nash touring car, even with a clock, was about $50.

Les Kelley, California-transplanted son of an Arkansas preacher, authored the original Kelley Blue Book. A dozen years earlier, in 1914, Les had arrived in Los Angeles at the age of 17—broke, unemployed, but with a fine old car he maintained on his own.

At the urging of friends, Les sold his car. With the proceeds he bought another which he rebuilt and sold, then another, and another. In 1918 Les started his own business, the Kelley Kar Company, with three rebuilt Model T Fords, $450 in cash, and his 13-year-old brother, Buster, as lot boy.

The Birth of the Blue Book
By the early 1920's the Kelley Kar Company was thriving. To acquire inventory, Les handed out to banks and other car dealers lists of vehicles he wanted to obtain, along with prices he was willing to pay for them. The business community trusted Les Kelley's price evaluations. It even began relying on them. Some members started asking for copies of Kelley's lists for their own use as guides to current automobile market values. Soon Les Kelley realized he had a unique, marketable commodity. Thus was born the Blue Book of Motor Car Values, which in time became simply Kelley Blue Book.

The Kelley Success Story
The automobile and publishing business rewarded Les and Buster Kelley. The Kelley Kar Company expanded during the 1920s to occupy an entire city block at the corner of Figueroa Street and Pico in Los Angeles. The repair/body shop that was part of the company sat on a different site and employed over a hundred people. In those days new-car dealerships didn't sell used cars, so the Kelleys bought vehicles the dealers were taking as customer trade-ins, while also buying directly from the public. During the Depression, Kelley Kar Company sometimes bought the entire inventories of dealers going out of business.

In the 1940's, World War II brought on a shortage of used cars, and prices for them skyrocketed. The Kelley Blue Book became the standard for the government's price ceilings on used cars, and the book became a must for every dealer in the country.

Les Kelley bought a small Ford franchise before the war ended, and after that the company sold both new and used cars. Buster's son, Bob, joined his father and uncle in the business; and Buster became perhaps the nation's first car dealer to advertise on the new medium: television.

Some of Buster Kelley's TV commercials ran as long as 15 minutes, with Buster walking around the showroom pointing out specials and offering a guarantee: return the car within 30 days and you could trade it for any other car at the same or higher price. Plenty of Hollywood's show business people bought cars from Kelley. By the 1950s the company had become the largest Ford dealer and the largest used-car dealer in the world!

The Blue Book's Evolution
Throughout the next three decades, the Kelley Blue Book thrived as a trade publication, sold only to business subscribers within the automotive industry. New-car prices were added in 1966 as a separate publication, followed soon after by publications compiling prices for recreational vehicles, motorcycles, and even mobile homes. Kelley became the automotive industry's leading provider of pricing information.

In 1993, Kelley made its first venture into the consumer marketplace, by publishing a consumer edition of the Kelley Blue Book. That volume, updated regularly, is available at bookstores, auto supply stores, newsstands and other locations today.

In 1978 Bob Kelley's son, Mike, joined the company, bringing with him a background in computer technology. Named General Manager in 1981, Mike Kelley developed systems for dealers to get trade-in values and new car prices online—the first step in bringing Kelley Blue Book pricing information to yet another new medium, the Internet.

Microsoft and Kelley Blue Book
Les Kelley's original want-list of models and prices, kept in shirt pockets and beneath desk blotters by the bankers and car salesmen of the Roaring Twenties, has made the leap to cyberspace. On the Internet since 1995, Kelley Blue Book supplies new- and used-car information for millions of pricing reports generated online each month.

Today, consumers and the automotive industry continue to rely on Kelley Blue Book for trusted new-car pricing, trade-in values, and related information essential to the vehicle buying and selling decisions.

MSN Autos is proud to partner with this venerable information provider that continues on the cutting edge.

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